SXSW Beginner’s Guide

Stephen Acevedo

It’s finally that time of the year when the annual South by Southwest Festival takes over Austin for a week with an infinite number of concerts, film premieres, panels and of course, advertisements. With every new year comes a fresh crop of SXSW first-timers who haven’t the slightest clue where to begin with this behemoth. Luckily, the Daily Texan has compiled a beginner’s guide to make one of the coolest festivals on the planet just a little bit less intimidating. 

The music component of SXSW is undoubtedly the biggest draw of casual attendees, as it showcases the hottest acts of the previous year along with who will likely blow up in the coming year. Without a badge, though, it becomes generally impossible to slip into any official SXSW music showcases. Fortunately, for every official show an artist plays, they will usually play another five free parties that should be sought out by non-badge holders in attendance. 

For daily curated lists of free events during the festival, be sure to subscribe to Do512’s email list, as they do a great job of highlighting unofficial shows as they come up throughout the week. Free parties usually call for attendees to RSVP beforehand, so it’s best for anyone interested in them the night before, or earlier. 

Just because an event is free doesn’t mean everyone is getting in, though. If an unofficial party is hosting an even slightly notable act, there will almost certainly be a decent line for entry. If there’s a show that you absolutely can’t miss, be sure to arrive as early in the day as possible. The later you show up to a free show, the longer the line will be and the lower your chances of getting in. 

Another thing that should be taken into consideration when planning a SXSW outing is transportation. Getting around Austin on a normal day is already a nightmare by itself. When one of the biggest festivals in the world takes up residence in the city, that nightmare increases twentyfold—be sure to plan accordingly. 

The Capital Metro bus system is probably the most affordable option, especially for UT students who get free bus fare, but it certainly isn’t the most reliable. Buses will often be at maximum capacity and unable to accommodate new passengers. For that reason, it’s good to leave about an hour grace period between when you leave your home and when you want to get to an event. 

One of the best things about SXSW is the absurd amount of free food, clothes and other merchandise being handed out all week. Don’t forget to take advantage of that. You’ll thank yourself later when the inevitable drink spill happens or a drunk tourist yacks on your shirt. With food sponsors for events, you should also be sure not to spend unnecessary money on food. Doritos and Taco Bell will surely be handing out free samples of their newest abominations all over the city, so save your money for drinks at the bar or a rideshare home when the buses are all full. 

While there are plenty of free unofficial events for non-badge holders, there will inevitably be an official showcase that you and your friends are too stubborn to not try to sneak into. While it’s not advisable, the most important thing to remember is to just act like you belong. If someone tries to stop you or asks for your badge, just act too busy to be bothered by them. A little bit of confidence goes a surprisingly long way in
all of the chaos.