The 2016 South by Southwest Music, Film and Interactive Festival officially begins in Austin on March 11, and this year is very special: it's the 30th year of the massive 10-day event.
SXSW draws nearly 85,000 registrants from around the world, and more than 400,000 people attend the many events surrounding the festival, including both badge-holders and unofficial participants.
SXSW offers the unique convergence of original music, independent films and emerging technologies. Fostering creative and professional growth alike, it's a launching pad for new creative content.
Here are 10 reasons to go, whether you're a registered badgeholder or just want to take advantage of the many things available in unofficial offerings.
1. Conference and panel sessions
Powerful speakers with unparalleled minds and ideas are the center of SXSW. Past keynote speakers have included Snoop Dogg, Lady Gaga, Dave Grohl, Bruce Springsteen, Quincy Jones, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Chelsea Clinton, Ava DuVernay, Mark Duplass and Lena Dunham.
Snoop Dogg during the SXSW 2015 Keynote Conversation — Photo courtesy of Amanda Stronza
Jody Diamond, owner of Diamond Public Relations in Miami, says, "While SXSW is so monster expensive – mainly the hotel cost – I still find it the most valuable conference I attend."
2. Free music
While the official six-day music portion of SXSW offers industry insider access, trade show and expo, there are tons of free shows around town during the festival. You don't have to be a registered badgeholder to attend most of these shows, although you do need to RSVP in advance for many of them.
3. Discovering new bands & filmmakers
Catching some of the incredible music on display during the festival is a surefire way to discover new performers and be on the cutting edge of the next big thing – especially considering that SXSW showcases over 2,200 musical acts ranging from the unsigned to the iconic.
Wolf Alice performing at SXSW 2015 — Photo courtesy of Christy Sanchez
On the film side, the high caliber and diverse lineup of movies, conversations with today’s most talented creators and one-on-one mentor sessions can be found nowhere else. SXSW Film brings together visionaries from all corners of the entertainment and media industry to share the stories and ideas that will shape the future of filmmaking.
Attending the film festival doesn't have to cost a lot, either; you can buy film wristbands for as little as $65. And if there are still seats available, single admissions tickets are sold for $12, just 15 minutes before showtime.
SXSW really is a paradise for the geek in all of us. From panel sessions led by the brightest minds in emerging technologies, to hands-on instructional workshops and one-on-one mentor opportunities with industry leaders, the festival is a true incubator of cutting-edge technologies and creativity.
2015 SouthBites session with David Change — Photo courtesy of Lisa Hause
Truly, it's the place to preview the technology of tomorrow today. Just check out the following description of one offering at this year's Interactive conference: "Fear of a robot-driven future is alive and well at SXSW. Apprehension about how humanoid-machines, artificial intelligence, and deep learning will impact tomorrow’s world emerges as a dark undercurrent at this year’s event."
Beloved as part of the SXSW experience, special events and parties are a huge component of the festival. The film opening and intermission parties draw fans, filmmakers and industry reps alike. From intimate happy hours to high-caliber awards ceremonies, it's a big part of the festival.
6. People watching
How could this not be a highly entertaining pastime with tens of thousands of people in attendance? All kinds converge on downtown Austin during SXSW, from creative attendees to our regular eccentric Austinite characters who take the opportunity to strut their stuff.
The fun level of people watching during the festival is so high that there are numerous blogs and parody accounts devoted just to this, such as SXSWPartyzzzzz and SXSWhine.
7. Celebrity sightings & stunts
Along with people watching the "regular folk," there are celebrities everywhere – and sighting (perhaps stalking?) them is a festival occupation of many. Sometimes, celebrities themselves get in on the fun by doing hilarious stunts, and shows often set up elaborate parties.
Last year, for example, there was a Bates Motel activation – a fully-functioning motel set up by the A&E series’ set designers, where contest winners and press were invited to stay the night – and yes, fake blood was splattered in the shower of Room 1.
Everyone loves a good swag bag, and for SXSW badgeholders, some of them are pretty sweet. From the basics like sunglasses, t-shirts, books and iPhone goodies, to the practical like earbuds and aspirin, there's no shortage of swag here.
There's even a fair amount of goodies to be had by non-registrants at some of the parties and free shows. And true to its tech-savvy roots, much of the festival's swag is digital and can be unlocked online.
9. The Prez
We're talking one of the biggest celebrities of them all. President Barack Obama himself will be in Austin on March 11 to attend a Democratic National Committee fundraiser. If you've got an extra $250 for a general admission ticket, you can attend too.
Even better, the festival just announced that the President will appear as part of a Keynote Conversation at SXSW Interactive on Friday, March 11 and First Lady Michelle Obama will be the opening Keynote at SXSW Music on Wednesday, March 16. This marks the first time in the 30-year history of SXSW that a sitting President and the First Lady have participated in the event.
10. You get to be in Austin!
SXSW isn't just a monster of a festival, attended by tens of thousands of people from all over the world for insider insight to the music, film, interactive and tech worlds. It's also in one of the coolest cities in the world, that many people love to spend time in.
"Austin is just an amazing town and who wouldn't want to spend a week there, eating BBQ, drinking, listening to music, maybe catching a film at one of the venues?" asks Diamond. Indeed!