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48 Best Things We Saw at SXSW 2014

From crystal-encrusted tour vans to nutbar protests to big stars on tiny stages

With countless bands playing countless showcases, countless restaurants and food trucks serving a countless amount of meals, and an estimated 300,000 people there to take it all in, South by Southwest is filled with superlatives. Here, we count out 48 of our own, a list that covers all the best things we saw, heard, ate and experienced — everything from daytime showcases to late-night afterparties, from over-stuffed donuts to a tour bus covered with New Age crystals that were originally intended for Michael Jackson. 

By Steve Appleford, Gavin Edwards, Will Hermes, Christian Hoard, Nick Murray and Chad Swiatecki

Ian Witlen

BEST FREE GIG: Jon Langford at Yard Dog

Anyone wandering along South Congress Avenue on Saturday could have popped in to the Yard Dog Art Space and caught Langford’s set — no badge, wristband or guest-list required. A pretty good deal considering that Langford — a founding member of punk-rock O.G.'s the Mekons — is a master at mixing up raw drive, rootsy tunefulness and wry lyrics. Special shout-out to the middle-aged hippie-ish woman clearly having more fun than 99 percent of all SXSW fans, as she danced with her man and, later, spun around with middle fingers flying when Langford sang about the surveillance state in "Drone Operator."

Courtesy Ruptly

BEST COUNTER-PROTEST: The Topless Anti-Gun Lady

During a march of open-carry gun-rights advocates through downtown Austin on Wednesday, one woman stood alone, baring her breasts while holding a MORE BOOBS LESS GUNS sign. That it was an awfully chilly afternoon only added to her bravery.

sxsw 2014 speakeasy

Nicole Fara Silver

BEST SECRET BOWLING ALLEY: The Speakeasy

The Speakeasy has two separate venues in the same building. If you want to make the transition from French-Algerian blues on the big stage to Finnish sisters playing synth-pop in the lounge, your best route is through the upstairs bar, which has Austin’s most surprising nightclub amenity: a two-lane bowling alley, in full use while the music plays.

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