If you live far east of Interstate 35, you would be excused for thinking it was just a regular Thursday in March. There were few signs that South by Southwest was even going on north of 12th Street and east of Chicon Street.
But the closer you got to downtown Austin, the more intense and exhausting the traffic became. Bands' vans towing trailers tried to navigate tight East Side streets, and fans looking for parking competed with city buses for space on the road. Downtown feeders onto I-35, such as 15th and 11th streets, came to a virtual standstill.
The entire zone from East Seventh Street to the MetroRail tracks, east of I-35 and west of Comal Street, was honeycombed with improvised outdoor music venues. The prime destination: Levi's Fader Fort, a combination of retail outlet, secret fort and mini-Austin City Limits Music Festival.
"It's warm and real," said Austin's Brianna Bardhi of the enclosure around an industrial structure. "Like a clubhouse."
Although conceived partly as an artist's retreat, the Fader Fort now attracts pods of locals looking for unofficial SXSW action — and tall Budweisers, consumed in abundance among the smokestacks and corrugated relics of East Austin.
The festive atmosphere was marred when it was learned that a man is facing aggravated robbery charges after police say he stole two pairs of jeans at gunpoint from the fort. According to an arrest affidavit issued Thursday, police say Leandre Darryl Campbell, 24, went into the fort Monday asking for clothing and food, and then pointed a black, semi-automatic handgun at several people. Campbell, a former event employee, according to the affidavit, was seen leaving the scene in a 2007 Chrysler PT Cruiser.
For the first year, SXSW has implemented the SXXpress program, which allows badge-holders to pick up passes that let them cut in front of the line at showcases. The limit is one per day per registrant. The cutoff is 10 percent of the venue's capacity.
"We love it," said Jeff Cripps of Australia, who's here with his band Mississippi Shakedown.
He and his friends had heard they needed to see Jim Lauderdale at Antone's and hoped to bypass the line expected at Antone's on Thursday night.
Volunteers manning the SXXpress stations are expecting a long line today , as the hot ticket is Muse, which is limited to badge-holders only (sorry, wristbands).
Thursday's quickest sellouts were Cedar Street Courtyard (hosting She & Him ), the Mohawk patio (the xx ) and Latitude 30 (VV Brown). Brown will also play a pop-up show at Gaspipe (Fifth and Sabine streets) at 1 p.m. today .
Other SXSW tidbits
• Kendall Clark of Balmorhea was appreciative of SXSW allowing musicians with wristbands to attend all four days of panels. Usually only badges are allowed.
"I also have a music production business, so it's been great," he said Thursday at the Convention Center. "Many of the panels are geared towards musicians, but most of the badge-wearers are not musicians, so it makes sense this way."
• Beerland is the bar with 'tude, which is not only snubbing SXSW for the third straight year, but has a sign out front that says "This isn't a SXSW venue, so spare me the badge and get in line with everyone else."
Staff writers Michael Barnes, Claudia Grisales and Michael Corcoran contributed to this report.