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A 12-Step SXSW Survival Guide

by Maura Johnston

 
SXSW 2012 Auditorium Shores. Photo: Extreme Airshots/courtesy of SXSW

It's that time again, where the indie world converges in Texas for the South By Southwest festival. Start-ups will be hyped, bands will blow up, films will hit the stratosphere. (Or so they hope.) Tickets will be scalped, parties will be crashed, and kegs will be emptied. (Yep, that's a definite.) We turned to  music festival veteran Maura Johnston for her hard-won tips on how to survive the awesome madness. 

AUSTIN, Texas – The South by Southwest Festival could be called Spring Break for creatives, and it's grown exponentially since its humble late-'80s beginnings as a regional showcase for musicians from the lower-left corner of the United States. In recent years, it's not only been the epicenter of buzz for up-and-coming cutting-edge bands, it's hosted sets by the likes of Kanye West, Bruce Springsteen, and Metallica — to audiences the size that those marquee performers are accustomed to.

I've been to SXSW seven times. The first year I went, the days were for panels and the nights were for seeing up-and-coming bands. Since then, bloggers have turned into party promoters, bands play as many as a dozen shows in Austin, and a giant Doritos machine has been erected in the middle of downtown — a feat of branding that would have been unthinkable back in the day. 

Can you survive the conference with your sanity and liver intact — and add a few great new bands to your mental iTunes library? Sure you can. This 12-step survival guide focuses primarily on the music portion of the conference, which runs from March 12-17, but lessons here can certainly be applied to the interactive (March 8-12) and film (March 8-16) portions.

Maura is a music journalist who edits Maura Magazine and teaches at NYU's Clive Davis Institute. Her music festival itinerary for 2013 includes stops in Detroit and Nova Scotia. You can follow her on Twitter @Maura. She travels for the local snack offerings.

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