SXSW: Field Trips. Still a thing at 28
By Meg Hersman
Attending SXSW last month was the biggest adventure I’ve had in a while (with the exception of grad school itself, of course). It was my first time at SXSW, but it was also my first time in Texas. It was great fun, but it was also a valuable learning experience. A few of these things would have been great to know in advance, but next time I’ll know—and if you’re reading this, you’ll know, too.
• March weather in Texas and March weather in Chicago are worlds apart, obviously. Schedule your flight accordingly. I scheduled my flight to be there a good eight hours before our dinner with alumni, but after three cancellations due to weather, I arrived two hours late. Keep this in mind when you plan your itinerary.
• On a similar note, while the snow is still covering Chicago, things are starting to bloom in Austin, specifically the notorious cedar trees. If you have allergies, go prepared. That Claritin-D you desperately need will have been snatched up from every CVS in Austin by the time you get there.
• Once you’re in Austin and you have your badge, deciding what to do with your time can be very overwhelming. Even if you’ve taken the time to research every artist who is performing and what the best day parties are and where you should eat, you will still feel it. I found that the best plan is to pick one or two things each day that you don’t want to miss, whether they are shows, panels, or other events, and make sure you catch those. Then keep the rest of your day loose. See what you feel like in the moment.
• Make an effort to see artists you won’t get to see at home. Two of the best shows I saw—Cousin Marnie at the BBC showcase at Latitude 30 and Rock n’ Roll Radio at Icenhauer’s—were international acts that had a visa to perform exactly one show while they were in Austin. They may end up in Chicago eventually, but this way when all my friends are in love with them, I get to say I saw them first.
• As a comedian, I was very excited to go to some SXSW Comedy events. Turns out SXSW Comedy is weird. It’s growing each year, and I have no doubts that it will be its own fully fledged section of the festival within a few years, but right now its events are spread out and each one requires a different badge type. I was able to get into a recording of Howard Kremer’s delightful podcast “Who Charted?” with Doug Benson as the guest. If I make it back to SXSW, I am really going to focus on getting to see more comedy.
• Networking really can and does happen everywhere, but if you’re looking for a place to jumpstart your skills, try hanging out in the Registrants’ Lounge (the big white tent right outside the convention center) during the daily happy hour. It gets crowded, but it’s a relaxed enough environment that you can really connect with the people you meet there.
If I can remember all this stuff, next year’s SXSW will be an even better experience.