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The official Shield guide to the best of SXSW

R&B artist and El Paso native Khalid plays the Urban Outfitters stage during an unofficial SXSW show in 2017. The concert, like many outside of the official SXSW festival,  was completely free, proving again that you don’t need to be wealthy just savvy to enjoy the best of SXSW. Photo by Zoe Hocker.

R&B artist and El Paso native Khalid plays the Urban Outfitters stage during an unofficial SXSW show in 2017. The concert, like many outside of the official SXSW festival, was completely free, proving again that you don’t need to be wealthy just savvy to enjoy the best of SXSW. Photo by Zoe Hocker.

Zoe Hocker

R&B artist and El Paso native Khalid plays the Urban Outfitters stage during an unofficial SXSW show in 2017. The concert, like many outside of the official SXSW festival, was completely free, proving again that you don’t need to be wealthy just savvy to enjoy the best of SXSW. Photo by Zoe Hocker.

Zoe Hocker

Zoe Hocker

R&B artist and El Paso native Khalid plays the Urban Outfitters stage during an unofficial SXSW show in 2017. The concert, like many outside of the official SXSW festival, was completely free, proving again that you don’t need to be wealthy just savvy to enjoy the best of SXSW. Photo by Zoe Hocker.

The official Shield guide to the best of SXSW

March 7, 2019

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Money not an object?

Good for you. Here's our list of the best SXSW experience your money can buy.


DNCE plays a free unofficial show during SXSW at the Waterloo Records stage in 2017. Photo by Zoe Hocker.

Austin’s annual film, music, art and technology conference is back this spring for its 31st year, kicking off on Friday, March 8 and running until the 17th. The festival will bring thousands of speakers, performers, artists, marketers and creatives to Austin, and crowds of tourists from around the world flocking to take part in the experience. The first weekend will open up with the Film, Comedy and Interactive festivals, with the SXSW music festival kicking off on Monday, March 11. The festival and conference conglomerate will also feature a host of art exhibits, gaming conventions, networking events, parties and showcases across all genres throughout the week of SXSW.


At the heart of SXSW is the conference series, featuring an inspiring panel of technology innovators, creative visionaries, politicians, activists, entrepreneurs, journalists and others, each pioneers in their fields. Among the panel leaders of the festival are Trevor Noah, the South African comedian of The Daily Show, U.S. representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, rapper and designer ASAP Rocky, artist and musician David Byrne, Abba’s Björn Ulvaeus, president and CEO of Gibson guitars JC Curleigh, four-time Academy Award winner Ethan Hawke and co-founder of the Huffington Post and founder of Buzzfeed Jonah Peretti. Keynote speakers include co-founders of Instagram Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom, film keynote director and actress Olivia Wilde, music keynotes Shirley Manson of Garbage and Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches and Interactive keynotes entrepreneurs Roger McNamee and Joseph Lubin. In total, the conference series will feature 13 hour-long keynote sessions and around 100 featured speaker panels over various themes and trends throughout the two weeks of the festival.


The film festival of SXSW will span nine days and cover all genres of media from feature lengths, short films, music videos, episodic pilots, animations and more. Jordan Peele’s horror film Us is announced to preview on the opening night of the festival. The Get Out director’s upcoming horror film will star Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke as wife and husband who have their beach vacation ruined by a group of strange doppelgängers known as “The Tethered.” Also headlining the festival is The Beach Bum, written and directed by Harmony Korine. The film stars Matthew McConaughey as rebellious beachgoer Moondog and co-stars Snoop Dogg, Zac Efron and Isla Fisher. Booksmart, a film about two studious seniors determined to catch up on lost fun the night before their graduation, is also premiering as is Film Keynote Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut. Taika Waititi’s television reboot of What We Do in the Shadows, the 2014 vampire comedy, is also set to debut in the episodic premieres showcase. The River and The Wall, directed by Ben Masters and starring Mac alum Austin Alvarado, is also featured in the documentary showcase. The film follows five friends who traverse through uncharted Texas borderlands and explore the potential physical and emotional impacts of a border wall. A full list of all of the films featured in the festival can be found at


Know for showcasing some of the best up-and-coming artists from across the globe, this year SXSW boasts an impressive musical lineup of more than 2,000 artists and performers from more than 60 different countries. Showcases featuring different artists are organized by the festival and are held in a wide variety of local venues, from clubs to churches and parks around Austin. Some showcasing artists include UK-based rapper Flohio, indie-rock group Deerhunter, DJ and legendary Roots drummer Questlove, alt-folk outfit the Strumbellas, psych-pop quartet Crumb, K-pop group iKON, LA rock band Cherry Glazerr, grime MC Novelist, South Korean pop artist CHUNG HA, and arena rock outfit The Amazons, among others that are yet to be announced.


Along with music and film, SXSW will also feature a host of visual art exhibits and installations during the festival. These interactive and often story-focused installations are the works of artists and art collectives across a wide stretch of diverse backgrounds. EVERYTHING EVERYTIME, the project of Naho Matsuda, uses large mechanical screens to display poetry created out of live data streams that viewers can watch update in real time. Festival-goers can also watch a selfie of themselves be transformed onto a canvas as part of the Hash2ash exhibit, only to dissolve into dust seconds later. Semeion invites participants to explore artificial intelligence through a series of structures that react to human presence through light and sound. Louie Palu’s installation Arctic Passage will be displayed in huge blocks of ice on UT’s Harry Ransom Center plaza, revealing large photographs as they melt. Most of the special events and art exhibits featured during SXSW can be accessed by any badge holder regardless of the type of badge.


Prospective attendees of SXSW have four badge types to choose from: Music, Film, Interactive and Platinum. The Music, Film and Interactive badges each cover all access to their respective festivals and secondary access to festivals outside of their namesake. Each of the aforementioned start at $1,325. With an Interactive badge, festival goers are first in line to all interactive tracks, keynotes, and featured speakers, with secondary access to music and film festival events. The Music festival badge grants priority entry to over 2,000 artist concerts, showcases, music keynotes and events within the festival, with secondary access to film and interactive events. With a film badge, attendees are given primary access to all film screenings, keynotes and events, with secondary access to select music and interactive events. For $350 more, guests can purchase a SXSW Platinum badge, which covers primary access to all SXSW events, parties and showcases regardless of what festival they fall under. Each badge holder will also have access to SXSW gaming, Marketplace, Startup Spotlight, Wellness Expo and Community.

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    Ballin’ on a budget

    If you aren’t independently wealthy but want to enjoy SXSW, here’s how you can do it on the cheap


    For most locals, shelling out a thousand bucks on a ticket to SXSW is as ridiculous as the traffic the festival brings to Austin every year. Most locals, however, know that the best part of the festival isn’t always the curated Southx shows, it’s the ones on the fringes: the free, promotional events at smaller venues known for featuring some of the most talented artists from around the world. Keeping up with these unofficial shows, however, can sometimes be a struggle considering how, well, unofficial they are. Here are some of the things a master SXSW cheapskate keeps in mind when making the most out of festival week.

    Since there is no one comprehensive website that organizes all of Austin’s unofficial SXSW shows, social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are the best bet in keeping track of shows that are yet to be announced. Groups like The Dirty Team on Facebook and websites like Showlistaustin and post event info and RSVP links for free concerts, parties, showcases, speakers and more as they’re announced.

    While we’re on the subject of social media, make sure you’re also checking in with your favorite Austin music venues so you’re the first person to know when they announce unofficial shows and parties. Among the crowd favorite Austin venues that host these unofficial shows are Waterloo Records, Hotel Vegas, The North Door, and Urban Outfitters. These unofficial shows have showcased everyone from ASAP Rocky, Khalid, Gus Dapperton, and more. After you’ve found a show, just make sure to register for a ticket, as most free shows require you to RSVP beforehand.

    What better way to take advantage of the official SXSW festival without having to drop your hard earned cash on a badge? A SXSW guest pass gets you access to all of the public giveaways, parties and shows the festival has to offer, most importantly, for free. The pass includes entrance to the SXSW Outdoor Stage, the largest stage of the festival which holds three days of concerts on Lady Bird Lake and has been played by the likes of Childish Gambino, The Strokes, Garth Brooks, Public Enemy, and more. You will also get access to SXSW’s Wellness Expo, the Flatstock 69 poster expo and SXSW Marketplace. To get your pass, all you have to do is register an account on the official SXSW website. For more information about all of the free stuff the festival has to offer, make sure to check your email for updates on where to use your guest pass. Volunteering for SXSW is also a good way to take advantage of the festival, for volunteers can earn a festival pass after working a number of hours. After a total of 48+ hours of work, volunteers can earn either a Music, Film, or Interactive festival badge to use throughout the week. Volunteers can even earn an all access Platinum pass after 64+ hours of work.

    Graphic by Ellen Fox.

    Now that you’ve figured out when and where you are going to be spending SXSW, it’s time to think about how to get there. For most, driving is out of the question when considering the overwhelming traffic surrounding the festival and often non-existent parking downtown. The Capital Metro system is the most cost-efficient way to get to and from the festival, while ride-sharing apps, rental scooters and bikes like Bird and Lime bikes are also efficient transportation. Luckily, most of the venues you’ll be hopping between during the festival are mostly within walking distance.

    Free SXSW Events

    Ready to party at SXSW without breaking the bank? Below are some events being held during the festival that won’t cost a fortune to get into.

    Create and Cultivate Austin Pop-Up

    Sunday, March 10: This pop-up, hosted by media company Create and Cultivate, features a lineup of female panelist entrepreneurs, brand designers, and tech professionals, along with free food, all at the historic Allen House. Free with RSVP.

    Balanced Breakfast Showcase:

    Monday-Wednesday, March 11-13 at the Jackelope. This free “unofficial” showcase features 32 bands from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin and more.

    Black Girl Venture Pitch:

    Monday, March 11. This event supports women of color entrepreneurs by showcasing their business as they pitch them to the audience. Then, participants can show their support by voting on their favorite business. Eight winners will be awarded for the event, and the first prize will receive $5,000 in funding. Donations not required, but you’re gonna want to show some support. Free with RSVP.


    Thursday-Saturday, March 14-16. This official SXSW exhibit presented by The American Poster Institute is displaying more than 60 of the worlds most talented gig poster artists and their works. Visitors can also enjoy live music from the Flatstock Stage as they shop. Free with an official SXSW Guest Pass.

    Songwriting Showcase at Mozart’s:

    Friday, March 15. With Lady Bird Lake as a backdrop, music lovers can enjoy and support local songwriters during this free showcase/songwriting competition at Mozart’s Coffee Roasters. Free with RSVP.

    Final Altercation Punk Rock BBQ:

    Saturday, March 16. Kick Butt Coffee and Deep Eddy’s Vodka is hosting a day of punk music and free food, featuring lineup performances from Sabbath Crow, Steadfast, Heels, From Parts Unknown, and more, along with two secret headlining acts yet to be announced. Free with an RSVP.


    Saturday, March 16. Enjoy upcoming indie hip-hop acts like Troy Ave and Soldier Kidd and more at Trapapalooza’s third annual outdoor stage just off of Red River St. This event will have food tents and trucks and is free with an RSVP.

    SXSW Outdoor Stage:

    Attracting more than 50,000 attendees daily, the Outdoor Stage is the largest stage at SXSW and holds the festivals biggest concerts right on Lady Bird Lake. Although a full lineup of performances is yet to be announced, past performances have included Childish Gambino, The Strokes, Iggy Pop and more. The three day charity event is completely open to the public and free with an Official SXSW Guest Pass.

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