Navigating SXSW Without a Badge

In other places, mid-March means lots of things, but for Austinites, it means SXSW is upon us.

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One of Austin’s top annual events, SXSW draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to downtown and the vicinity, where they join local fans of music, film and technology for a smorgasbord of concerts, film premieres, speaker sessions and parties. And though attending the official SXSW conferences requires the purchase of an expensive badge, experienced Austinites know that you can get quite a taste of SXSW without paying for much of anything.

First, SXSW makes a number of its events free and open to the public. This includes the SXSW Gaming Expo and related sessions and events at the Palmer Events Center as well as SX Create, an event focusing on maker culture. Later in the week, the Flatstock poster show and Music Gear Expo at the Austin Convention Center are also available to everyone. And of course, so are the popular free concerts at Auditorium Shores. To attend any of these events, you will just need to get your hands on a free SXSW Guest Pass, which can be picked up from several locations in advance or at the door of each event. For full information, see http://guestpass.sxsw.com.

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Non-badge or wristband holding public can also still attend official SXSW Film and Music events on a limited basis. For films, if seats are still open 15 minutes before showtime, single-admission tickets are sold for $10. Your chances are best at the larger venues, such as The Paramount Theatre, Vimeo Theater at the Austin Convention Center and the Topfer Theatre at ZACH, or during a film’s second or third showing (if applicable).

For music showcases, if a venue is under capacity, patrons without either a badge or wristband can sometimes pay a single admission price to gain entry. So if you harbor dreams of seeing a particular band, plan to arrive at the venue early and ask whether there is a single admission price for that show (the option is not available for all shows and venues). If you are able to get in the club, be prepared to stick around, because if you leave, you will not be re-admitted until all badge and wristband holders have entered first. For film and music listings, see http://schedule.sxsw.com.

There are plenty of websites and online resources that list the dizzying array of unofficial events happening throughout the week, including parties, concerts and so on. Many require an RSVP, which usually just means that you need to send an email in advance. Still plenty of others will welcome you even without an RSVP, and even often offer free food and drink. The City of Austin has limited the number of event permits this year in an effort to get a handle on crowds at SXSW, but although people may complain that there aren’t as many events, there are still plenty to choose from. Check out Do512, the Austin Chronicle and Austin360 (the Austin American-Statesman‘s entertainment blog) for details.

What about navigating the downtown throng? If you plan to head into the heart of SXSW, you should also plan to ditch your car. Traffic is a nightmare, and parking becomes even more of a headache than usual. The city blocks off several blocks downtown to all traffic, meaning complete gridlock for anyone unfortunate enough to drive into it.

Fortunately, there are easier transportation options. CapMetro buses can deliver you to various downtown locations within walking distance of most events. Bicycling can also be a convenient and fun way to navigate SXSW. If you ride your own bike and don’t want to lock it up, many local bike shops sponsor bike valet services. If you don’t have a bike, look into Austin B-cycle, which operates self-service bike rentals around central Austin.

From everyone at Blairfield Realty, happy South-by! Be safe and have fun.

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