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Must-see Free Music Events at South By Southwest

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An itinerary for your free music festival experience.

By Brianna Caleri 

South By Southwest is here, and it’s not waiting for you to get your act together. So, whether you’ve done months of research or you’re barreling in on the scene at the last possible minute, ATX Man is here to save your week. This list of free music events brings you to the best corners of SXSW and guarantees you’ll impress your friends or your date. To keep up that illusion, make sure to check whether RSVPs are required beforehand, and apply for a free guest pass to SXSW official events. Have fun scoring free food and drinks, and don’t forget to tip the musicians when you can.

To specifically support female musicians or just to round up even more options, check out our list of free women-centric concerts on Austin Woman.

Saturday, March 9:

Warm up for the weekend by taking a few laps around the pop-up “retro roller-skating oasis” sponsored by Vice. While you get moving to the live DJs, Vice will film its new weeknight live series, so you might see something (or someone!) exciting nearby. Saturday night, the ACLU celebrates its 100th anniversary with contemporary legends Tom Morello and Questlove. That event will fill up quickly, so get there early! It’ll be worth it.

Sunday, March 10:

If you’re trying to have a relaxing Sunday in one place, head straight to the Austin Town Hall vs. Side One Track One showcase featuring 30 Austin bands—one of the busiest lineups of the entire festival. And if you missed out yesterday, BuzzFeed and Good Omens are throwing a party headlined by Questlove, featuring Hesta Prynn and Dan Deacon. Alongside the good music, some pretty interesting things should happen in the Garden of Earthly Delights, like a beer-and-wine tree. Apparently, that stuff does grow on trees after all.

Monday, March 11:

Relax and learn something at the Showtime House of Music during the day, and sticking around until the set Francis and the Lights is guaranteed to be one of the wisest decisions of your week. This guy got Kanye and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) to feature in the same music video. If that’s not enough for you, The Onion and The A.V. Club teamed up to bring together a lineup full of indie clout, including Deerhunter.

Tuesday, March 12:

Today begins the official music festival at SXSW, so celebrate with an indie classic:Real Estate is playing a free show at Austin City Limits Studio 6A. To recap, that’s an indie legend in an intimate historical venue, and there will barbecue, by the way. Not that you’d need other options, but Netflix is hosting a “1934-inspired speakeasy” promoting its new show, The Highwaymen, featuring the very soulful Durand Jones and the Indications.

Wednesday, March 13: 

We hope you’re not tired this hump day, but if you are, De la Soul is here to get you through it. See the alternative hip-hop legends at the StubHub Sound Stage on Rainey Street. If you’re looking for a little variety in the nonstop showcase environment, you can watch a rap battle at The Belmont. Live music is great for its ability to surprise you, and there are bound to be surprises between 14 featured artists trying to best each other.

Thursday, March 14: 

Broken Social Scene has been on the tip of many tongues in Austin for its recent release and SXSW tour, but most shows require a badge. Don’t worry because Thursday, Dr. Martens is hosting a pop-up store and tattoo shop with performances by Broken Social Scene, The Joy Formidable and more. Then Revolt House hosts a vague lineup of performances, which is totally fine because hip-hop royal DMX is listed as the headliner. You won’t even have to choose since those performances don’t overlap.

Friday, March 15:

This Friday comes at the end of a very long week, but push through it for the last few nights of fun. Thankfully for those who aren’t up to braving the official outdoor stage for Andrew Bird, he’ll make an appearance at The Current Day Party at Barracuda. It also might be time to take a break from all the big-name drama to refocus on Austin talent. Austin Monthly and Texas Music have curated nine hours of Bands to Watch, so you know it’ll be good.

Saturday, March 16:

Celebrate the end of SXSW with a block party! This event will be packed with a CBD brunch buffet celebrating Bun B’s birthday with the man himself, then some indoor music, a halfpipe fashion show and a reset for a performance by Bun B and Talib Kweli. That performance costs $5 but, hey, you’re already there and they’re super famous. On the other hand, you could use that time to hang out at the house of the founder of SXSW for a very international app launch. Live music genres on the menu are British punk, polka, bossa nova and French night club.

Sunday, March 17:

SXSW essentially ended yesterday, but Space 24 Twenty is bringing Austin back gently with the Sunday Wind Down. There will be an hour of slow-flow yoga accompanied by a live DJ set. Enjoy snacks, massages, braids (if you’ve got the hair for it) and tarot readings, and then relax into an hour-long sound bath.



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