SXSW Survival Guide: The badge isn’t everything

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SXSW Survival Guide: The badge isn’t everything

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Erich Schlegel photo, Eric Webb illustration
Aw, you don't have a SXSW badge? No excuses: There's more than enough free and/or unofficial events around town.

Every year in March, Austin says "Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses of music fans trying to get into as many shows as they possibly can." South By Southwest Music runs March 17-22, and it's going to be a jungle out there. Free shows? Secret shows? Giant Doritos vending machines? Who can keep track? Leading up to and during the music festival, we'll be offering a series of tips to staying ahead of the pack in our SXSW Survival Guide.

Tip No. 5: The badge isn’t everything

Not all of us can afford a SXSW badge or wristband. Times are tough. (The economy, man!) Luckily, there are some advantages to having your entire city turn into a giant party every year.

Unlike some festivals ― ACL, throwing you some side-eye ― SXSW has inspired an entire subculture of parties and shows all across the city. This world of unofficial events ranges from blowout concert series like Fader Fort to smaller, intimate gatherings like South By San Jose. “No badge? No problem” isn’t just a catchy phrase. It’s a mantra to live by.

SXSW Side Parties Guide

For the badgeless masses, the official SXSW schedule can feel like a cruel taunt. Austin360’s SXSW Side Party Guide, however, is here to embrace all in its loving arms. Search through hundreds of listings for unofficial events going on every day of the official fest. You can sort parties by entry fee (almost all are free), availability of free food or drink, and whether or not an RSVP is required.

Répondez s'il vous plaît

It might be too late for many free shows, but if you haven’t already, RSVP for everything that you can. The gorgeous thing about RSVPs? They are non-binding, non-legal documents. RSVP for things you are set on ― Fader Fort, Spotify House, the whole schmear ― as well as things you have zero intention of going to. Better to be on the list than not. (And tip for next year: Follow all the companies that sponsor side parties on Twitter and through mailing lists early in the lead-up to SXSW season. You’ll be among the first to get on the list for the big parties.)

Best bets

While many of the side parties around town attract lesser-known acts (not that there’s anything wrong with that), there are a few tried-and-true free events that promise big name appeal every year. The concert series at Waterloo Records is a whole mini-festival by itself, usually booking well-known bands also playing official showcases for SXSW. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon.

For earlybirds, there are always a few gems from local radio stations in the wee hours of the morning. KGSR and KUTX are both hosting live broadcasts as early as 6 a.m. In years past, the broadcasts have featured solid lineups (usually including local favorites as well as wide-appeal acts) and intimate settings. With short sets and a more unplugged vibe, these broadcasts are like early morning breakfast samplers.

Looking for something more official but without a price tag? Go to Auditorium Shores! SXSW hosts gigantic, open-air concerts Thursday-Saturday; get there with plenty of time to make it inside the gate. It's free. F-R-E-E.

Do as the nomads do

As always, stay connected and you might learn about a show that’s letting people in without an RSVP, or one that popped up out of nowhere. And remember, SXSWers: Just because there’s a line doesn’t mean you’re not getting in. Clear eyes, no badge, can’t lose.

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