Austin's South by Southwest Festival and Conference

Everything You Need to Know About the Multimedia Event

2017 keynote speaker Lee Daniels
••• 2017 keynote speaker Lee Daniels. Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

T he South by Southwest 2017 festival will last from March 10-19. The individual components are on the following dates:

  • Interactive: March 10-16
  • Film: March 10-18
  • Music: March 13-19
  • Comedy: March 10-18

The South by Southwest Music Festival and Conference

The music festival includes hundreds of acts from around the world, mostly promising bands hoping to gain the music industry's attention. During the festival, official performances abound in various venues (many of them in downtown, concentrated on the 6th Street area) and impromptu and/or unofficial performances occur on makeshift stages on Austin streets.

The music portion also includes a trade show, panels, and lectures.

The South by Southwest Film Festival and Conference

South by Southwest’s film festival showcases local, national and international cinema of all different genres -- documentaries, shorts, comedies, dramas, foreign-language, to name a few -- over nine days. The festival also hosts competitions that include the world premieres of the featured films. Screenings take place at various Austin venues, including the Austin Convention Center, the Paramount Theatre, the Alamo Ritz, Hideout and the Alamo South Lamar. A trade show corresponds with the festival's interactive component; it allows filmmakers and cinephiles to network and learn about industry trends and new technologies. The conference portion of the film festival (which takes place at the Austin Convention Center downtown) includes panels, speakers, and mentoring sessions.

The South by Southwest Interactive Festival

The interactive festival has grown rapidly along with Austin's high-tech industry and draws international attention because of the cutting-edge technology that has been showcased at the festival in recent years. Those involved or interested in social media and interactive and creative aspects of the Internet can take advantage of presentations, panels and interviews with influential social media stars, digital media experts, designers and web developers.

Other special programs include Accelerator, which features innovative products and services and the SXSW Gaming Expo, which focuses on video games. 

Festival Admission

SXSW badges (as the passes for festival events are known) vary in price depending on which parts of the festival you choose to attend and how early you purchase them. The earlier you buy, the lower the cost. For instance, if you buy a pass by late September of the preceding year, the badges range in price from $725 to $1,250. However, the walk-up rates range from $825 to $1,550. Attendees may purchase a badge for just one of the three parts of the festival; those interested in the film and interactive portions can buy a gold badge,​ and the platinum badge includes access to all three components as well as to the official parties. In addition, Austinites can purchase discounted wristbands on a first-come, first-served basis before the festival starts.  

Parties and Special Events

SXSW is known for the number of official parties and other special events hosted by major publications, alcohol companies and other businesses and organizations; some of the events are private, but many are open to the public (meaning those without festival badges).

Where to Stay in Austin

Out-of-town festival attendees should be aware that Austin's downtown hotels are usually booked solid months in advance because of their proximity to festival venues. When purchasing an SXSW badge, the site offers the option of registering for a hotel as long as space is available. For those who have difficulty finding hotel rooms or who want other types of accommodations, many Austinites rent out rooms or even their entire apartments and homes. Although they fill up fast too, you may be able to find rooms through Airbnb.

Brief History of South by Southwest

In 1987, Austin witnessed the birth of the South by Southwest festival (also known as SXSW or “South by”). By today's standards, it was tiny, with 700 attendees, though even that exceeded organizers' expectations. Today, the music portion alone draws an estimated 40,000 registrants.

The original SXSW festival focused only on music, and its purpose was to promote local acts and bring industry representatives to the Texas capital to do business, scout talent and check out the local scene. In 1994, SXSW expanded its scope to encompass a film and interactive component, which reflected the growth of those industries locally. As of 2016, the film and interactive events lured an estimated 80,000 registrants to Austin.