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How To Do SXSW for Free

Written by , published March 9, 2018

SXSW 2017 117 Cartoon Network screening photo by Danny Matson courtesy SXSW

Austin's biggest event of the year kicks off this weekend, and while thousands are filtering in to take advantage of all South by Southwest has to offer, you don't need a $1600 badge to enjoy some of the fun. The festival has more free programming than ever this year—from three days of concerts featuring the likes of Shakey Graves and Shinyribs, to panels, kid-friendly screenings, and poster shows. We curated a few big highlights below, but to take advantage of these free events, you’ll need to sign up for a Guest Pass, so ... get to it.

Outdoor Film Screening

March 12, 6:30-9 p.m.
Long Center Terrace
For the third year straight, Cartoon Network will host a family-friendly event to premiere a new adventure series, Craig of the Creek—plus new episodes of Ben 10 and Unikitty, and a special preview of Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. Bring a blanket and a picnic to enjoy with your family on the green.

SXSW Job Market

March 10-11, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Palmer Events Center
SXSW has always been a prime locale for networking, but this annual marketplace opens the networking doors up to the public for free. Get job-hunting tips and perspectives from the world of talent acquisition—exhibitors this year include Amazon, Anheuser-Busch, Apple, Dell, Delta Air Lines, Volvo, and Charles Schwab.

SXSW + General Assembly

March 10-11, 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Palmer Events Center
Two free days of classes teaching the latest trends in tech—web development, digital marketing, product management, and more. Learn new skills from seasoned experts in these digital fields.

SXSW Wellness Expo

March 10-11, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Palmer Events Center
A new SXSW offering this year, this expo fuels the mind, body, and soul for two days at the Palmer Events Center. Find group health activities like meditating, demos, and workshops. Overlooking Lady Bird Lake, the FabFitFun Fitness Stage will offer free yoga classes, boot camp workouts, strength and circuit training, and more.

DSC 7632 photo by Merrick Ales courtesy SXSW

SXSW Outdoor Stage

March 15-17
Lady Bird Lake, 800 W. Riverside Dr.
Each year, as residents yield their favorite hotspots for SXSW festivities, there is a consolation prize: a free, three-day music fest in the park. This free event happens to be the festival’s largest stage, with an expected attendance of 50,000 people across three days. Artists this year include Shakey Graves, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, and Shinyribs.

Flatstock Poster Show

March 15 from 12-6 p.m., March 16-17 from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Austin Convention Center
Organized by the American Poster Institute, Flatstock draws about 80 poster artists to Austin each year during SXSW. The artists come from across the globe to mingle with peers, market their work to bands and industry types, and display their screen-printed posters, particularly music posters promoting bands, concerts, and festivals. The free and kid-friendly event features a stage that hosts numerous bands every afternoon. And because the exhibition is located at the heart of the conference, thousands of touring musicians, industry reps, and fans filter through, providing a glimpse of the energetic, creative, and collaborative spirit that makes SXSW such a touchstone of popular culture.

SXSW Marketplace

March 15 from 12-6 p.m., March 16-17 from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Austin Convention Center
Dozens of brands from across Texas and the world converge for a giant pop-up shop throughout the festival. Poster art prints, locally designed shoes, handcrafted Mexican leather accessories—there’s something for everybody.

Unofficial SXSW Events

To get into unofficial, corporate-sponsored free events and concerts, you’ll usually need to RSVP online, which means you’ll be added to sponsor mailing lists in return for free food, drinks, and live music. If tracking all those events down sounds like too much work, pay $40 and will get you on the list for almost any free event your heart desires—plus send you last-minute alerts about secret performances so FOMO (fear of missing out) doesn’t get the best of you.

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