So you can’t shell out for a pricey badge, nor will your job pay for you to attend SXSW 2015. Does that mean you have to miss out on the fun? Hell no! Each year the unofficial events get as much, if not more, press than the official programming. There’s no reason why you can’t join in on the fun!
First, if you haven’t participated in South by Southwest before (or just need a refresher) you can check out my survival guide. Whether you are in it for the swag, the free noms and drinks, parties, networking, etc, you’ll want to be prepared for long days, crazy nights, and sensory overload.
Here are my picks for free events and parties at SXSW this year. This is not a comprehensive list, not even close. Don’t forget that you can tap RSVPster to do the legwork for you. Note that RSVPing does not guarantee you’ll get in to anything, so show up early to the events you really care about.
Startup Crawl. Austin’s finest pre-conference (March 12) kickoff is a night of startup hopping downtown. It’s free and you can hit as many offices as you like, most of whom have free booze, casual eats, and kickass DJs. Those of us who live in Austin get to do this twice a year, but the excitement of the spring crawl can’t be beat.
The BIG BASHH. Another regular local event, the Big Ass Social Happy Hour is how many of us network, blow off steam, and just enjoy Austin’s fun professional scene. The big BASHH, the one that leads into SXSW is the best of the year. It’s buzzing with energy and those who travel in for the conference know that’s the best place to get a real taste of Austin with the locals. (March 12)
Umbelmania. Local tech company Umbel will pack the Moody Theater with interactive attendees (and the general public) with live performance by Spoon and (my personal favorite DJ) DJ Chicken George. RSVP and do your best to get there early as badge-holders will get priority access. (March 13)
Gigya Grill. Those seeking refuge and some satiation can stop by El Sol y La Luna for complimentary breakfast, lunch, or happy hour, 10-6. More than just some free noms, Gigya offers networking opportunities and panels. (March 13-15)
Awesomest Journalism Party. Ever. Sponsored out the wazoo, this annual session is a merging of journalism and tech. 5-8 at the Palm Door. (March 14)
Spotify House. Five days of music and fun, plan on waiting in line to get in. But waiting in line is part of SXSW, so embrace it and make friends with the people around you. (March 15-20)
Do512 Family Picnic. For family-friendly fun, head out of the crazy zone to Midway Park for music, food trucks, face painting, magic shows, and more. It’ll be crowded, so bring the kiddies closer to 2:00 and hope they can stay awake till 8. (March 17)
Hype Hotel. The tenth year of this event promises big names paid for by big sponsors like Mazda, Taco Bell, Miller Lite, and Tito’s Vodka. Crazy crowded, plan to be packed in like a sardine any day or time that you go. (March 17-21)
Music Tech Mashup. The fifth anniversary of this event brings a really good music lineup to Empire Control Room and Garage. RSVP on the Facebook page for a chance to win VIP entry. (March 17)
Waterloo Records. The line-up is always fantastic at our favorite little local music shop. This is always the first place I recommend for those who want free access to the biggest acts. It’s a classic Austin location that we’re all so proud of and they always bring some of the magic of SX to locals who may otherwise feel left out of the festival. (March 18-21)
Pandora Discovery Den. Four days of eclectic bands means there’s something for everyone: Electronic, Hip Hop, Americana, and Rock. Head to The Gatsby 1-6 when shows are open to the public. (March 18-21)
Ray Ban\Boiler Room Official Showcase. As hip hop becomes increasingly popular at SXSW the showcases get more and more impressive. You might have a shot at getting into this one to see Ghostface Killah and plenty more great acts by applying for a ticket on their site. (March 18)
KUTX Live at the Four Seasons. Early birds flock to the Four Seasons where $10 gets you entry to four hours of live music, breakfast tacos, coffee, and granola bars. First come first served, there’s no RSVP list. (March 18-21)
Austin Party Weekend. There’s not much info about the APW party yet, but you can show up at Empire Control Room and Garage for day parties March 18-21 and you’ll be sure to have a good time. Don’t forget to RSVP.
Culture Collide. Rainey Street is normally a perfect spot for more intimate—if packed—shows and surprise artists pop up there from time to time. More than 100 bands will be on three stages. RSVP and scroll through the website to handpick your music schedule. Bonus, SouthBites Trailer Park is close by so you can sample the yummiest trucks when you get hungry.
Party in My Pants. The Live Vibe day party will take place at Little Woodrow’s March 20-21st with new bands each hour. Should you hang out all day you’ll get to taste a nice chunk of the music offerings this year.
If you want to check out even more parties and events, Austin 360 has a handy, easy-to-search database of every side party. You can also see who applied for city permits this year, both official and non-official SXSW events.
Want to tell share another event? Leave a comment with the details.