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How to Do SXSW For Free

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By Leo B. Carter

This year, the platinum badge for South By Southwest weighs in at an exorbitant $1,695. It’s hard to imagine spending this kind of money on any festival and yet, year after year, hotels in downtown Austin are booked solid with people from throughout the U.S., and lines of fans—badge or no—still wind around blocks for many of the concerts and screenings. If you are as put off as this Austin native is by the prices and crowds, don’t worry. There is still plenty to do during this nine-day extravaganza, and many of the events won’t cost you a dime.

Every year, SXSW offers a number of official and unofficial free events. If you’re not a badge or wristband holder, go to to claim your free guest pass. Here are some of the highlights for this year:

Concerts @ the Outdoor Stage, Butler Park

The March 13 show has yet to be announced, but on the 14th, straight-to-mainstream indie-pop sensation Foster the People will build buzz about their new album, Supermodel, with a free concert in the park next to Lady Bird Lake. Prepare yourself for long lines of impatient tweens and teens fiending for their indie kick.

On Saturday, a host of Memphis legends will take the stage for a fusion of soul music, old and new, played by the very best. Hi Rhythm, the studio band that recorded with the likes of Al Green and who boast 27 gold and platinum records under their belts, will be joined by Jerry Harrison from the Talking Heads, Snoop Dogg, the North Mississippi All Stars and a number of blues greats young and old. Come experience this star-studded roster at Take Me to the River.

Still on Saturday, Childish Gambino, perhaps better know as Donald Glover from the sitcom Community, will also be preforming.

Local Natives + DJ Chicken George @ Moody Theater

Umbel and Vox Media are taking over ACL Live at the Moody Theater and letting rising stars Local Natives have their way with it. Returning to Austin after a raucous success at ACL this year, Local Natives provide pure energy indie rock, with hyperactive drumming and their signature three-part vocal harmonies. This kickoff to the festival on March 7 will be a dance party for the ages. The show is 18 and up and preference will be given to badge holders. RSVP at

Here’s a selection of other free concerts:

• Universal Music Group will have two days of free concerts (March 13 and 14) on two stages at the Palm Door on Sixth Street. Acts include British Rockers The Kooks, Indie-Poppers Blondfire and ethereal Swedish trip-hoppers Little Dragon.

• Quantum Collective Southwest Invasion on the 14th and 15th will have performances by artists like G. Love, Mary Lambert and everyone’s favorite rapping orthodox Jew, Matisyahu. This showcase also has the added benefit of being in one of the more laid-back and scenic venues of the festival, the Whole Foods rooftop.

• Catty-corner to the Whole Foods shows, Waterloo Records will have four days (March 12 through 15) packed with up-and-comers and veterans in various music scenes. You’ll be able to see everything from hip-hop juggernauts Talib Kweli and Mobb Deep to high-energy indie rockers Small Black and The Orwells.

• The Fader Fort has consistently been one of the biggest free crowd-drawing events of past SXSW. The RSVP is officially open, and they’ve announced their sponsors (unlimited free booze!), but the band lists have still not gone up. RSVP here:

• Global Poverty Project’s Global Citizen Night featuring The Fray with Allen Stone. Eighty percent of tickets will be given out for free. Find more information at

• Haggar Clothing and Filter SXSW Party at Clive Bar: Two days of live music at this popular Rainey Street destination featuring artists such as Kelis, Kurt Vile and Aloe Blacc.

Still haven’t filled up your schedule? Hit up these links for more free parties and shows:



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