Road to Austin: What's in Your Suitcase? The Essentials That Smart DIY Bands Pack for SXSW

Posted by Jhoni Jackson on Mar 9, 2016 06:00 AM
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Every week leading up to SXSW, we'll be sharing the exciting journeys of Sonicbids bands from all around the world in our 2016 Road to Austin series. Follow along to get insight on the planning and preparation that goes into it, a firsthand look at life on the road, tips from SXSW veterans, and much more. Join the conversation by using #RoadToAustin on social media – we'd love to hear from you! 

Packing for your SXSW jaunt can be daunting. Even if you're not touring your way in or out and are only playing in Austin, the logistics of figuring out what you'll need – then loading it all into your vehicle – isn't that simple. (Or, if you're flying, your carry-on and checked baggage, which complicates matters even further.)

The most important items you carry might be literally be carried for miles from the only parking spot you could find. So what do you really need to bring, and how will you lug it? And what is still essential, but can remain in the van as backup? Three artists headed to this year's festival shared their packing lists with us. Read on – their input may help you figure out your own plan.

Note: Some responses may have been slightly edited for length or clarity.

1. Kat Hamilton of Manic Pixi, alt-punk band based in Brooklyn

"First thing to know about Manic Pixi: we tour in a minivan. Her name is Mom, and she is a green Dodge Caravan. Pros: great gas mileage and easy parking. Cons: you have to pack super light. I’m talking tiny-mouse-on-vacation light.

"My show outfits take up a good amount of my bag, so I pack no more than three bottoms, three tops, one set of sleepwear, and some underwear. Since we are touring SXSW from NY, I am bringing a pair of jeans for the colder cities on the way. I also like leggings because they don’t take up much space. Austin is hot during the day but can chill down at night. It’s imperative to have a light jacket or a thin hoodie to layer underneath. As far as style, you see everything at SXSW. Last year I brought a light dress and wore it during most of SXSW. Then at night I wore tights.

"It will get hot out, so bring sunscreen! Last year, Manic Pixi played a pool party in Austin and we came back burnt to a crisp.

"A lot of the venues in Austin are backlined, so we try to bring only the gear that we need to make the backline workable. There isn’t a lot of good parking in Austin, so you really want to make sure your setup is mobile. The less you have gear wise, the happier the promoters and sound people will be. They are most likely dealing with 30 bands in one day. Ask yourself: Do I need a second guitar for this one song we play in our set? Do I need my full pedalboard, or can I just bring my favorites? What will facilitate a solid but quick live sound?

"Also, merch is essential. Merch sales can pay your way in gas and burritos from Pittsburgh to Nashville! But it also can’t take up too much space. We are constantly reinventing our display to be even more space-friendly. I also love incorporating small merch items as the majority rather than something more fragile and hefty like vinyl. SXSW is an industry branding smorgasbord. Put your band name on everything and stick it everywhere. We will have pins, stickers, tour posters, these little bracelets I’m making, and some T-shirts.

"I love when bands set up a listening station on an iPad and use a Square to have people purchase online right at the table. It saves space in terms of CDs, which, let’s be honest, usually end up as coasters anyway."

2. Dave Munro of Boston indie rock band Air Traffic Controller

"I'll be bringing my biggest backpack to SXSW. Why the backpack, everyone asks, why not a suitcase? The thing is, you never know when you're gonna need both hands at SXSW: carrying instruments, double-fisting (or a beer and a water), double-high-fiving (two hands fiving two people at once, or one person giving you a high-10), handling a juicy taco, waving both hands to get someone's attention, double-fist pumping for a new band you are discovering, hugs with strangers... the list goes on. You just need a huge backpack if you want to bring everything and do everything."

3. Sara Ontaneda, folk singer-songwriter from Santiago de Guayaquil, Ecuador

Both Fabio [Rojas, drummer] and I are packing our newly printed business cards to hand out to people we meet. Also, I am bringing several copies of my EP, Marte y Júpiter, for some media interviews I have planned out, and also for people who are interested in listening to my music. The good thing about these copies is that they are in CD jackets, making them easy to pack. I am also bringing a small notebook to jot down ideas, information, whatever I feel is important to make a note of.

Besides that, of course, we're each packing our clothes and personal items. I want to look my best, so that includes my hot-air brush and my make-up case. We discussed outfits and we will be wearing our 'stage clothes' for our showcase. For me, that's a dress I bought recently when I was visiting my family in Ecuador. It has fringes at the bottom that give it a folky-rock vibe, so I think it fits my music. For Fabio, he will be wearing a blazer that his fashion designer sister, Lily Rouge, made."


Jhoni Jackson is an Atlanta-bred music journalist currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she juggles owning a venue called Club 77, freelance writing and, of course, going to the beach as often as possible.

Road to Austin

Topics: sxsw, Musician Life, road to austin


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