Cloud Nothings: “I dare you to not take a picture with your camera phone.” Nope.

Austin in March is nuts. This year I made some new best friends at SXSW: Benadryl, the sweet pedicab driver who so kindly offered me a free ride 2:30 a.m. on Saturday morning and a veggie-friendly Vietnamese food truck. I also saw some exciting shows, including new bands I’d never seen and some old standbys who never fail to impress. Here are a few of them:

  • R&B superstar Usher was hanging around Austin during the fest, and I managed to catch him at the Dutch Invasion day party just chilling with his bodyguard and watching the satisfying fury of Bombay Show Pig’s petite drummer, but this is my confession: Usher, you should have stuck around for Jacco Gardner and his British invasion, Animals-style harpsichord and clean Peter Noone vocals.

  • Sometimes the best things at SXSW are found off the beaten path. At Austin’s best venue—I’m talking about the empty lot behind the Wendy’s on the east side for anyone who was thinking “You mean Stubb’s, right?”—the backline was two PAs powered by a roll-away generator, and I ate my first Frosty in a solid decade. Why hang out near a Wendy’s? To catch the punk warriors of Philly’s Dangerous Ponies and New York’s tropical beats drummer D. Gookin, duh. Oakland’s drum ‘n’ keys trio Religious Girls were the stars of the set.

  • Their summer 2012 album falls flat occasionally, but Icky Blossoms, the side project from Tilly And The Wall’s Derek Pressnall (minus the tap-dancing schtick), was pleasantly surprising, setting off an intimate dance party downstairs at the Parish.

  • It’s tough to be bothered with the lines in Austin when there is something interesting happening in five places at any given point, so I skipped out on a line-around-the-block wait for Scottish synth-pop darlings Chvrches, despite hearing good things. Of course, they also played New York last night and they should be riding the festival circuit for a while, so it’s tough to feel remiss about not checking them out.

  • While my personal SXSW focus is always new music and artists I have yet to see (all apologies to Prince, all the excellent CMJ-recommended bands I had to miss and, um, Green Day), sometimes you just need to throw away your rules and go rock out while trying not to spill your Lonestar (the national beer of Texas) on the punk standing next to you. So thanks, Pujol, Brodka, the Thermals, Cloud Nothings and Thee Oh Sees, who were all stellar as per usual.

  • DIIV, on the other hand, wasn’t having as much fun, taking to Tumblr to let out a little SXSW frustration.

  • And I get it. Brands are out in droves and sets get cut short. So along with great music and industry folks from all corners of the globe, SXSW still becomes what we want to escape: a bona fide spring-breaker hotspot. For example, if you, like me, committed the crime of being a woman alone on 6th Street, you probably had some hooligans squeezing your ass on a nightly basis. One jerk even became a Reddit superstar. But if you haven’t yet figured out the best way to avoid this nonsense, here’s the only hot tip you’ll need to know: Stick to the east and south sides.