How to Have a Great Day at SXSW for $4

By: Alex Miller, PhD Student

Step 1: Be in Austin (free if you don’t count rent)

I’m sitting around, running some calculations, when my phone lights up: “The Hold Steady at 5. Mohawk on 8th and Red River. Free show; free beer.” That sounds good to me. “Get there early.”

Step 2: Ride the bus downtown (free with student id)

I grab the 10 line at 4 o’clock and talk to a guy from Houston about something called “projection mapping”, which actually sounds pretty cool. The bus takes a while, but drops me off a few blocks away from Mohawk and as I approach… uh oh.

Step 3: Listen to your friend who says to get there early or you will have to wait in a line. A long line.

Far from the entrance stands another friend who has also shown up “early”. We shoot the breeze by people-watching. At SXSW, it is impossible to tell who is hipster, homeless, or a famous person just trying to look fashionable. A bunch of people in a van labeled “Bitcoin Across America” roll up and ask us to break a world record. They hand us what looks like a foam orange (the fruit) and tell us the previous record set for most consecutive “neck passes” is 19. We agree. As I pass the orange to my friend, his beard scratches my neck and it’s a little weird. Our neck pass succeeds, but the next girl screws it up. After the Bitcoin people leave, that foam orange somehow ends up in the street and five minutes later, someone walking by stops to take photos of it with a three thousand dollar camera.

Step 4: See the free show (free) and get free beer (free) because the show is sponsored by a beer company (or, in this case, Mike’s Hard Lemonade)

The gates finally open and the people who bought badges are told they can go in first. They sprint. The regular-people line begins to move, slowly, but eventually we get inside. Our hands are stamped and we are each given a voucher for one free 16 oz “Mike’s Harder” product. I exchange my ticket and approach the stage as the first song begins. The Hold Steady is amazing. The singer is about 45 years old and he’s spazzing out like a maniac; this is making them even better. They are clearly the best band of the 10+ on this lineup, but I stick around for a while anyway.

Step 5: Get more free beer (free) because no one wants to drink Mike’s Hard Lemonade at 5 in the afternoon

People came here to see The Hold Steady, and as they leave, we ask for their drink coupons. We get a bunch. We should be set for the rest of the bands, although I have now realized why the last two letters in “Mike’s HardER” are there.

Step 6: Kick back and enjoy lots of bands before you go to dinner

What looked like a tiny venue from the street is actually a deceptively large one with four levels to stand on. We climb to the second level and relax while some band with Pangea in their name takes the stage. They’re pretty good, but the lead guitarist looks strikingly similar to Curt Cobain and it’s creeping everyone out. A few more bands do some decent sets and we decide to go have dinner.

Step 7: Don’t bother with a crowded downtown restaurant; go to a food truck serving pizza ($4)

Long story, but I end up getting a massive slice of Stony’s pepperoni pizza and it is fantastic.

Step 8: Regroup, re-enter, enjoy the last sets

We return to Mohawk and there is no line, but the place is packed. Still free entry, but no more free drink coupons. That’s okay. We watch a few more sets from the upper decks. The last show begins: Charli XCX – I’ve never heard of them. A small British girl walks on stage wearing a suede skirt and cowboy boots. She rocks, and so does the rest of the band. As their set nears its close, rain starts to fall. Good thing we’re (somehow) under a tree. The stage lights frame showers of yellow rain and the sight feels magical. Charli’s set ends and everyone starts to leave, but that’s really difficult because this place may have broken the Fire Marshal’s capacity.

Step 9: Call it a night (or don’t) and remember there’s more tomorrow

It’s only about 10:30, but with another 6 days of SXSW I’m happy to take the bus home and get some sleep. I am a grad student, after all.