Culture

How To Live It Up At SXSW 2019 Without A Ticket

Austin is an increasingly cosmopolitan city in a changing Texas, and while it may not be as weird as it once was, it’s still home to South by Southwest (SXSW). Headlined in 2018 by Salt-n-Pepa and Elon Musk in 2018, oh and Bernie was there too, and SXSW 2019 (March 8 to 17) is just as varied.

Housekeeping first though, what on earth is SXSW? Beginning as a music festival in the 1980s, South by Southwest now blends interactive technology, film, and music festivals with concurrent conferences on all three plus guest speakers and events throughout. Smaller comedy and gaming festivals make up new additions which aren’t separately ticketed.

The festival’s epicentre is the Austin Convention Center, but it spans out across the city in a tonne of different venues. Ticket-holders are identified most often by their SXSW badges, which carry their name and photo.

 

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“But the price tag!?” I hear you say. Yes, it can be expensive to attend. SXSW is one of the biggest and most-anticipated festivals in the world.

Don’t let this deter you – take it from someone who winged it last year. There’s more than one way to enjoy SXSW 2019 and experience Austin. Here are four of the approaches I took to see SXSW 2019 without a ticket.

#1 Sideshows and free stuff at SXSW 2019

If you’ve made your way to Austin to orbit SXSW you can still get involved in official sideshows and free events, day parties, and surprise appearances. In 2018 SXSW maintained a list of free events as they came up throughout the festival, keep an eye on the official website for this list for SXSW 2019. Additionally, limited tickets to individual films from the SXSW film festival can, sometimes, be had by turning up around fifteen minutes prior to the screening time.

Music comprises the core of SXSW, but not all of the music brought to the city by the festival is the official, badge-required material. Artists know this too, and some big names will play venues, at short notice, on their nights off, and just before or after the festival.

 

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The SXSW music festival doesn’t run 24/7 during its six day run, but with day parties, the unofficial mini festivals of SXSW, it may as well do. Grassy lots, backyards, and emptied carparks swell with artists seeking exposure, and you should join them, especially if you aren’t headed to the main event. Keep abreast of the unofficial happenings via The Austin Chronicle or Austin360.

#2 Experience the history and culture

 

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Austin and SXSW are intertwined, but the city isn’t all SXSW all the time, take some time away from the festival in Texas’ vibrant capital. A number of bicycle tours will take you through the city and tell you it’s story of its culture, neighbourhood, and citizens. The Texas State Capitol is free to explore and offers guided tours. Not far away The Bullock Museum charts a broad swathe of Texan history and incorporates an IMAX.

Additionally, art exhibitions are a part of SXSW, some are openly on display throughout the city, but if you can still experience a taste of contemporary art at The Contemporary Austin in the city centre or head out to the University of Texas to see The Blanton Art Museum.

#3 Enjoy the outdoors

 

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Austin embraces the outdoors lifestyle. Take a day and revive yourself with a day away from the hustle and bustle associated with South by Southwest. Ladybird lake and surrounds offer swimming, paddleboarding, and cycle hire, or just a place to stroll away from the noise of the festival.

March in central Texas can get unexpectedly hot, and, from my experience, you’ll never regret paddleboarding in the Lone Star state! Or get out of town completely and head to Mount Bonnell to follow the hiking trails and take in the views of the city.

It’d be weird not to mention the bats, however. You’re going to see bats everywhere, on shirts, in windows, throughout gift shops. The city has has fully embraced these furry flyers and you can too. Head down to the Congress Street bridge before sunset or get an even better view with the locals in the park below (you can even take bat cruises on the river) and enjoy the sight of the bats leaving their roosts.

#4 Wind down on Rainey and Sixth Streets

 

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Don’t forget to unwind and hangout with the festival goers and hangers on alike, you never know who you’ll meet. Roll down Rainey and Sixth Streets, they’re mostly closed due to SXSW and associated street parties and either join in or split to some of the many bars. Easy Tiger’s Sixth Street location includes both a German pastry bakery and beer garden. Maggie Mae’s does wall to wall music throughout the afternoon both on the ground floor and at their rooftop bar. The Jackalope has, well, a freakin’ jackalope, not to mention great wings and better burgers.

Get a little further from the centre of the action for the best bites to eat, like Licha’s Cantina or Franklin’s Barbeque, two of the best places in the city. Or just stroll the food vans drawn by SXSW to East Sixth Street, offering various cuisines and filling every dietary requirement, 2018 included a Bob’s Burgers truck and a garden village of veggie and vegan options.

Make the most of everything SXSW 2019 has to offer without a ticket by taking chances. Take a chance on the atmosphere of SXSW, meet locals, make friends with festival goers. Take a chance to let Austin, TX, get under your skin, you don’t need a ticket for that.

Also, if you do happen to have a ticket, or are planning a visit for next year, here’s how to navigate SXSW like a local.

(Lead image: Dane Deaner / Unsplash)