In the wake of returning from CMJ Music Marathon, only one thought comes to mind: how much are plane tickets to Austin for SXSW this March? I hadn’t been back to CMJ since the year 2000, when my former band played to a crowd of eight people at a gay nightclub in SoHo called Don Hill’s. I had a hunch from that experience that the whole allure of CMJ was merely an excuse for industry hacks to congregate in NYC for a weekend to shake each other down and talk about who else they can exploit in the coming year.
Well, now that I have joined the ranks of those swine (though the amount of importance I carry rivals that of Tim Brasic on the Illinois football team), I came to realize the fact that not only was I right about my first impression, but that it was even worse: CMJ carries no festival atmosphere whatsoever. But, can you blame them? In New York City every day is a festival to some degree. I say, if you are looking for a good festival to go to, drop your dough on SXSW in Austin, TX every March instead. A couple of key points:
1) The weather. It’s cold in NYC in October. Why spend your time huddled against a stranger on the subway when you could be in a T-shirt and cutoffs in the south of Texas?
2) The bands. This year’s headliners were nothing to write home about really. But SXSW brings in the most cutting edge and amazing artists year after year after year, both new and old.
3) Day Parties. Sure, they exist at both festivals, but in Austin, if you think ahead and reserve rooms downtown, you can roll out of bed and walk into one of numerous parties in the daytime offering free beer, free BBQ and often times, free goods. In NYC they seem like an afterthought, whereas in Austin they almost eclipse the actual festival.
4) Lodging. The cheapest place to stay in NYC is over $200 a night. You can stay in Brooklyn, but then you have to catch two trains to get anywhere. On the other hand, most hotels in Austin provide shuttle services to downtown. No matter where you stay, you are always just minutes from all the action.
5) Salt Lick BBQ. If you can find someone with a car, this is the finest Texas BBQ in the state. Fifteen miles outside of town, this restaurant makes no pretenses about what it serves. In fact, their motto is: “We didn’t get to the top of the food chain to become vegetarians.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. And while NYC is packed with the best restaurants in the world, this type of grub truly hits the spot based on geographical location.
Bottom line? If you want NYC, you can go any time year ’round, and the East Village will have plenty of shows to keep your indie rock heart satisfied. If you want a music festival, SXSW is simply the cream of the crop.