South by Southwest is just days away, the free beer is being tapped and you can almost smell the free food from here — so whip out your calendar, because here are the best parties that you can get into without having to shell out hundreds of your hard-earned dollars for a festival badge or wristband. Many of these parties fill up fast, though, so make sure to get RSVPs in where needed and be prepared to arrive early and wait in line.
Sunday, March 12: Tumblr’s Never Going Back Party
While there are plenty of free events before Sunday (you can search for them in our SXSW 2017 Unofficial Party Guide), this one will surely kick off the music portion of the festival with a bang. Hosted by microblogging platform Tumblr, the proceeds from the party at the Mohawk featuring Sleigh Bells, Girlpool, Pvris and Hoops will benefit Planned Parenthood.
Monday, March 13: Just Another Manic Monday presented by The Onion/AV Club
Featuring big names such as red hot rapper Lizzo, electropoppers Sylvan Esso and folky group MOTHERS, you’re going to want to get to this one early. Even though it’s free and open to the public (no RSVP necessary!), SXSW badge holders get priority access.
March 13-16: Pandora Discovery Den
The Pandora parties are always lit at SXSW, and this year is no different — the day-by-day schedule hasn’t dropped yet, but the lineup includes the ubiquitous Lizzo, indie-pop duo Lewis Del Mar and Texas country singer Sunny Sweeney.
Tuesday, March 14: She Shreds Magazine Showcase
She Shreds, the magazine devoted to women guitarists and bassists, is putting together some of the sickest female musicians for an epic girl-power showcase. All-female quartet Chastity Belt, pop-punk duo Diet Cig and bright indie rockers Ian Sweet are all playing at Las Cruxes, the part-art gallery, part-boutique tucked inside Farewell Books.
March 15-16: House of Vans
The House of Vans is coming back to the Mohawk for its fourth consecutive year for two days of music. The lineup includes chill electropop group San Fermin, punk-pop sisters Bleached and garage rockers The Black Lips.
March 15-18: Waterloo Records Day Parties
Austin’s famous record shop, Waterloo, hosts epic day parties every year in the parking lot in front of their store. You’ll be seeing a lot of these bands — Minus The Bear, Chicano Batman, PWR BTTM, Cherry Glaserr — at a lot of the other free parties around town, but don’t you want to tell people you saw Austin legends Spoon play a set in the parking lot of Austin’s legendary record shop? Yeah, thought so. Also, for you millennial kids wanting some serious nostalgia: Jojo. Yeah, that Jojo.
March 15-18: South by San Jose
Hotel San Jose and Jo’s Coffee are two of the most Instagram-worthy spots in Austin, and they’ve become among the most popular stops during SXSW thanks to day parties featuring live music and local vendors. No RSVP needed, just show up and enjoy the sweet sounds of trippy psych rockers Temples, Austin soul singer Black Joe Lewis and local country singer Emily Gimble, who previously played in Asleep At The Wheel and is the granddaughter of Johnny Gimble, legendary Texas fiddle player and original member of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.
March 15-17: Culture COLLiDE’s parties
Culture COLLiDE takes over Rainey Street ever year and throws parties at some of the bars you may associate with Sunday Funday, but now you’ll associate with your favorite SXSW memories. The showcases at Container Bar feature bluesman Benjamin Booker and up-and-coming pop sensation MUNA, and you can find alt-pop singer-songwriter Banks alongside hometown heroes White Denim at Bar 96.
See the full lineups:
March 15-17: StubHub LIVE
If you missed Sleigh Bells at the Mohawk or Banks at Bar 96, you can catch them at Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden for StubHub’s day parties. Other heavy-hitters on the lineup include D.R.A.M. (of “Broccoli” fame), glam blues-rockers The Shelters and witty pop duo Electric Guest.
Thursday, March 16: Bloody Mary Morning presented by KLRU and Austin City Limits
If the free Shiner beer, Tito’s Bloody Marys and Tacodeli breakfast tacos ’til they run out aren’t enough to get you to this annual party in the GSD&M Courtyard, then the music should be: San Diego blues-rockers Little Hurricane, trance-y, dance-y quartet Sundara Karma and, of course, Lizzo will get the party going even though it’s an early morning.
Thursday, March 16: MTVu Woodies
There isn’t much information out in the world about this year’s MTVu Woodies just yet (other than the fact that Rick Ross is hosting the awards), but we don’t need a lineup to say this is one you don’t want to miss. If you need proof, ask me about the time Macklemore went crowd-surfing and I ended up with one of his rings as a souvenir.
March 16-17: Twin Peaks at the Showtime House
It’s not a dream: You can visit a pop-up version of the iconic Double R Diner from “Twin Peaks” at Clive Bar — and yes, you can get a “damn fine” cup of coffee. You can also catch sets by Neko Case and M. Ward, but Dale Cooper probably won’t be there.
March 16-18: Quantum Collective Southwest Invasion
If you’re looking to catch ’90s heroes Hanson for free at this year’s festival, it looks like this is one of the only places you can do it. Quantum Collective is bringing the party to the roof of Whole Foods downtown, but even if you’re not an MMMBopper, there are plenty of names on the lineup that may interest you: Kate Nash, In The Valley Bellow, The Relationship (Brian Bell of Weezer) and more.
March 16-18: SXSW Outdoor Stage at Auditorium Shores
Probably the biggest of the free events each year takes place at Auditorium Shores. Only two of the performances have been announced: An “All Latino Resist Concert” presented by Voto Latino on Thursday and a Prince tribute featuring Wyclef Jean and members of Prince’s band The Revolution on Friday. A third show is set for Saturday, March 18, but the lineup has not been announced. Admission requires the SXSW Guest Pass, available for free at guestpass.sxsw.com. The The pass also allows entry into a select number of music showcases, film screenings, exhibitions and other events.
Saturday, March 18: Rachael Ray’s Feedback
Celebrity chef and Food Network star Rachael Ray has been throwing her party at SXSW for the last 10 years, and the long lines every year will tell you exactly how popular it is. But for good reason — the lineup is always great (this year it features Weezer, De La Soul and Action Bronson, among others) and the free food is pretty delicious.
Parties for a good cause
March 15-19: KUTX Live at the Four Seasons
With buzzy bands from Hurray For The Riff Raff and Real Estate to Maggie Rogers and Temples and Spoon, KUTX’s parties are some of the busiest at SXSW — and totally worth that early-morning alarm. For just $10 (I know, we said these parties were free, but the money benefits the Seton Shivers Cancer Center), you get access to the shows as well as a breakfast taco, a granola bar and coffee.
March 15-18: KGSR Live Broadcast
For a $5 donation to Make-A-Wish Central and South Texas, you get four hours of early-morning tunes from artists like Spoon, Jimmy Eat World, Third Eye Blind, Hanson, The New Pornographers, Bob Schneider, Karen Elson and more. You can see the full lineup here (the schedule hasn’t yet been announced).
- Friday, March 10: EPIC! Interactive at Hotel Vegas
- Monday, March 13: All The Friends Ball presented by Mother Falcon
- Tuesday, March 14: Empress Showcase presented by Boss Babes ATX
- Tuesday, March 14 and Wednesday, March 15: The Clif Bar Bash at Blackheart Bar
- March 15-19: UO Live in Austin at Space 24 Twenty
- Thursday, March 16 and Friday, March 17: FLOODFest at Cedar Street Courtyard
- March 16-18: Lost Weekend presented by Sound on Sound and Brooklyn Vegan
If you’re wondering where the Fader Fort is on this list, we’ve omitted it because it’s not a public event this year — there will be no public RSVP and guests will receive invitations to the party through email. Other popular parties, like the Spotify House, Hype Hotel and the Friskies-sponsored Grumpy Cat event, do not appear to be returning this year.