On Friday, Austin will become the official playground for SXSW. Even if you didn't buy a badge or wristband, you can try out some of the awesome — and absolutely free — shows and sights from the festival, because SXSW is still a community event, if you look hard enough.
Here are our top picks for free official fun, including some big official SXSW shows that only require a free Guest Pass (and your willingness to leave the house).
SXSW Gaming Expo: Friday, March 7 - Sunday, March 9
Plenty of tech geeks will be in town after paying a pretty penny to attend SXSW Interactive, but you can skip all of that hoopla and get right to the fun stuff at the annual SXSW Gaming Expo. Requiring only a guest pass, the Expo features upcoming games to get your hands on and take for a spin, along with everything from tournaments and a video game history museum to a special event from Pennzoil called Karting Reimagined. Live your childhood dreams with go-karts on a track right out of Mario Kart.
SXSW Community Screenings, “Faces of Austin”: Saturday, March 8
As one method of giving something back to the community it calls home, SXSW offers a few ways to enjoy a slice of the film festival for free. One of the first will be the Community Screenings series, “Faces of Austin,” an exhibition of short films showcasing the talent and people who call Austin home.
Films for the Forest: Monday, March 10
Another film exhibition that’s completely free and open to the public, Films for the Forest is an annual short film contest from Austin’s Rainforest Partnership. Featuring a range of films covering climate protection and environmental sustainability, Films for the Forest will teach local audiences about international filmmakers, as well as the world we live in.
SXSW Eco Light Garden: Saturday, March 8 - Saturday, March 15
At first glance it just looks like a simple art installation, but the Eco Light Garden’s interactivity will be worth the stop — especially if you have kids in tow. Playing with the different effects between light, sound and geometry, the garden will also keep you plenty occupied when you’re waiting for your next party.
Outdoor Stage at Butler Park: Thursday, March 13 - Saturday, March 15
Butler Park will be the site of several musical performances open to the public (you'll need to pick up a SXSW Guest Pass), and big names are taking the stage to provide free entertainment. The first night features an impressive lineup for the Jimi Hendrix Celebration, including Slash of Guns N' Roses fame. The rest of the week will feature other big names, such as Foster the People and Childish Gambino.
Renegade Craft Fair: SXSW Edition: Thursday, March 13 - Saturday, March 15
Celebrating the best and brightest artists and creators, the Renegade Craft Fair is a favorite seasonal occurrence in Austin. This season, the fair joins in the fun of SXSW. With a free Guest Pass, you can shop for various handmade goods, including clothing, jewelry, housewares and more. Trust us, it will be much better than collecting bags of swag at booths all over town.
Flatstock 43: Thursday, March 13 - Saturday, March 15
After SXSW Music, you’ll probably want a special memento or two to take home and hang up on your wall. Flatstock is where you’ll find the most beautiful and vibrant gig posters made by some of the most influential poster artists from around the world. Flatstock is open to anyone with a free SXSW Guest Pass.
Stay tuned for more SXSW coverage. Soon, we'll delve into the world of free unofficial events.