Every year I learn a few more what-not-to-dos at Austin's SXSW music festival: Don't sleep in too late or you'll miss the free tacos; RSVP for everything, just in case; don't make elaborate plans or you'll never hear anything new; try not to pay for beer. This year my best-laid festival plans fell apart early after a handful of early travel mishaps, but I learned a few festival-going tricks nonetheless.

Learn Spanish
Not only because it will help you get around, but because some of the best music in the city is delivered en Español. There are working-class Norteño bands that set up shop at dive bars on César Chávez Avenue (yup, every city has one) and groups flown in from Mexico City for official showcases, but some of the best music I saw at this year's festival came from Spain. Guadalupe Plata is a raw blues-rock trio that seems more inspired by the Mississippi Delta than the Black Keys; frontman Pedro de Dios, he of the Liam Gallagher glasses and protruding chest hair, is a slide-guitar wizard whose picking hand looks twisted and clubbed as he sings in both English and Spanish (sample lyrics: "Baby baby baby baby/ Baby baby baby baby"). Vetusta Morla plays big, sweeping indie rock with theatric percussion and downright breathtaking build-and-release song structures.

Take the Bus
Unlike our own transit system, Austin's Capital Metro is cheap; you can get most places for $1. But there are other helpful buses in Austin. During my visit, one such bus, covered in an awful hippie mural and blasting the Beatles' white album, was parked atop a hill on East 6th Street. The passengers on board greeted visitors with, "What do you need, bro?" (I think they meant drugs.) Another roaming bus, this one white on the outside and glowing purple inside, housed the surprisingly tight Austin-based prog-rock/jam band Interstellar Transmissions. The bus picks up strangers and fans at random as it creeps through the streets. And then there's the RVIP Karaoke RV, which loads would-be rock star passengers on board for free beer and bad renditions of Journey songs.

I Get Wet
The Onion
Perk up Your Ears
“We are measuring proficiency in math and English and science. That’s great, right? But we’re not measuring how well kids are doing creatively or how active they are physically, and when you don’t measure something, ultimately you don’t value it and you don’t teach it.” —Dena Morris, legislative director for Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin
“The first time I met Mick Jagger, I was 23 years old and so desperate to get any kind of crumb [of attention]. He just hit on my girlfriend...same thing with Eric Clapton. They wanted our youth and our girls. They were just old vampires.” —Ian Astbury, the Cult
—Dre Hayes of the Foundation (a branding/marketing group)

Ignore the Hucksters

Keep the Faith
Back to the Future

Make Lists
• Nicolas Jaar 
• Royal Canoe 
Portland’s music scene can go toe-to-toe with any city in the world. Y La Bamba seemed to hit its stride in the Southwest, Typhoon was typically epic and Radiation City put on the most polished set I saw all festival long, ending with a jaw-dropping cover of Etta James’ “At Last” that had audience members hooting, hollering and—in a couple of cases—openly weeping.