An Access ATX Guide to Surviving SXSW - Twisted Texas

It’s that time of year again.  The time when the kings of film, music, and all that is newsworthy in the world of technology come together for a 10-day event in Austin, TX.  The official number is hard to pinpoint, but some estimate over 400,000 people attend either official or unofficial SXSW events.  These multitudes create the single most impactful boom on the Austin economy.  And they put us on the map as a destination for all that is trending.

Whether you are a first-timer or a regular attendee, the jam-packed schedule of events can seem overwhelming.  Not to mention the challenges of getting around, getting in, and making the most of your time.

Maybe our Access ATX Survival Guide to SXSW can help:

  • To buy a badge or to not buy a badge?

With a $1745 price tag to attend all three parts of SXSW (music, film, and interactive), the decision to buy a badge is not one to be made lightly.  Even attending only one part of the event will cost you a hefty $1000.  So should you?  Depends on what you are trying to get out of the festival…and on your tolerance for waiting in line.  Badge holders will have access to a plethora of keynote speakers, workshops, and programs that the masses will not.  A badge also gives you access to the SXSW Shuttle, which is helpful for getting around.  The biggest perk is that you get to wait in the short line.  Much like the priority access lane at an airport, you will cut the crowds and be inside enjoying your favorite band long before the bouncer tells others that the show is full.

However, if you are merely checking out SXSW and looking to have a good time, Austin has you covered, badge or no badge.  Events happen “unofficially” all over town that are first-come, first-serve.  Some do require an RSVP (see below).  But you will not be short things to do or live music to hear just because you didn’t shell out a month’s rent on a piece of plastic.

  • RSVP Please!

For reasons that puzzle festival-goers and create an extra level of bureaucracy most of us with a Lone Star beer in our hand find unnecessarily challenging, many SXSW parties require you to RSVP.  This means you take some time out of your life prior to SXSW to peruse through sites like Do512 and Eventbrite to search for parties you are interested in attending and RSVP yes.  To them all.  There is no penalty for not showing up.  You are not special if you RSVP.  It simply means that you will be allowed in if you reach the front of the line before the venue fills up.  And that the company sponsoring the event will have your contact information for future marketing promotions.  Expect to receive a lot of emails post-SXSW.  Access ATXpert Tip:  create an email just for this purpose.

  • What to Bring, What to Wear

SXSW is a marathon, not a sprint.  Locals resign themselves to clogged streets (which were busy enough before), having their favorite bar rented out by Google, and paying double for their favorite food and beverages.  We also know how to prepare.

If this SXSW is like most others, it is going to be a bit warm as March is pretty much lake weather here in Austin, TX.  We recommend bringing a reusable water bottle:  many areas will have H2O stations where you can refill.  Bring a koozie.  No sense in that overpriced beer getting warm before its time.  We bet that this year Yeti Koozies will be seen in full force.

What else?  An ID, earplugs if you are attending music events (protect those eardrums!), small bills to tip your bartenders and musicians.  Access ATXpert Tip:  vendors will be handing out a lot of swag.  Some of this swag will be reusable totes.  If you are cool with carrying around a tote, cool.  If not, bring a bag of your choosing to cart around all your free goodies.

What to wear depends a great deal on what part of the festival you are attending.  For those attending the educational seminars, speaker series, and trade shows at Interactive, you will find other festival goers in a range of business casual attire.  Companies have paid a lot of money for their employees to be there, and this is a networking event as much as it is entertainment.  Once SXSW Interactive is over, the professional overachievers head home, and our streets are filled with music lovers from all over the world.  Most feel free to wear anything and everything (or closer to nothing, if the days are hot).  Wear a hat if you are sensitive to sunlight or coming from the northern part of the country where it’s still snowing in March.  Wear sunglasses.  We recommend the cheap variety that you won’t be sad if you lose/drop in a pitcher of beer.  Sunglasses are a popular swag item, so the odds are good you will go home with a pair even if you forget to bring them.  Last but not least, comfortable shoes.  Austinites silently, nah who are we kidding, loudly mock those out-of-towners that try to make us fancier than we are.  This is not Dallas.  SXSW takes place all across town.  You will be walking.  A lot.  Some of our shows are held in parks, which means grass and mud after large crowds trample the grass.  Leave the stilettos at home.  Wear shoes that are comfortable and capable of protecting your toes from beer and bodies.


Most of all, be safe.  The City of Austin has worked hard with the hosts of SXSW to keep our city safe during this chaotic time.  Taxi cabs, Uber, and Lyft drivers are everywhere during SXSW.  So take a sober ride.  And when you are walking in your not-stiletto shoes, remember to stay out of the streets.  You might be on vacation, but many others are not and cars are still moving down our streets.

Enjoy your time in Austin, please don’t move here J, and feel free to tag any fun SXSW photos to #accessatx!