The South by Southwest (SXSW) Conferences & Festivals will be taking the city of Austin by storm once again from March 8th through the 17th. The festival, which presents music, independent films, and emerging technologies from around the globe, takes over Downtown Austin as its main vein of action. The weeklong party brings together thousands of music and film lovers, young entrepreneurs, trend-seeking corporations, and entertainment industry insiders. For some, this is business; for others, pleasure. No matter why you're attending, there's one universal rule: have a plan.
Even for those of us who thrive in organized chaos, the nine days of SXSW can be overwhelming if you don't plan ahead. With over 2,000 bands performing in over 90 venues all over the city—not to mention countless film screenings, interactive panels, free parties, and VIP events—we advise you to know what you're looking to accomplish. Check out our tips to simplify the process.
Buy the Badge
If you are in the entertainment industry and looking to expand your knowledge and network, go with the official SXSW option, aka: Buy the Badge. The Platinum Badge is pricey but hot on the market at $1,450. This will grant you full access to all elements of the Music, Film, and Interactive Conferences and Festivals. This means nine days of festival screenings and premiers, nine days of film, interactive, and music programming, keynotes, and mentor sessions, as well as six nights of shows during the SXSW Music Festival.
Badge holders also gain access to the SXSW Trade Show as well as all official Film, Interactive, and Music openings, closings, and awards parties throughout the event. The fact that badge holders also receive preferred access to all non-official events and parties is icing on the cake once you see the lines the rest of the festival-goers will be standing in.
If you are not in the industry and just want to enjoy Austin at its finest, SXSW is still your festival. Celebrate in the streets, ramble across a lifetime's array of live music, and drink as much free beer as possible, also known as: Go Unofficial. There will be live music streaming from every nook and cranny in Austin throughout the festival. Gas stations, churches, and private residences are all fair game. And with a little bit of planning, you can have access to a full spectrum of free parties and events with fantastic lineups.
Venues, sponsors, and lineups differ each year, but certain parties never fail to impress. Fader Fort builds out an entire event venue on the East Side, while the PureVolume House is another story to add to your collection. If you're in the market for a high-profile name, the Rachel Ray Feedback Party is a top locale for enjoying SXSW, and Perez Hilton also throws a good party every year. True music industry junkies should check out The Mohawk, which often partners with Pitchfork. Lustre Pearl and Cedar Street Courtyard generally host fun day parties with a nice mix of up and coming artists, and South Congress's South by San Jose offers a laid back scene of free music just outside of the hustle of downtown.
Visit party websites and be sure to RSVP, and you'll receive an email confirmation with directions on picking up your wristband. Lines to pick up wristbands are notoriously long, so arrive early. It's worth it though—those with the most wristbands are rewarded with the most access to music. If you really want to go big, we suggest visiting party site RSVPster. For a small price, you will be RSVP'd to most of the major parties automatically. Oh yeah—drinks are generally complimentary thanks to the festival's generous array of sponsors.
Keep Up Online
There are plenty of sources to add to your playbook for SXSW news and information. A few sites to follow include ShowlistAustin, Do512, Donewaiting, and CultureMap Austin. But we've got to add (in true festival veteran fashion) that all planning aside, your most memorable SXSW experience may come from a random encounter. That's the beauty of Austin.
And, of course, don't forget to download Fodor's City Guides app, now including Austin!
South by Southwest 2012 via Shutterstock