How to do SXSW for free like a pro
28 March, 2015
This March, Craig and I flew to Austin from New Orleans to begin our 18 month career break at the music festival South By Southwest (SXSW). The two-week festival is not solely a music festival, it celebrates the film and interactive industries too but it was the six days of sounds pouring out of every bar, shop and van that we were interested in. You can read our day-by-day guide here. This article is for those who plan to do SXSW for free.
I’m going to use the word ‘free’ loosely. There are heaps of music opportunities for free, everything we saw was free monetary wise but you will pay – in time. But that’s cool because you will have a magical experience, bands we enjoy (The Twilight Sad) and new discoveries (Daniel Wilson).
1. Band Watch
Months before you go start scouting about your favourite bands Twitter pages to keep an eye out for who is attending. Add the following Twitter pages for updates too:
And our new friend @rideinscircles (John – big SXSW attendee)
The official SXSW website will advise you of the ‘official’ shows – these shows are for people who are buying badges (2015 prices here) and they have priority access (along with the next layer of priority – wristbands, more on that later).
2. Sched website
In the weeks before you arrive in Austin use the Sched website
If you click bands and select ‘unofficial’ this site will tell you when and where bands are playing for free. Now the really confusing part is each band will be playing a ‘party’ at a venue sponsored by a company / product (for some) and be on a certain date and at a designated time. For example Charles Bradley played at the CouchTrippin’ 2015 party which was sponsored by Lagunitas beer (which meant the beer was free!) in conjunction with the not for profit, O+ at The Container Bar on Wednesday 18th March. The party started in the afternoon with four bands on the line up. Our friend, Pete, queued for 3 hours (we joined him for an hour and a bit) and we just got in for Charles Bradley).
Not all bands are on this Sched website, apps such as Stubhub do the same but it wouldn’t work on my IPhone 4s (it did on Craig’s 5)
Each party has different RSVPs instructions. Some look for a simple email response; others ask you to download an app (like Rabbl); others you have to email and collect laminates/wristbands on a specific date in a certain window of time (EG. SPIN Party at Stubb’s – we collected our laminates the day before, there was still a queue the next day but it was moving by the time we arrived at 11am)
3. Purchase RSVPster
RSVPster acts as your mass RSVP agent. Set up a new email address (you will be inundated with RSVPs) from them. This service saved our unorganised asses so many times. They basically apply to free parties for you and email you the invite. Whilst queueing for Charles Bradley I went for a nosey to see what the front of line situation was. I panicked when saw the bouncers check people’s phones. Pete told us to relax, we already had invites through RSVPster. It doesn’t work for all parties though, that’s why step one and two are important. It’s not easy finding out the party your bands are playing – you’ll need patience. A charged phone is essential. Pack your charger too
4. Passbook and Eventbrite
Download any invites from RSVPster to Passbook (IPhone). Many parties look for you to use Eventbrite which is similar to Passbook
5. Add events to iCal
I didn’t use this to its full potential but survived. Pete made an Excel version and I made one by hand
5. Join Facebook Party Pages
But turn off your notifications so your friends can’t see the acceptance or you’ll end up with no FB friends. My friend, Gemma (I know, another one?) text to say she woke up to my invites to SXSW parties and was jealous. Three days later my own Mum said she was going to delete me for polluting her newsfeed. I only liked / added myself to a couple of parties but this seemed to have opened the floodgates
6. Collect South by Southwest Wristbands
If you want free food and drink don’t expect it from every party. We spent a good few hours at The Main II watching Only Real and Dream Koala but paid for drinks. The free, like actual free, days will be the BIG parties held at the notable venues:
- A. Mohawk (we met some guys who were queuing from 11am to see Win Butler DJ. If you want to see a band, dedicate your day to that party. They’ll throw you out for the night parties so don’t bother going there during the day in hope you’ll get to see a big gun at 9pm)
- B. Stubb’s BBQ (free breakfast tacos and Steele’s beer aka in bed by 8pm)
- C. Fader Fort (our new ‘line friend’ John attended Rachael Ray’s party and enjoyed a free breakfast)
7. Queuing at SXSW
Pete persevered on the Wednesday night by hanging outside one of the Stubb’s venues to see TV on the Radio, he paid $40 for the pleasure of the show. On the flip side, we queued for three hours from 7pm to see Years and Years ($15) and were told we could wait but it was unlikely we’d get in so we bumped it. The queues are fun so don’t think of them as negative! Take drink, make friends. John was such a great help with sussing out SXSW and general Austin goodness (article here)
SXSW for Free Recap
Find the bands you want to see, RSVP for said bands, work where and when to collect wristbands if required then party! We loved it so much we went back in 2016 then got hitched in Austin two days later!