This week, tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands? The entire readership of the streetwear blogosphere? I have no sense of scale here) descended upon the city of Austin, Texas. They teemed uncontrollably, swarming over the city's main downtown streets like hypelocusts, handing out mixtapes, offering up free hugs, staging impromptu musical performances, clamoring for wristbands and +1s. But they also teemed very controllably, in the sense that everywhere you looked there were lines to stand in. If you played your cards right at South by Southwest, you could have easily spent the entire week standing in lines and never once seeing any music. You might have lived the dream of standing outside of venues fruitlessly texting the person you knew inside to get you in forever.
There were lines for people with badges, lines for people with wristbands, lines for people to get wristbands, lines for people to go to the bathroom, lines for people to get back from the bathroom, lines to get into shows, lines to never get into shows. The city truly had it all. There was even some app advertising itself by having people walk around saying they would stand in line for you. I didn't trust it, but it was there.
Many of these lines didn't seem to lead anywhere or promise any realistic sense of hope. They tended to follow a strict “ten-out, one-in” policy engineered to keep venues under capacity and crush the hopes of all the actual fans who came for the music and payed a ton for wristbands, only to stand and watch assholes with fancier badges or better connections pass them in line. Reader, I admit, I was sometimes one of those assholes. I also admit that I pretty quickly began just ignoring stuff I had planned to do that looked too imposing. The aptly named Hype Hotel, for instance, had a line just to pick up entrance wristbands that, according to people standing in it on Tuesday, took two hours to get through. I never made the remotest of attempts to get into the House of Vans after seeing nothing but massive lines. Ditto for the Spotify House. And the Pandora shit. But fear not! I still waited in lines. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights, ranked on a scale of SXSW's hottest commodity, wristbands:
Fader Fort RSVP Wristband Line, Tuesday; approximately 30 minutes:
There are many cool things with open bars and great music that anyone can get into at SXSW assuming they pick up the event's wristband. But while there's an understanding that some great lines await you if you have the wristband, it's less well-advertised that just getting the right wristband often means endless minutes of boredom and eavesdropping on conversations about Childish Gambino's live performance. The Fader Fort might have been the most prodigious of these setups, with a carefully laid out maze of barricades, nine pickup windows and probably around 40 staff involved overseeing the whole production. Since there wasn't much music happening yet on Tuesday and this was many peoples' first line, optimism was in the air; the crowd jovially put up with the wait, although some people got way too weird about some nearby mud puddles that weren't even that. This is where I really got the lay of the land for the week, courtesy of a conversation behind me: “All that matters is Spotify, Pandora, Fader and Samsung.” A life motto as well as a line one, I'd say. If there's one great way to enjoy music, it's with a Galaxy Note IV loaded with all your favorite apps. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure this is where I got the sunburn on the back of my neck that would bother me for the rest of the week. 3 out of 5 wristbands.
Chilantro Taco Truck Line, Tuesday; approximately 15 minutes:
I think this was a holdover from the Interactive festival, but word on the SXSW free food Twitter account was that you could get free tacos here courtesy of an app called Roikoi. You had to sign up for the app (SXSW #HACK: Make a fake Facebook account to sign up for shit). As far as I could tell, it's the most pointless, worthless app in an industry that thrives on pointlessness and worthlessness. This app had everything down—easy promotional giveaway, dude wearing a helmet covered in LEDs for no reason, reckless spending of money on branding, simple slogan (Hire. Fire. Skip.)—except a product that anyone would ever have any chance of wanting to use. This app is one of the most blatant grabs to mine your Facebook data that I've ever seen, and, if you're an investor in it, I highly recommend you cash in on all the vaguely Korean tacos you can while the going's good and get the fuck out because this shit is terrible. Also pretty sure my sunburn got worse. The taco was good, though. 1 out of 5 wristbands.
Fader Fort Line, Wednesday; approximately 5 minutes:
Since I showed up right when it opened at 1:30, the actual Fader Fort wait was painless and smooth. They confiscated my empty water bottle, though—something that would happen about a billion more times this week thanks to Austin's relentless bar security. #freeallmywaterbottles 4 out of 5 wristbands.
Scoot Inn Artists' Entrance Line, Wednesday; approximately 15 minutes:
I was covering this show, so I waited in a guest list line with the artists, which taught me that the SXSW organizers run a really fucking tight ship. They do not let anyone in, and they do not give a fuck about your excuse or your pretense or who you know. It took the artists who were performing on the bill 15 minutes to get in, since the people at the door had to chase down the only guy there who was allowed to let people in. At one point, some kids tried jumping the fence, and this was the team sent to deal with it. They were very courteous once you were in, though. 3 out of 5 wristbands.
The Sixth Street Bridge Near the Pandora Thing, all week; 0 minutes:
While the line to pick up a wristband for the Pandora party looked forbiddingly long and the line into the venue occasionally swelled, too, everything at this stage was entirely visible from the street if you stood at the right spot. This was a major coup for all the people who showed up just to take in the scene, especially since some of the best music I heard all week was coming out from behind this building. I have no idea what most of it was, though. Sorry! I realize that having a place where people could actually watch good bands pretty much unimpeded for free and without waiting is basically against the core tenets of SXSW at this point, but it was definitely cool. This was the city's best stage. 5 out of 5 wristbands.
Illmore Outside Line, Thursday; approximately 45 minutes:
The Illmore is the supposedly super sick after-party series at SXSW known for famous rappers making cameos and making everyone feel like a VIP because they were chilling at a sweet rented mansion. But it's gotten high-profile enough that this year it was held at a massive gymnasium with intense police presence, endless amounts of thirst to get in, and very little in the way of mixing with famous rappers. The people I came with kind of knew the organizers and were confident we would get in based on their past experiences going. But it turned out to be more of a clusterfuck than expected, and I found myself waiting near the entrance with the other mobs of people confident someone was coming any second to get them in while my friend headed inside to try to find a wristband for me. It finally happened, but it was the EDM night, and I was so exhausted when I got in that I basically ended up charging my phone for a while and leaving. My friend and I caught a cab that was letting a couple out, and the driver told us they had paid $500 for wristbands on Craigslist. That made me sad. 1 out of 5 wristbands.
AV Club Day Party Line, Friday; approximately 20 minutes:
I have no fucking clue why since their music is basically completely standard garage rock, but Speedy Ortiz seemed to bring out big lines everywhere I saw they were playing this week and this place was no exception. But this was a chill party and Wye Oak was good, so it was worth the wait. The line moved steadily, the weather was beautiful, and I read this great thing about going to Willie Nelson's ranch so it wasn't too bad. 4 out of 5 wristbands.
AV Club Day Party Backyard Line, Friday; 0 minutes:
There was a fucking line to get into the part where the music was! What is with this shit!? But you could also just not stand in it and walk around the side of the building instead, so that's what I did. 0 out of 5 wristbands.
Illmore Outside Line, Saturday; approximately 40 minutes
Yeah, I went back because Lil Wayne was rumored to be coming (he did, and I was so, so happy) and I had actually figured out how to get on the guest list. But the chaos of previous nights had forced a reorganization and a new gate, and the clamoring and frustration was higher than ever. Also, there were more police, and they were huge dicks. They let my girlfriend in only to point her the wrong way, let her out and then tell her she had to wait in line again. When I tried waiting for her, they threatened to kick me out for standing still. But the actual event staff were super courteous and probably the most professional group I've ever seen when it comes to handling the type of chaos that happens as people try to explain they're list and are clearly lying. Shouts out to them. 2 out of 5 wristbands.
Don't forget to check out the rest of our SXSW coverage, too.
Kyle Kramer loves brands and interacting with brands. He's on Twitter. - @KyleKramer