almost half a million people flood Austin, Texas, in preparation for South by Southwest, and if you don’t already have your ticket to this year’s event, you better get one and get to planning. The iconic festival has led to the success of acts like Hanson, James Blunt, John Mayer, The Strokes, HAIM, M.I.A., Grimes and others since 1987. Last year’s massive attendance included 2,200 official performers (from 67 countries) and a keynote speech from some guy named Barack Obama.
While most associate the festival strictly with music and film, the nine-day event also gives attendees exclusive access to some of the most influential people in the tech, design, journalism, government and health industries. SXSW has a little bit of something for everyone—whether you want to finally see The B-52’s Cindy Wilson live, ask Rachael Ray some questions or build your own vibrator. You can even hear what Montel Williams has to say about legalizing pot.
If you’re packing your bags for Austin or just watching from afar (they do have a live stream), get ready to experience some of the best moments of 2017 with these tips on navigating the event. Paste will also be livestreaming almost 40 different bands in studio sessions, via our Facebook page, which you can follow here. You can also see a full list of the bands we’re streaming here.
How SXSW Works
For newcomers, the expansive festival can be hard to decipher. First thing’s first: figure out which badge fits your South By needs. From now until March 10, you can buy an Interactive, Film or Music Badge (aka ticket) for $1,225. And if you happen to have an extra $300 lying around, you can upgrade to the Platinum Badge, which gives you primary access to any event at the festival. Luckily, each badge also guarantees secondary access to events in different categories, so you can catch a variety of featured speakers, keynotes, showcases and screenings. Can’t swing $1,300? While it might be a challenge, if you can get to Austin, you’re guaranteed to find “unofficial” shows and parties via Twitter and Facebook. If you’re planning for next year, be on the lookout for tickets around early September, when they’ll be at their lowest, $825.
The Film and Music Badges give you access to events all over Austin, held in various theaters, bars and other venues. However, most mentor sessions and workshops are in “official” buildings or hotels, like the Austin Convention Center, Hilton Austin, JW Marriott and The Westin Austin Downtown. So if you have an Interactive Badge, this is where you’ll spend most of your time—listening and learning from executives at Netflix, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The White House to name a few.
What to Watch
Photo courtesy of Broad Green Pictures
Last year, SXSW screened more than 100 movie premieres, including Sausage Party and Midnight Special. For the 2017 festival, 84 world premieres and 51 films from first-time directors make up the 125 features set to show—and those are just of those announced so far.
You can find the full lineup online, scheduled by categories like “Narrative Spotlights,” “Episodic” and “Festival Favorites.” Some of this year’s most eye-catching screenings include the documentaries Bill Nye: Science Guy and May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers, directed by Judd Apatow.
One of the most anticipated headliners of the year, Song to Song, is a drama directed by Terrence Malick and starring Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman and Cate Blanchett. Premiering on opening night, the modern love story is set in Austin itself and the mile-long cast list features the likes of Val Kilmer, Florence Welch, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Black Lips, Iron & Wine, Arcade Fire, Fleet Foxes, Lykke Li and Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo.
A film badge will also buy your way into special events, like a showing of the 1930s Soviet silent film Earth, that will be accompanied with a live score by DakhaBrakha.
Who to See
As one of the world’s largest music festivals, SXSW is known for being genre and culturally diverse. This year is no exception—so far, the Festival has announced almost 1,200 bands from 58 different countries. Included in that list are Hurray for the Riff Raff, Sara Watkins, Johnny Flynn, Diet Cig, The Drums, Kate Nash, ROZES, newcomer Maggie Rogers and a two-night set from Spoon. K Pop Night Out also returns this year, celebrating its fifth year with headliner KOCCA.
Showcases will kick off on Monday, March 13 and will continue through to the Official Closing Party on Sunday, March 17. The SXSW Music Opening Party will take place on Tuesday, March 14 at Maggie Mae’s and Maggie Mae’s Rooftop from 6 to 9 p.m. Bands start every night at 8 p.m. and last until 2 a.m., which is last call for most Austin bars and clubs. Even though most events are strictly for ticket holders, the Music Festival Closing is open to the public and promises to be a night full of “massive musical guests.”
In the foothills of Texas Hill Country, Austin is home to many lakes such as Lady Bird Lake and Barton Springs. Austin’s culture is teeming with nature, the arts and culinary gems. Swaying to the bass’ beat or becoming mesmerized by the fingers of the musician in front of you, “The Live Music Capital of the World,” has numerous venues to experience music such as the ACL Live at The Moody Theater or Parish. Exploring the Texas State Capitol Building is an ideal way to catch up on Texas History—the building also happens to be the city’s oldest surviving office structure. Tours are offered every day at the Capitol. At the intersection 11th and Baylor Streets, a large concrete foundation is a canvas for local graffiti artists which is are constantly changing. Lady Bird Lake, or Town Lake as some locals call it, a picturesque spot for picnicking, canoeing, kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding. There are also numerous hiking trails and swimming holes situated around Austin to discover.
Where to Eat
When the line begins at 9 a.m. for a restaurant that doesn’t open until 11 a.m., you know you need to hop in that thing. Franklin BBQ will sell you their brisket, ribs, pulled pork, turkey and sausage until they sell out (which happens daily). The eatery was also voted as the best barbecue in Austin by Texas Monthly. If you are looking for a little modern Mexican, La Condesa offers four types of salsa to enjoy with their modern Mexican cuisine featuring braised pork shoulder, pickled red onions and habaneros on the Cochinita Pibil. For brunch, the Odd Duck incorporates an innovative take on brunch classics while using local ingredients. Try a grilled quail on a waffle with sweet potato spread and a savory kale and maple glaze or a scrambled egg with broccoli, cheddar and apple.
What to Drink
Photo by Four Brewers, CC-BY
Austin is no stranger to the craft beer scene. Hops & Grain Brewing is an award-winning craft brewery in Austin that specializes in producing crafted ales and handmade dog treats and won the 2012 World Beer Cup Gold Medal for their Alt-eration German ale. Incorporating local agriculture and surroundings, Jester King Brewery is a farmhouse brewery that is committed to spontaneous fermentation and mixed culture with beers such as Nobel King, fermented with wild yeasts from the Texas Hill Country. Geraldine’s is where you can find not only beer but also Far From the Tree, a tasty cocktail with Treaty Oak Rum, Paula’s Texas orange, pecan orgeat and apple and lime juice, which is the current official drink of Austin.
Where to Stay
SXSW has festival gurus covered in the sheets providing rest and relaxation to enjoy 10 full days of festivities. Rather than booking a hotel on your own, there are two options to book one of Austin’s hotels though SXSW with the best available rates. SXSW has reserved rooms at hotels for the convenience of the individual. Hotels range from the Hilton Austin, Four Seasons, Hotel Van Zandt and the Driskill Hotel, a historic full-service luxury hotel in downtown. After registration is complete, you can book a hotel through their shopping cart that you used to purchase your registration or you can book a room through SXsocial. If there are no rooms available, SXSW has gone the extra mile and can put the you on a waitlist request or use an alternative housing option outside of the SXSW Housing & Travel.
As the capital of the Lone Star State, Austin is easily accessible by highway from San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. If driving is a little too far, SXSW Housing & Travel has incorporated a search engine where SXSW searches the internet for the best flying prices during festival dates into the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The website also includes transportation with incredibly detailed time and prices from numerous transportation options from your hotel to the Austin Convention Center that includes prices for Super Shuttles, traditional taxis and bus route numbers according to each hotel.
Follow SXSW’s Twitter and Facebook for updates.
Main and lead photo by Anthony Quintana, CC-BY
Sarah and Lauren met while slinging drinks in Athens, Georgia, and continued their passion for travel and writing at The University of Georgia.