Though South By Southwest Conferences & Festivals has welcomed leaders in the music and film worlds to Austin since 1986, it has only recently become an international phenomenon. This year, from March 8 to 17, crowds will pour into the Texas capital for film screenings, social media panel discussions, concerts and trade shows. If you’re looking to rub elbows (and iPads) with the trendy bunch, we think there are a few things you should know about the schedule, the parties and the hotels surrounding all the excitement.
As huge as SXSW is—10 days of music, interactive sessions and films—it can be overwhelming, especially for first timers. But your trip can go smoothly if you plan ahead. Whether you’re just attending one session or all 10 days, we have a few tips for you.
Make a schedule. The best way to tackle the 10-day festival is to make an itinerary of the concerts, panels, parties and screenings you want to attend. Whether you actually adhere to it is another story, but at least you’ll have an idea of what you want to do.And go social.You can find updated info on SXSW on Facebook, Twitter, SXsocial (a tool created to allow participants to message other attendees) and tons of other social media sites, so use them. And you can also get details about Austin, too.
Register online. Registration badges are required for access to all of the conferences, festivals and trade shows. You can select single events (music, film or interactive) or a combination of events (platinum badges include access to music, film and interactive).If you can’t snag a badge, don’t worry—there are plenty of “unofficial” events around Austin that don’t require them. But be proactive and register for as many events as possible so you can easily hop from one to the other.
There’s plenty of food. No massive festival would be complete without a bevy of eats, and you certainly won’t be disappointed with the spread at SXSW. Between food trucks, sit-down areas and Austin’s impressive dining scene, there’s plenty to go around. Be on the lookout for the popular BBQ and Tex-Mex dishes—after all, you are in Texas. And this year, Top Chef and James Beard Award winner Paul Qui of Uchi fame has partnered with the festival to ensure there’s a fleet of gourmet food trucks for attendees.
What to Do When You’re There
This 10-day extravaganza is really three festivals in one, each with its own draw and activities. The music portion began in 1987 with just 700 registrants and has grown into what is often referred to as “the world’s largest music festival of its kind” with more than 2,000 acts performing at 100 different venues around Austin. The film and multimedia (now known as interactive) aspect was originally added in 1994, but then split into two events in 1995—both of which continue to grow enormously, attracting between 15,000 and 20,000 registrants each year.
Music, March 12-17
More than 100 venues around Austin, including bars, clubs, parks and churches, serve as stages for musical acts during the festival. You’ll find everyone from agents to label execs to bloggers trolling the grounds, listening to the sounds of bands representing more than 49 different countries. Musician Dave Grohl—of Nirvana and Foo Fighters—will serve as the keynote speaker for the festival, and The Flaming Lips and Yeah Yeah Yeahs will be just a few of the headliners of the music portion, now in its 27th year. If it’s any indication of keynotes from past years, you can expect Grohl to show up and perform in a showcase at some point during the event. Bands who have taken the stage in previous years include Alabama Shakes, The Shins, Counting Crows and The Strokes. And parties are also a huge part of the music festival. The FADER Fort party’s lineup has been stellar year after year, so keep your eye out for when tickets go on sale because it will sell out fast.
Don’t miss: Auditorium Shores concerts. Each year, big musical acts grace the stage on Lady Bird Lake for three nights of free concerts. Although the lineups haven’t been released, She & Him, Bright Eyes and The Cult have all appeared at past SXSW festivals. March 14-16.
Interactive, March 8-12
During the five-day interactive event, you’ll find a slew of activities geared toward showcasing new and innovative technology in the marketplace. The festival’s Startup Village—now part of both the film and music festivals—draws everyone from investors to entrepreneurs to share and discuss new digital products, and the Accelerator competition is popular with startups in the technology fields of entertainment, mobile, health, news and more. The Gaming Expo is a must-see, and features a variety of hands-on demos and professional gaming tournaments. You can also expect an interesting presentation from Al Gore, who will return to SXSW this year to talk about his new book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change.
Don’t miss: SXSW Interactive Awards. Catch the ceremony at the Hilton Austin Downtown, where actress and comedian Aisha Tyler will serve as emcee. It’s open to all SXSW Interactive, Gold and Platinum registrants. March 12, 6 p.m.
Film, March 8-16
The film festival, now in its 20th year at SXSW, is filled with premieres and screenings, draws all types of people in the entertainment business, from Hollywood actors and directors to film critics. Premieres at the historic Paramount Theatre and big celebrity panels are always popular, and this year actor Matthew McConaughey and director Danny Boyle are on the schedule for discussions. One new element to the film portion is the Come & Capture Film Factory, which allows attendees to try out new filmmaking products. The opening night film for the festival is the world premiere of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone starring Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi, and the flick Spring Breakers will make its U.S. premiere.
Don’t miss: Digital Domain. For the second year, you’ll find hour-long panels on topics such as interactive documentaries, web series and digital storytelling. March 9-12.
Where to Stay
At this late date, luxury spots like Four Seasons Hotel Austin and the historic Driskill Hotel—and the majority of others in Austin—are completely booked during SXSW, so if you want to stay overnight, you’re going to have to book a room outside of town. San Antonio is your best bet, and it’s just over an hour away. Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Mokara Hotel & Spa is a great respite from the crowds at SXSW—it’s located right on the River Walk and blocks from the Alamo. You can also check in to the Tuscan-inspired Eilan Hotel Resort & Spa. It’s the city’s newest hotel and a nice place to unwind after a long day of concerts and events in Austin.
Photos Courtesy of Kevin Mazur, Michael Buckner, Sean Mathis and SXSW