Austin, Texas – An attractive girl in the shortest of short-shorts stood on the corner of 6th and Red River on Wednesday handing out nondescript laminates. “South by Southwest badges!” she shouted, successfully luring in passersby of a certain age and demographic. A similar scene played out earlier in the day on 5th and San Jacinto. “Get your South by Southwest wristbands!” a young girl shrieked, handing out white rubber bands that offered little more than arm candy.
As is always the case when South By Southwest swallows the friendly Texas city, access is the currency that rules Austin this week. But this year, perhaps more than any other year, the concept of exclusivity seems more like parody.
Even attendees who paid between $625 and $795 for proper music badges were obligated to enter a ticket lottery to Wednesday night’s NPR showcase at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q. This year’s lineup — marked by sets from Nick Cave and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs — will likely be remembered as one of the festival’s marquee events. A friend texted last night to say that NPR music purveyor and tastemaker Bob Boilen was unable to get even his NPR affiliates through the gates. But what does it mean when high-paying badge-holders (a minority among the swells of artists, press and hangers-on that make up the vast majority of the festival population) still grapple with considerable admission anxiety?
Late Wednesday afternoon, a crowd of 100 stretched from the entrance of the Parish across the diameter of 6th Street, waiting for the chance to see Thurston Moore and his new-ish band, Chelsea Light Moving. Some bypassed the line and settled for the buzzy Mac DeMarco at the lower portion of the same venue, perhaps hoping to sneak upstairs to the “real show” thereafter.
Both badge-holders and plebeians stood an equal chance at entrance to the Spotify Live party inside a massive warehouse on East 6th. The only catch? A Disney World-esque line that snaked far and wide long before headliner Kendrick Lamar took the stage.
The Spotify scene was in spitting distance of the infamous Fader Fort — a physical manifestation of the “access trade.” A strictly capped number of RSVPs, proprietary wristbands, a physical, fortified compound and unlimited free alcohol separate the Fort from the thousands of competing parties this week. A Fader Fort wristband yields more than merely entrance into the hipsterdome — its presence on a wrist is an indication of relevance, connections, self-worth.
But if you can’t get to the Fort this week, you’re second best bet is the Friday afternoon Spin party at Stubb’s. All you need is a special Spin at Stubb’s laminate, of course.
John Hendrickson is the Entertainment Editor at Digital First Media and the former Managing Editor of Reverb.