Why You Should See Small Shows at SXSW

A few days into SXSW, your body starts shutting down. With all the sun, the constant loud noise, the walking, the drinking, the lack of sleep, and the whatever-else-you’re-into, it’s hard to wake up on Saturday morning and be excited about seeing more live music with a bunch of strangers. On day four, it’s almost impossible to stand in a line and not think, “Is this even going to be worth it?”

Yesterday was my fifth day at SXSW. So far, things have been great. Pigeons & Planes curated a day at the Complex house and it was amazing. I went to a Def Jam party at a barbecue spot one night, and then ended up at that same spot the next night to see St. Vincent. I got to see Redman & Method Man, Meg Myers, ScHoolboy Q, 2 Chainz, Nas, Gunplay, Cerebral Ballzy, Lunice, Dam-Funk, Flying Lotus, Childish Gambino, and so many other acts that I can’t even remember them all right now. Also, my back is killing me, and last night when I was brushing my teeth my right ear started to ring. I’m tired.

Since this is my first year at SXSW, it’s hard for me to try to tell you how to do it right, but here’s my best piece of advice: see some small shows. Apparently, that’s what SXSW used to be all about, but this year we’ve got Jay and Kanye, Lady Gaga, and Lil Wayne. We’ve got lines snaking around the block to see artists that headline festivals every year, and we’ve got venues the size of football fields packed to capacity.

On Friday night, I almost waited in one of those lines. Instead, I decided to go to a the rooftop of a little bar in downtown Austin and see Meg Myers’ last SXSW show. She had already played at the Complex house for the Pigeons & Planes showcase, but she was awesome so I wanted to see her again, and I couldn’t bring myself to wait in one of those long lines for a hyped up show with a big-name act that will probably be back in New York city before the end of the year.

That Meg Myers show was the best decision I’ve made all week. After standing in large capacity, tightly packed venues all week, I was comfortable on a roof top, five feet from the stage. I could see Meg’s eyes roll into the back of her head when she screamed. I could feel the vibrations from the cello and I could see all members of the band on stage at once, without trying to duck and stretch and pivot. It was the one show I saw so far that made me forget I was at SXSW, made me stop thinking about what show I was going to see next, and made me remember why I was here in the first place.