Kids at SXSW might seem like a local news story about bad parenting, but for those of us old enough and/or crazy enough to have made little kids, I offer hope. You don't have to pay for a sitter for the whole twelve days and you don't have to stay home either. By choosing the right place at the right time, you can enjoy SXSW with your kids, WITHOUT involving a social worker. Here are your best bets…
The City of Austin is hosting SXSW 2013 showcasing artists from around the world to play free for the public at Austin City Hall. How about this for a music-hiking-art combo – check out the art installation and music at Austin City Hall, then walk a few hundred feet south and walk the trails around Lady Bird Lake.
This is a Growing Up Austin trifecta that doesn’t happen every day. The art exhibit is a rotating exhibit of local Austin artists that have won a juried competition. Rumor is that there is a lot of variety in style and mediums. Paid parking is available at the city hall parking garage.
The School of Rock is an music school that combines traditional music lessons and "band" lessons, like how to how to get along with your band mates and how to play in front of people. I take my kids to see grown-ups play music, so why not take them to see music made by people closer to their own size?
Their house band, The B Team, and other kid bands will play music for free and food and drinks will be available. Parking shouldn’t be bad for this event, since it is a bit north of the action and there are several parking garages close by.
Wednesday, March 13 – Saturday March 16, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
The day time is the best because parking (mostly in neighborhoods) isn’t crazy yet, the sidewalks aren’t too packed and it is too hard to keep up with kiddos at night anyway. Bring a wagon, if the kids might get tired of walking. The walks are free, but bring a few bucks to tip the bands.
If you get hungry, Guero’s is a great place for a sit-down meal indoors or a tasty snack on the patio. Indoors gets crowded, especially during SXSW, so off-peak hours are best. For Guero’s parking, head south on Congress, turn right on Elizabeth, then right into the first driveway. The parking garage on your left is free for two hours, with a validated ticket from the restaurant.
KUT host live music performances at the Four Seasons downtown in the mornings during SXSW. The shows aren’t setup for kids specifically, but they are in a mostly contained space during the day, so it works.
The lineup this year includes Amy Cook and Dana Falconberry, who both play way too early, unless your kids are early risers anyway. They request a $10 donation, benefiting the Seton Shivers Cancer Center, and they provide a breakfast taco, granola bar and coffee. Parking is available at the hotel at a discounted rate of $5 per car.
KGSR also hosts live music performances in the mornings during SXSW. This setup feels less kid-friendly in a way I can’t define, except I called them once to ask them about it and they said it wasn’t kid-friendly. It is true that it gets crowded and very serious music fans are present, so it isn’t an option for everyone, especially certain toddlers, like my very own Buttercup.
But, if you don’t have too many kids and they are babies or 5+ years old, then why not head on down. The line-up is especially good, with the Divine Fits, Emmeylou Harris, Courtyard Hounds and more, so you might want to time it right, to see one of your favorites.
They request a $5 donation to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central and South Texas and the first 300 people get a complimentary breakfast item. To enter, take the stairs at the corner of 2nd and Lavaca that lead to the ACL Live at Moody Theater, then head left towards the W Austin. Paid parking is available at the hotel and at the City Hall garage at 2nd and Ceasar Chavez.
Roky Erickson’s Psychedelic Ice Cream Social at Threadgill’s
Friday, March 15, 11:30 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Threadgill’s World Headquarters South, 301 W Riverside Dr
Threadgill’s World Headquarters is a home cooking restaurant and music venue in one. It’s hard to know which is more famous, the vegetable plate with choices like Red Beans and Rice, San Antonio Squash and Stewed Okra with Tomatoes or its musical history as home of the country+hippie mix, with legendary performers like Willie Nelson and Janis Joplin.
Threadgill’s has an outdoor stage that is self-contained for the kiddos, with seating for the grown-ups and room to dance for everyone. The parking is pretty decent, especially if you get there early. There is a $10 cover charge, but kids under twelve are free and so is the Amy’s ice cream.
Auditorium Shores has been the home of free music during SXSW for a long time. Sparkles saw her first SXSW here, when she was 9-months-old. Most of the action is in the evenings, when there are huge crowds, difficult parking and a dark skies, which makes for a lot of trouble with the kids.
But, they also have Saturday afternoon shows, when the bands are still good and the younger adults are still home in bed. There are art and fashion vendors, if you want to do a little shopping. Food and drinks are available. If you get there early, the Palmer Events Center should have paid parking.
This might not seem like part of SXSW, but most of the events in this post aren’t official SXSW events and the rodeo meets all the criteria for grown-up live music in a kid-friendly venue.
Rodeo Austin is held for two weeks every March, always overlapping with SXSW. They have mostly country and classic rock concerts on multiple stages; this year includes Restless Heart, Three Dog Night and Merle Haggard.
Sport-wise, there's a pro rodeo competition with steer wrestling, barrel racing and bull riding. The fairgrounds remind me of the last scene in the movie Grease, with fun houses, carnival games and cotton candy. You'll also find mini-roller-coasters, which were a big hit with niece and nephew when they were elementary-school-age. Finally, there's a Kid’s Town where kids can ride a pony, visit a petting zoo and be a farmer for a day.
The rodeo is an long-term commitment, because it is a bit of a drive out of town and parking takes a while. It can get pricey too. General admission is just $8 for adults and $5 for kids (under 2 are free), but parking is another $10 and the food, games, rides and concerts cost more.
Your Favorite Babysitter isn’t a new indie band, it is literally, your favorite babysitter. Because, why should the kids have all the fun? Why not get a night out and enjoy the big event in our great city?
It is a bit of a trick, with the wristbands and badges and all, but here is an option – check out the evening shows at Threadgill’s World Headquarters. During SXSW they have a great lineup of some of Austin’s most established musicians, including Marcia Ball, Jimmy LaFave and Del Castillo. (I would also mention Bob Schneider, but he doesn’t start until 11 p.m. What is up with that?)
It isn’t exactly a daring lineup and it might be old news for people who see live music all the time, but hey, I don’t see live music all the time, so why not see some of Austin’s best? And there are the practical considerations as well. If you get to Threadgill’s early to have dinner first, you will most likely find parking at the restaurant. The show in the outside stage has a dirt floor and comfortable seating, unlike some indoor places with concrete floors that are impossible to stand on for long if you aren’t 25 anymore. The cover charges are a bit pricey, between $12 and $25, but the music and the venue are worth it.
That should be enough for a good time for you and your kids.
This information is brought to you by GrowingUpAustin.com, a blog and set of web sites that encourages family experiences with live music, hiking and art. Check out AustinKidsDance.com - grown-up live music in kid-friendly venues, AustinKidsHike.com - kid-friendly hikes right in town and AustinKidsDraw.com - places for kids to see and do art.