Choosing your own adventure at SXSW

SXSW 2013 Music Festival - Day 4
It gets busy at SXSW. Photo: Redferns via Getty Images

The South By Southwest (SXSW) Music Conference, which wrapped up this past weekend in Austin, TX, is a ‘choose-your-own adventure’ music festival in a literal sense. The schedule each day consists of hundreds of shows, including official showcases featuring bands associated with music companies and free branded showcases and ‘mini-festivals.’

SXSW was originally geared towards exposing up-and-coming bands from the US and abroad to music industry professionals. During the day, panels by music execs speak on topics in the industry to people in the industry who buy badges for the conference.

Over the last several years, SXSW has since exploded into a spring break music festival — and you don’t need a badge or to pay a penny to see both rising and established acts. Here are some tips on how to maximize your week of fun, sun and free music in Austin next March.

SXSW, centered in the downtown area of Austin, TX, is done best with some pre-planning. There are several types of events during SXSW Music, but the only ones that require badges (or a paid ticket) are the official showcases. For every official showcase, there are just as many free afternoon and evening shows.

At the center of the festival experience are free, self-contained festival spaces sponsored by mtvU, and music magazines Fader and Vice, among others. FADER Fort and VICELAND are must-see events, featuring acts like Kendrick Lamar, Tegan and Sara and Japandroids, among others this year. Be sure to RSVP prior to each individual event, and prepare to wait in line for an hour to enter them at their peak. It’ll be worthwhile though, with star acts, free booze and a comfortable space to hang out.

Hundreds of record labels, music blogs, and even Doritos have one or more events with free drinks at bars, venues, warehouses and every makeshift space within a couple of miles of the 6th Street main bar/venue drag.

It’s quite easy to get overwhelmed by all of the choices, but websites like do512, mxdwn and MyFreeConcerts peruse the myriad options and choose their favorite free shows. Be sure to do some research beforehand and choose some showcases each day you want to check out.

It’s worth noting that this is a festival of music discovery  and one of the most rewarding parts of the festival is wandering into a bar and hearing a great, unknown band. At the Hype Hotel, bands with blog buzz  play a free pop-up venue. But, smaller blogs’ and labels’ showcases are also worthwhile. Some great bets are NYC-based music magazine The Deli’s ‘Hangover Hideout’ showcases and as well as ones curated by Brooklyn Vegan and Consequence of Sound.

Whether its seeing rising acts, established festival-level acts or exploring a new city, Austin during the SXSW Music Festival offers something for everyone. It’s a great excuse to get some sun towards the end of winter inexpensively. And, to eat some great Tex-Mex.


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