Stay, Sup, Shop, Splash: The Scoop on South By Southwest

- Joy Pecknold, Passport blog editor

Austin, Texas; where BBQ is big and indie bands go to get bigger. If you’re heading to the Live Music Capital of the World for South By Southwest (SXSW) March 11-20, 2011, I’ve got a few tips.

Pack wacky: The city’s motto is “Keep Austin Weird,” so this is the perfect time, and perhaps your only time, to bring out the sartorial strange. Worn-out concert tees are de rigueur. Gentlemen, feel free to leave your razor at home.

Queue early: If a band has any sort of buzz, get to the venue well in advance. Most of the venues are small bars or outdoor spaces between bars with limited space. Better yet, make friends with a well-connected local, someone who knows bar security guards and music people. He or she will get you bypassing the line. We scanned the schedule and Queens of the Stone Age at La Zona Rosa, James Blake at Central Presbyterian Church and Raphael Saadiq at Stubb’s are sure to be wall-to-wall.

Celeb-spot over sushi: Uchi (801 South Lamar, 512-916-4808, www.uchiaustin.com) is the place. The last time I ate there at the height of South By I walked right by Kayne West’s Escalade, then right by Kayne West himself. FYI, he’s shorter than you’d expected. Their rolls are pricier—after all, it’s Austin, so fish is all flown in—but delicious, and the sake is a nice change from beer (the festival’s unofficial drink). Reservations are recommended.

Boot up: It may be cliché to buy cowboy boots in Texas, but like buying brie in Brie or champagne in Champagne, it must be done. Allen’s Boots (1522 South Congress Ave., 512-447-1413, www.allensboots.com) on the hip stretch of South Congress Avenue is the favourite spot. They carry a slew of brands in every style, shape, colour and pattern.

Cash out: Channeling Johnny Cash in a town that’s a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll is fitting. For all your monochromatic clothing needs, head to Blackmail (1202 South Congress Ave., 512-326-7670 www.blackmailboutique.com). They’ve even got extra small Western shirts for your newborn Johnny Jr.

Cool off: You’ll no doubt get hot and bothered after cramming into dozens of clubs. If you fancy fresh water over chlorine hit Barton Springs Pool (2101 Barton Springs Rd., 512-476-9044) a short distance from downtown. The oasis is fed by spring water and surrounded by grassy knolls. Feel free to lose your shirt too, topless sunning is allowed.

Happening hotels: While the vast majority of newbie indie bands will be crashing on the couches and floors of their Texan friends, music biz big wigs, any rock stars of notoriety and the rest of us will opt for either Four Seasons Hotel Austin or The Driskill. Both these downtown hotels sell out fast, but you can still get a taste of Southern hospitality at their respective restaurants, TRIO and The Driskill Grill.

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