South by South Mess (or how I learned to stop worrying and drink the Tito’s)

Everyone told me South By was over. Every time one of my pretentious friends said this I mentally replayed the “Portlandia” skit where everything is “over” and rolled my eyes. Were my friends just cynical, or was I going to wallow in the Austin sun to the sounds of struggle singer-songwriters until I drank enough Tito’s to pass out? The only way to find out was to see it first hand.

I got down on Thursday, too late for a some dope parties and for the first few days of Fader Fort. Because, contrary to what you may think, I work a 9-6 job and don’t get paid to go to parties, I could only get off work two days. I set aside my FOMO and made the most of it by taking a 6 am flight out to Austin to maximize my day.

Mistake #1 – Not getting enough sleep

I took a nap as soon as I landed because I knew today was gonna be long. I woke up, put on my most blog worthy outfit, and got ready to hit Fader Fort. Since I didn’t have festival passes, I was totally relying on the kindness of my plugs. My kind friend at Fader hooked my up with a wristband, so I planned to maximize the open bar intake at the Fort and then move on. I got to Fader Fort just as Flatbush Zombies hit the stage. I’m a HUGE fan and, much to the dismay of my bougie music industry friends, I ran toward the front and started wrapping every word before I even got a drink. The Zombies started with “Bounce” off their new album and ended with “Palm Trees”. It was executed with shirtless energy as only the Zombies can.

The lineup was less lit from that point for a rap fan like me until the final act of Rae Sremmurd. This meant a good window for drinking all the free Jack Daniels. I was avoiding the mournful sounds coming from the main stage when I saw a crowd of dancers, one of them a shirtless woman in only orange plastic fencing mesh, dancing toward the DJ booth. I was drawn into the set my the Mexican DJ collective N.A.A.F.I. The sound was techno grime, and the dancers were insane – what more did I want?

The original plan had been to stay at Fader Fort until Rae Sremmurd, but that was a long time away, and I was on the list for the Mass Appeal Live At the Bar-b-Q party with Nas. I had to weigh my options: leave now, and miss the Srem life boys, or stay and risk missing the BBQ event.

Mistake 2: Trying to do too much

I left Fader Fort to head further downtown (making a short stop to eat some guacamole) to see what this BBQ was looking like. There was, in fact, to bar-b-qing, but it was just a concert in a big warehouse space. I managed to get a VIP wristband by literally running into friends as I walked up, and I took this as a sign I was on the right path.

VIP was way to the front of the stage, and I had to part a red sea of basics to get there. I posted up and took in the NYC rap stylings of Dave East. He killed his performance, despite the lukewarm crowd reaction. This was very, very New York. And just when I thought it couldn’t get even more East Coast, Smif N Wessun took the stage, along with Buckshot. Then I looked behind me, and Joe Budden was in VIP. Am I even still in Austin? Granted, all the NYC rappers killed it. As a Bushwick resident, seeing Smif and Westin perform “Bucktown” was a highlight. But did I come here to be surrounded by the same NYC people? I guess I did.

Mistake 3: Pretending that SXSW isn’t full of all the same industry people you see every weekend

When Trae the Truth came out, it was like the comatose audience was given a shot of southern comfort. He ran through songs I have never heard, but the Texas audience knew every word to. I was into the show of support for a local hero.

After a short and forgettable intro by Dj Khaled, Nas came out. He performed just a few songs but one was an unreleased Dilla track which hit the blogs like wildfire. Nas didn’t really rap it, just played it as he stood on stage. And as a show of East Coast solidarity, he brought back out Dave East for “Forbes List”.

My NYC vibe was peaking so I decided to go with it and hit “House Party” – the iconic NYC Thursday hip hop party ran by Just Blaze was doing a special Austin edition. Lil Yachty was headlining. When I got there at 1 am, it was pretty ratchet and felt just like Webster Hall back home. I ended up only staying for Mannie Fresh, but he put on a great DJ performance. He hyped the crowd, played his hits and got it poppin. It turns out Lil’ Yachty had already performed before I got there (see mistake #2) so I said fuck it and went home around 1:30am for some much-needed sleep.

Day 2: Back at it with the Fader Fort! Today the plan was the same – get drunk for free with my friends at Fader then party hop. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans.

Mistake 4: Wearing a mesh daytime outfit all night and into the morning, despite a thunderstorm

Fader Fort was tight until it got evacuated. I saw two acts – Davido and Tory Lanez. Davido did it big with dancers, a hypeman and lots of Afro-Caribbean flavors. I was very into it, and that wasn’t just the Jack Daniels talking. I am always here for positive vibes, and Davido was full of them.

But nothing could top the performance Tory Lanez threw down. He rapped a few songs energetically then proclaimed “Fuck this, I’m going into the crowd.” During the trap anthem, “Pablo” he launched himself into the crowd then rapped while STANDING ON PEOPLE. Then he instructed his DJ to loop the song as he made his way all through the crowd. He walked across the sea of people like a trap Jesus until he found the scaffolding above the VIP, which he used as a jungle gym. After rapping on top of the unsafe looking lighting equipment, he has fans carry him, standing, like a Roman emperor. This is what I want in a rap show! It was by far the highlight of South By, and one of the best rap performances I’ve ever seen.

Just as Tory ended with a mic drop, the clouds started to roll in. Rumors of rain swirled around the drink line until the loudspeaker announced “due to inclement weather, we have to shut down.” A normal person would have gone home and changed out of my white mesh t-shirt in light of the rain and dropping temperatures, but not me! There were showcases to hit.

After finding some shelter and seafood to wait out the rain, I hit the Pigeons and Planes showcase. This was interesting because the hipster-fulled Pigeons and Planes showcase connected in the back to another venue that had a totally different vibe – it was ratchet southern rap. I love both things equally so I went back and forth between the two. The highlight was Hinds, who look like tiny Tumblr girls playing rock but pulled off a good set despite sound issues. In the back was a Memphis rapper who was rapping OVER Lil Wayne‘s vocals in “A Milli”. I love that song but not into the karaoke element. Time to go.

Last show I had to hit for the night was Brenmar and Sliink djing B2B. The weather had taken an inclement turn, and I was freezing, but I soldiered on (bolstered by Titos). Then venue was empty when we arrived due to a stabbing an hour before. Never one to be deterred by violence, I took in the opening act.

The rappers Cozz and Bas are two Dreamville signed, Queens-based rappers who were also on for a bit at the Mass Appeal party. Seeing Bas perform more songs for a smaller audience drew me in, and with hooks like “I’ll leave your ass in a parking lot” I was sold. I was too drunk to film his performance so here’s the song I liked.

Sliink and Brenmar performed last. The weather was very windy, and the stage was outdoors. Sliink started his set with “Ultralight Beam” which acted as a call to all the people inside the bar to come out and watch the DJ’s play. This didn’t happen in any major way, but I was out there, freezing and dancing to #support the #fam. The best part of a Sliink and Brenmar show is the interaction between them – they just look like they are having a fucking good time. It was infectious enough to get me to forget how cold I was.

At 2 am the party ended, and I had a 6 am flight. It took an hour of waiting in the cold to get a Lyft (Uber was at 7.4x surge). On the upside, I received a free promo t which I used for warmth and wore that same outfit on the plane. I woke up in another city still drunk, with a XL free t-shirt on as a dress, smelling of blunt smoke and Titos. Success.

The lesson here is when people tell you something is “over”, it’s probably just over for them. You can maximize any experience, and maybe even get a free t-shirt.

Until next year.

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