Austin Texas, the proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World”, has had the privilege of hosting one of the world’s most acclaimed, anticipated, and sought after film, arts, tech, and music festival for the 28th time this year.Two-weeks filled with exclusive film screenings, arts and music showcases from the some of the biggest record labels, to those on the rise. While the stars of the music industry always make surprise performances, headline shows, and special appearances at venues throughout the week; the attention is on the new comers, unknowns, and artists fresh on the scene with a mission to make a name for themselves.
No Badge Necessary
Being an unconventional “festival” where attendees must purchase music Badges for guaranteed entry to the staggering number of events happening, the beauty of SXSW is the sheer number of free events for those without special credentials. As an advent concert, party, and festival goer, I decided to give it a try without a badge, or set schedule, and ventured onto the streets of Austin for what would turn out to be a mind-blowing experience.
My first night in Austin, I met up with the good people at SquadUp, a event planning start-up, to acquire a wristband for arguably the most exclusive and sought after event of South by Southwest. The ILLMORE, a massive party usually held in a secret mansion location where the famous hang out, the stars perform, and the lucky party. The line of at least 300 people was lined around the secret wristband drop location only indicated just how crazy this party would be. The friends with me were all able to receive wristbands, also thanks to SquadUp.
We had some drinks on 6th street, in the heart of the SX action, stumbling across an EDM showcase at Krave, featuring none other than the legend Tommie Sunshine. Having the privilege in the past working for Pacha New York and WMC in Miami, I have met and seen almost every big EDM act there is. Tommie Sunshine was a new one for me and I was overly impressed. His set was a perfect warm up for the night to come. We then took a cab to the address sent out only to those fortunate enough to receive the information, and headed to The ILLMORE…
Held at the Millenium Youth Complex in South Austin, The ILLMORE took over the 55,000 square foot venue to host the 4 day party featuring top record labels, DIM MAK, OWSLA, Taylor Gang, A$AP Mob, and YMCMB. Seeing these names alone meant all of us were in for a treat. The two nights I attended The ILLMORE, label heads Steve Aoki, Skrillex, Wiz Khalifa, and A$AP Rocky all made headlining performances for the lucky 2500 parties that quickly became the envy of all those unable to attend. Tito’s Vodka, based in Texas, along with Red Bull provided complimentary drinks and party favors to keep the night going well into the next morning. Beats by Dre featured an interactive social media photo booth showcasing their new Beats Music App.
Vodka, Vodka, Vodka
The second day started with a stop by Project Music House, a mansion party hidden deep in Austin’s luxurious West Lake Hills, for an ultra exclusive hip-hop dj showcase with sponsors New Amsterdam Vodka, 20 Grand Vodka, and UBER amongst others. After posing for some pictures with New Amsterdam, I met one of the Regional Managers for sponsor 20 Grand Vodka, Marvin Botterra, who extended an invite to another event with his new brand of Vodka-infused Cognac being held the next day at Flamingo Cantina.
After much networking, photos, and relaxing in the the sprawling 5 story house perched in the hills, I made my way back downtown for the Famous Stars & Straps Showcase. I received a VIP wristband courtesy of a featured dj from the Project Music House party, DJ Warrior. VIP at the Historic Scoot Inn for this showcase featured access backstage to rub shoulders with the list of well known and upcoming artists, as well as a raised viewing area of the stage. Every performer took the crowd to higher levels of excitement and energy, leading up to the headline act of the night.
Unlimited Music, Free Passes, The Experience
Travis Barker, the man behind Famous Stars & Straps was joined by Yelawolf and DJ Paul. The trio on stage, all excelling in their individual performances combined for a truly incredible performance. DJ Paul live scratched and mixed tracks, while Travis Barker hammered away at the drums for live renditions of each track Yelawolf performed. The lighting was stellar, the acoustics well above par, and the trio absolutely show-stopping. Between sets I had the opportunity to take pictures with and shake hands with some of Houston’s biggest Hip-Hop & Rap acts including Trae, Paul Wall and Bun B. As a native Houstonian growing up listening to all these rappers on the radio, meeting them was a milestone in my live music experience.
In my final day of taking on SX, I felt accomplished, outrageously tired, but yet extremely anxious for what I could make of my last day. I made my way to Flamingo Cantina to follow through on the invite to the 20 Grand Vodka sponsored showcase. Meeting some fellow event goers on the way to the venue, I had them all join me for what would turn out to be complimentary drinks, thanks to Mr. Botterra out of courtesy for bringing more attendees to sample his vodka. 20 Grand Vodka infused Cognac is sure to be a hit, incredibly smooth, rich flavor, a name that draws attention, and an ambitious man leading the charge.
As the day turned to night, I headed over to the single showcase I had intentions of attending all weekend, the PlayItDown Records party with Jesse Rose, Oliver$, Doorly and Tom Trago. The prominent house music record label brought its heavy hitters for the evening, sunset rooftop party that created an atmosphere that took me back to my New York and Miami party days. Groovy tech house all night with all the dj’s sharing the decks with each other, meshing their styles and skills for 6 hours of house music heaven. As a true house music fan, this was the perfect ending to the madness and epicness that was my SX experience.
In the end what I learned is this: there is more to do than you could possibly even begin to plan out. The more time you spend waiting in line for a certain party that probably features an artist you’ve seen before or will surely see again, you are missing hundreds of other possible shows that could be equally or more rewarding. Keep an open mind, wander freely, and simply enjoy the music. Anyone who loves music and doesn’t live under a rock wants to be at SX, so take advantage of it. If you didn’t, well… there’s always next year.
Follow and check out the artist and sponsors from the events I attended and make sure to watch my video recap.
Artists & Sponsors: @squadUP // @skrillex // @trinidadjamesGG // @yelawolf // @steveaoki // @travisbarker // @20grandvodka // @NewAmsterdamVod // @Tommiesunshine // @wizKhalifa // @PachaNYC // @TRAEABN // @paulwallbaby // @FortKnoxLive // @theILLMORE //@ILLROOTS
About the Author
Justen Barber, Houston, TX native. Studies Mass Communication and Spanish at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX. Living in Puerto Rico as a kid solidified Spanish as a part of his life. Former Marketing/PR intern for Pacha NYC. Advent Festival goer. Music. Travel. Fuego.