Old or not, we had a blast! If we could go every year, we would. Here are some observations about SXSW, to help us for our next trip (or maybe it will help someone else out).
- Hotels: We stayed in the Hyatt, just across thee Congress St. bridge from the "real" downtown area. It's a nice enough hotel, but we did wish we had stayed at the Hilton, Marriott, etc., all located closed to the Austin Convention Center (ACC).
- Registration: We bought full-access music badges. It was pretty expensive (~$700), but I didn't understand the differences between badges and the cheaper wristbands (<$200). If the badges only get you access to the music industry panels and the trade show floor in the ACC, then it's not worth it. And the Registrants' Lounge (under a tent in Brush Square Park, across from the ACC) with its one-free-drink-per-day doesn't justify the cost. Next time, look into the wristbands!
- Day Parties: There were a ton of official day parties, and plenty of unofficial parties too (check out the Austin Chronicle and Do512 for some of these listings). These are usually sponsored by a country, records label, etc., and usually include free food and drinks. As badge holders, we were able to get into plenty of these. We pre-registered for many of them, but they never checked our names against a guest list, so I don't think pre-registration is necessary. Are wristband holders allowed into these parties? If not, it would be worth the badge price to get access to these - they were fun! Apparently, there are "unofficial" parties (and private parties too) that aren't in the official SXSW schedule. .
- Night Concerts: Most of the official SXSW concerts occur at night. It turns out that there are plenty of clubs and bands playing in Austin during SXSW that are not officially part of SXSW, just like with the day parties. Check out the Austin Chronicle and Do512 again for these.
- Venues: Some of the favorite venues we went to include Maggie Mae's (lots of music under one roof, and even on the roof!), Galaxy Room (the floor rises up in the back, making viewing easy), Billiards (a huge place, with plenty of pool tables and other games), and the Central Presbyterian Church (for the quieter concerts with much clearer sound).
Thankfully, you can subscribe to your my.SXSW calendar in another tool like Google Calendar. This is a read-only view, and it appears to only get updated infrequently, so it's better for planning things before you get to SXSW, but this worked well for us. Using Google Calendar, you can "copy" your important SXSW events to one of your Google Calendars and using the different calendars/colors to prioritize your events. With only an iPod (not an iPhone), this again is something you need to do before SXSW. But, you can print out your schedule (with events shown side-by-side instead of linearly!) and use that as a preliminary plan. Just be flexible - there's so much that pops up at the last minute, a newly recommended band you just heard about, etc.