Surviving SXSW in Austin: A few helpful hints
Once again, I was asked not once, not twice but a half dozen times in the last day for a couple of restaurant recommendations in Austin as SXSW is just around the virtual corner. And another person asked today if I planned to reprise a past, popular post, "Surviving CES in Las Vegas: A few helpful hints" for SXSW, given I have family in and around the Great State of Texas.
This weekend will be another busy one for us at home, otherwise I would have found a way to travel to Austin with several of my friends to attend South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas, at the Austin Convention Center. So with a tip of the hat to my old friends and foodies, I offer a few tips for those heading off to Austin this week for the event, with a few recycled bits.
"South by Southwest is a music lover's heaven. But wait — it's also a film lover's dream. And, yes, it's a techie's delight. What started as a small Austin music festival 22 years ago is now a full-blown music, film and interactive jamboree known worldwide.
Welcome, SXSW. You're grown up and spectacular but still very much a genuine Austin experience.
Starting Friday, Austin's downtown will swell with people and events as SXSW kicks off. Bring on traffic and people congestion. Austin is ready and thrilled to host this year's 10-day happening that is expected to draw 100,000 attendees. This is just the kind of festive event the city needs to shake off the blues of a slumping economy. The Austin Convention and Visitor's Bureau estimates that the SXSW jamboree will generate about $103 million for the Austin-area economy."
The SXSW conference also offers a music fest offering musical acts from around the world. Although I've never been to one in the 24 years it's been going on (outside of NAMM, CES, NAB and a host of others, I was a New Music conference attendee), I always resolved that I would when I made it back to the music business I left so long ago. Now more than ever at is a destination for media, technology, music and art. (I went to my fair share of New Music conferences in New York, which offered dozens and dozens of bands, but that was pre-Internet, and when I had a Compuserve address that ran up a hefty monthly bill that eclipsed even the most precocious teen texter today.)
Next year. To paraphrase Spinal Tap, I'll go in '11.
BTW, I'm reminded that next time you'll change your clocks for daylight saving time is March 14 2010, as we will Spring Forward in much of the States and Canada on Sunday at 2:00am. Be aware! (added 031010 – thanks to renegade500 for the reminder!)
My hat is off to the many folks making their way down to Texas, just south of Big D to Austin for a little SXSW this year. So, once again, after the family drifts off to sleep this weekend, I'll catch up on the goings-on over the filmmaking, music and technology.
Here's a collection of what you can find yourself via Twitter's search engine for SXSW tweets. I'll leave it to you to find your own favourites (and LMK if you have good links to attendee coverage).
Microsoft is going to be at SXSW in a big way. Check it out here http://dfoc.us/cv2k6F. For Microsoft news and happenings at SXSW, be sure to follow msftsxsw on Twitter and watch #msftsxsw: also search out #sxsw and #SXSWi for general coverage on Twitter.
The SXSW site offers their recommendations for first time visitors here, but there is so much more to think about. Plus, you want it on a single page. So here are a few tips for those heading off to Austin this weekend for the event. I'll post links to more tips as I get them as updates to this post.
Getting to and around SXSW
Flight and Hotel: If you don't already have either of these, good luck. You'll have a better chance of finding a real Davy Crocket cap at the Alamo than finding either at this late date. Stay home and read the daily SXSW blogs.
But if you must go, try booking online, going stand-by, or fly and drive from another major city (Dallas/Fort Worth is one option). As for hotels, call a well-connected travel agent or try to find a room in town... otherwise, find a friend with an extra bed or snag the pull-out couch.
If you do have a flight, the Austin Airport has a site with lots of detailed information here. You can still register on site as of today (so says http://sxsw.com/attend).
SXSW FAQ and Information: Want to know more about Austin, where to pick up your badge or get your copy of the SXSW Registrant’s Directory?Be sure to check out the official SXSW FAQ Page.
Getting from the airport to anywhere: Remember, if you need to get a taxi cab at Austin airport, look to the departures area where people are exiting the taxi if there's a big line. (Just a suggestion, not an endorsement.) If you arrive into Austin with other folks on the same flight, consider renting a limo or get together an impromptu set of people going to roughly the same hotel on the strip: that way you'll pay one limo fee.
Getting around at SXSW. It's said that the service will be greatly improved this year for SXSW, with hotel shuttle service (during Music dates) for 35 hotels outside downtown, available day and nearly all night (8:30am to 3:00am), running ~30 minutes. This from the SXSW hotel shuttle page…
SXSW and R&R Limousine & Bus are offering SXSW attendees a pay-to-ride shuttle service to most SXSW hotels outside downtown to help attendees get to the Convention Center for the conference and trade show activities during the day and back to their hotel after conference hours, film screenings, late parties, and late night showcases during the music festival.
If you’re staying at a hotel outside downtown we recommend you buy the unlimited shuttle pass online at the R&R website for just $40 per person for 5 days (March 12-16 for Interactive/Film or March 16-20 for Music) or $60 per person for all of SXSW 2010.
Capital Metro opens the new rail line, Capital MetroRail, after SXSW this year (March 22, 2010), but there are still plenty of options for getting around town. (http://www.capmetro.org/) Courtesy of the Austin transit system site, here are a few helpful links to schedules and maps, including…
- Destinations Schedule Book
- System Map: Use this to find a convenient route near you.
- Downtown Austin System Map
- Interactive Maps: New Google based web maps let you see the actual bus stop location. Click through to see the estimated times that each route leaves the stop!
- Local Service Routes: Multiple stop service to and from downtown (001-099)
What to do at SXSW
Setting up your schedule: New Scheduling Feature at my.sxsw.com, with my.sxsw.com/events. You can build your own personalized calendar of events for SXSW, including conference sessions, parties and more.
"Badges?... We don't need no... stinkin' badges!" But you want to know about QR Codes: The Quick Response Code (aka QR Code) is a bar code you'll find on every badge that can be read by mobile phones equipped with the right read software, so install one now. The QR code links to more info (such as online information) on my.SXSW.
Use link.me/sxsw a reader selector to automatically get the right reader for your camera equipped smartphone.
- iPhone: I-Nigma
- Windows Mobile: Bee Tagg
- BlackBerry: I-Nigma or BeeTagg or Open the BlackBerry Messenger 5 application -> click on invite -> Scan the code
- Android: Google Zxing Reader
- Nokia: I-Nigma
Parties and Events at SXSW: Here's a link to the Official SXSW parties page.
Opportunities to Connect with the Microsoft Team: As Dominic notes on the page above, Microsoft has quite the contingent at SXSW and shares what we have planned and how you can connect with the various Microsoft teams onsite. Also, be sure to check out the Microsoft News Center for daily updates during the event. Here's an excerpt:
We are in the Expo Hall Booth # 904, 906, 1005, 1007.
Microsoft Sponsored Parties, Lounges and Contests:
Be sure to join our folks in Austin for the official Microsoft SXSW party at SpeakEasy for drinks and to check out technologies from Windows 7, Windows Phone, Silverlight and Surface, among others. Monday, March 15 from 8:00 pm 'til midnight. More details are available here on eventbrite.com.
Stop by the Silverlight Interactive Lounge located in the 4th floor corridor of the Austin Convention Center, outside of the panel rooms to experience the digital living room showcase. Friday, March 12 – Tuesday, March 16; Hours: Friday (10 am – 7pm); Saturday (9:00 am – 6:00 pm); Sunday & Monday (9:30 am – 6:00 pm) and Tuesday (10:00 am – 4:00 pm).
Check out the Windows Phone Bloggers Lounge, located at 19A, to experience the Windows Mobile device bar and grab some snacks during the conference. Friday, March 12 – Tuesday, March 16; Hours: 9:30am – 6:00 pm daily
Strike up a conversation with the Microsoft Tag street team to obtain your personal Tag, which will allow friends and other attendees to scan your Tag using their smart phone. The attendee with the most scans at 6:00 pm on Monday, March 15 will win $5,000!
What to wear
Pack light but warm. Keep in mind that it is cool in Austin this time of year by Texas standards: the weather will be near freezing at night – that's what they call weather in the 40's and 50's, or about 10-12 degrees for my friends from outside the States – and the high 60's to low 70's during the day. You can get the latest weather forecast via MSN Weather.
See also a few travel recommendations from Colin Cowie on packing.
Here's a link to Austin's latest weather information. For after the day's event, you'll need bring a jacket that you can wear as you brave the winds from the north (WFAA in Dallas always talked about the cold winds coming down from Canada). But wear a stylish shirt underneath just in case for the late-night antics around town... or better, bring a nice shirt allowing for a quick change prior to dinner and doesn't require a trip back to the hotel. And when you get pictures (and you will) be sure to post them as appropriate on the SXSW Flickr feeds.
Wear great, comfortable shoes. And don't bring the stylish shoes, go for comfort as you will be standing and walking. I've learned from many years of travel and duty in Vegas, Atlanta, New York and LA that smart folks are the ones roaming about in walking shoes or sneakers. My pick: anything from Ecco, Rockport or New Balance, which all have nice shoes in black to go with your winter wool trousers or jeans.
Say hello your new best friend: the hotel concierge. Introduce yourself and hand them a business card: most don't seem to have grasped the idea of the "bump" yet for exchanging v-cards. That one move may come in hand later more than you know. See 'dinner' and 'getting to the airport' for starters. If you plan on doing a lot of schmoozing at SXSW, call and see if your hotel has one (or some young upstart at the front desk) and introduce yourself now to let them know you will be staying at the hotel. As Cowie notes, "ask your concierge to make some reservations for you now at top restaurants so you don't find that you can't get in when you arrive there in peak season. Tip the concierge the moment you arrive..." See, you can learn helpful travel hints from a man that you thought only had great party design sense. ;)
A note on booking tables... Consider booking your table for dinner through your hotel concierge as noted above: if you haven't called them in advance, ask for their help in booking a table (tip, please) and get their business card with their phone number after you check in... and give them a tip if they offer a direct dial number. A good concierge may be able to score a reservation to a hard-to-book place: I have found that your best bet is a well-connected hotel concierge if a direct call to the restaurant doesn't pan out.
Also, look to your credit card company (many offer a concierge service) or try your hand (or mouse) booking a table at OpenTable.com (also via their smartphone apps), and getting recommendations from Urban Spoon. Many of the restaurants still show availability on OpenTable as of today, so book early.
Gear at SXSW: Be sure to check out SXSW's official Gear Alley Expo
Power at SXSW: Heading down to SXSW this year? As I noted, you might consider taking a travel power pack for when you get caught in the airport or in a session where you can't find a power outlet when your devices are running on low. And as @omarg notes in his pro tip from http://www.sxswbaby.com/, remember ABC: Always Be Charging http://bit.ly/aqR93O.
I have to recommend the Energizer XP8000 Rechargeable Power Pack. (And no, I'm just an energizer customer, not shilling for Energizer. But in the interest of full disclosure, Microsoft and Energizer have been close, as with Microsoft managing some of the company's IT operations as noted here.)
On a recent trip, the compact unit – about the size of a deck of cards provided many extra hours of use of our phones, PDAs and small electronics as well as one netbooks. It has several power outputs and comes with a bundle of extra connector tips for popular mobile phones and mini netbook PCs.
I was able to lave several power bricks behind at home on our last trip and travel much lighter (important when you're also arranging a vacation's worth of family electronics). I used the USB charger/sync cables for our mobile phones and game units in place of the wall warts that we have for them, and left the power supply for our HP netbook.
I found the Energizer XP8000 available at Amazon if you can't find it locally: on sale, you can find this available for in the $70 range.
For smaller uses, there's also a mini Energizer XP4001 that runs about half as much on sale (many if the office supply stores carry it – I found it locally on sale for under $40).
Food at SXSW is not a problem. Perhaps you'll get an invite to one of the many events (like the SXSW food blogger bash last year). As noted on the SXSW web site, they partnered with Foodspotting to invite folks to contribute to their Foodspotting crowd-source guide "What to Eat at South by Southwest."
Whether you want to get involved in the Street Food Scavenger Hunt, or want to track down a party bus headed to the famed Salt Lick BBQ, or would rather live off of Free Food and Free Drinks all week, Foodspotting's dish-centric dining guides will help you spend less time thinking about good food and more time nomming and noshing! You will also be able to access these guides and discover foods around you using Foodspotting's newly-launhed iPhone app. Meet the people behind this app (and help satisfy your hunger) by attending the Street Food Celebration in Brush Square Park on Saturday, March 13.
As Austin360.com reports… (I love this web site!)
"You can't throw a stick during the 10 days of the South by Southwest Music, Film and Interactive conferences and festivals without hitting a party that's offering free food. But an interesting phenomenon has been happening in the past few years: parties where food is the headliner, not just a trick to get people in the door. Here's a short list, and links to RSVP and more events are online at www.austin360.com/relishaustin ."
And see their post SXSW to-do: Go to panels, see shows, drink cheap American beer.
Also, Layne Lynch of The Daily Texan Online has a list of SXSW 2010 festival offers…
When South by Southwest commences in the live music capital of the world, human normalcy takes a backseat. Life becomes all about entertainment for one week while festival attendees adopt a more nocturnal state.
Those who are most in-tune with the music festival manage to find any and every way to survive on all the festival provides — and it provides all that is needed for its visitors.
Anybody looking for ways to stay hydrated and nourished during the festival should know that free food and drinks will be provided at several events throughout the week.
Many of these events will serve the basic Tex-Mex and pizza, but anything free is worth trying. Keep in mind that many of these events require RSVPs and have an attendance limit, so RSVP early.
Below are just some of the many events taking place that provide free food and free drinks. Check various Web sites and blogs for updates on any free food and drinks offered throughout the festival.
If there's one thing I love more than good music, it's good food. I know, I know, grab the torches and pitchforks. But, in keeping with the independent spirit of the festival, I though it fitting that we recommend to noobs and visitors our best independently owned eateries that, as the locals say, keep Austin weird.
See below on booking restaurants early (call before you fly) and be sure to bring your favourite portable snack foods (such as trail mix, snack bars) just in case.
Getting to the airport. Finding a cab on the last day of SXSW is like looking for your 25-character product ID code from your Windows 7 Party Pack. Trust me on this one. Arrange a car in advance through your concierge for more than one traveler. Or that concierge you tipped earlier just may have arranged a shuttle for a small group that has an opening.
If you don't have a ride... I have found that when leaving events directly for the airport, go to the head of the line and ask if anyone else is destined for a date with the TSA security screeners... and if there's room, offer to pay for their ride. Best if you have carry-on luggage and not the 12-spaces high demo rack destined for cargo check in. (Please note that I have used this tactic once or twice and found it to be tremendously helpful, but do not endorse the practice... particularly when the line is long and tempers are high. In these cases, be discreet ;) This strategy also works in hotel lines, just don't do it within earshot of a taxi driver. (You saw "Taxi Driver," right?)
Photos and video from SXSW. Be sure to tag your photos on flickr with sxsw2010: Brian Gorbett, an architect in our developer & platform evangelism group, has set up a photo stream on his personal web site for you to check out at http://bit.ly/dc9My1.
Articles from around the Web & Social media. I'll post articles queued up to read from SXSW on the web. More news on SXSW can be found at Bing Search News.
Twitter.com Briefly Enables Location Feature via Softpedia
Robert Rodriguez Brings Predators ‘First Look’ to SXSW via Wired News
The return of the Pepsico Zeitgeist, powered by data from Twitter, Flickr, SXSW, and foursquare. I also heard that Pepsi will have "pods" around SXSW to allow attendees to easily and comfortably broadcast to their fans while staying close to the action.
Additional Austin link for visitors
This post is also available via http://bit.ly/dqJdT5