AUSTIN, Texas - The idea of standing in long lines at crowded venues in the hot Austin sun may not seem like much of a vacation to some, but for South By Southwest (SXSW) veterans Kevin Munson and Kyle Brown, they wouldn't have it any other way.
The Cincinnati natives make the trek every year to the self-proclaimed Music Capital of the World where the SXSW Music Festival takes place in March.
This year was no exception. It marked the fifth for the pair who shared with WCPO Digital the highs and lows of the festival and how it's changed over the years in their experience.
Munson and Brown, both Northside residents and longtime friends, first attended SXSW after their friends in Austin urged them to come for a visit.
"My friends moved down here and got local wristbands that they got for us that were $125 at the time and they got us in anywhere," recalled Munson.
And ever since the two were hooked on the festival.
"We saw one of our favorite bands open up for another favorite band. You get to see a nice intimate show that otherwise you would have to share with 2,000 other people," said Brown.
In order to attend SXSW, fans must purchase either a wristband or badge to enter the various venues setup throughout downtown Austin. Wristbands range in price up to $180, while badges range anywhere from $695-$1,500, depending on the level of access.
Over the years the prices have skyrocketed partially due to the growing popularity of the festival.
"The crowd has definitely changed. I think it's getting popular and people know it by name now. People used to come to see obscure bands or bands they've never heard of, but now people come because they want a 'SXSW experience'... They come based on the name not necessarily because they want to see the music," said Brown.
With hundreds of thousands of people wandering downtown Austin, venues fill quickly, which is a frustrating experience for most.
"We tried to see Iggy Pop and the Stooges but it was a 300-person max capacity venue. I was like, 'Yep, just missed a once in a lifetime opportunity,'" said Munson.
This year was the first the festival used a lottery system for the popular shows, which included performances by Prince, Justin Timberlake, Nick Cave and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, to manage the amount of people at each venue.
Many fans were disappointed, but for those like Brown, others were fortunate enough to see their favorite artists.
"One of the highlights was getting to see Dave Grohl at Sound City experience, about his new documentary on an old sound studio out in California -- David Grohl and Krist Novoselic -- two surviving members of Nirvana and then Rick Springfield came out and sang a couple songs, Stevie Nicks did a few songs. It was really awesome and way better than I expected it to be. I was going to go for like three or four songs, but I stayed for 4 and a half hours," said Brown.
But despite the crowds, Munson and Brown say SXSW offers a unique opportunity for music fans.
"What's great is that you came come and see so many different bands whereas a lot of the [festivals] in Cincinnati you see is Indie Rock or Garage Rock -- it's not a big range of different musical styles. Whereas here you can see Indie bands, metal bands, DJs, or whatever you're interested in," said Munson.
Some may just stumble upon the opportunity of a lifetime.
"One year we saw Frank Turner play for 200-300 people. About a week in half later was playing at stadium for 150,000 people," said Munson.
But for those who find themselves overwhelmed by the chaos of SXSW, Munson and Brown advise attendees check out the day parties, which they say are the best kept secrets of SXSW.
Day parties typically consist of unofficial showcases (those not technically part of SXSW), along with plenty of free food and free beer.
"Two years ago when we found the day parties and had way more fun," said Munson. "One thing we've learned too, is that if you follow a band you like they also play lots of day shows and that's where it's at...it's not quite as stressful."
Another tip the two shared is to skip the restaurants and eat at food trucks of which Austin has strategically placed throughout downtown. The food selection ranges in variety every year from Korean kimchi burritos to classic Southern barbeque.
"The first year we ate almost exclusively at restaurants. They weren't disappointing, but when you're spending $3-$4 more per plate it adds up really fast," said Munson.
Despite the growing crowds Munson and Brown say they're willing to give SXSW another shot.
"We're going to give next year one more try and see what happens. It's just been such a different experience this year compared to what it was. We've seen some good bands but not nearly what we've seen in the past," said Munson.
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