No badge? No problem. Free shows gain popularity during SXSW.
So, you want to come to play at South by Southwest? How seriously do you really need to plan that trip?
The proliferation of house parties during South by Southwest means a lot of things for the music conference and the musicians who tour here. For one thing, it’s made applying for the official showcases kind of an afterthought.
“Yeah, we didn’t even submit to the official festival,” said Monroe Street, a Brooklyn-based musician whose group, School came down with a few unofficial gigs lined up. “We’d heard there was a lot of weird cool music on the periphery of the Austin scene.”
School also got invited to play some house parties when they got here — a scene that appears to be growing.
“The underground, I guess, of Austin is getting to be more known during South By, than you have to buy a badge or you have to do this,” said Charles Ben Russel of the Austin band, Cartright.
Russel and his band played at resident Justin Boyle’s house party.
“We’re glad to be part of the South By thing, at least the unofficial side of it,” Boyle said. “The other side is a little too bureaucratic.”
Boyle and his roommates like to throw a lot of parties at their East Austin home, but this week, they did something a little different. They featured local bands that, they worried, might not have as many venues to play because of the influx of out-of-town musicians.
“I don’t have a whole lot to give but what I do have to give is these shows,” Boyle said.
The explosion of free shows, unofficial shows and house parties has pushed many Austinites to give up buying an official pass altogether. Natalie Yoder said she bought a wristband once but always had more fun when she was going to free, unsanctioned events.
“It’s normally my friends who are in local bands,” Yoder said. “They’re the ones that organize house parties at their homes and other people’s homes. Normally it’s free food and free booze and people that you know.”
Of course not everyone is content with a backyard BBQ and a few bands. People still come to town looking for what Mercedes Sanderson is looking for.
“I want to see the big people,” Sanderson said. “I want to see the stars.”
The tension between official and unofficial South By Southwest events has been around for years. Every wristband that doesn’t get sold is money not being made by the conference organizers. But, lately, the face of the competition has changed. With corporations sponsoring unofficial events like the Fader Fort by Fiat, which draw massive lines and even give out their own wristbands, South by Southwest might not be so concerned about some local acts getting together for a jam session. And that might be good news for the house parties.