play music, be free
SXSW's best and biggest free series takes the Outdoor Stage with lineup including The Zombies
Finding free events during South by Southwest is sometimes as simple as bookmarking a social media post or walking down the street, but those strategies are hit-or-miss to say the least. The easiest free music plans to commit to are always at the Outdoor Stage, one of the only official SXSW venues that welcomes visitors for free, and sets clear plans well in advance.
This year, the festival has seamlessly transitioned to naming the event rather than just the stage, using "Community Concerts at Lady Bird Lake." These public concerts from March 16-18 transform Auditorium Shores into one of the biggest venues of the entire festival, using the Austin skyline as a backdrop while both local and nationally-celebrated acts play. The lineup in 2022 featured both well-known and local bands including Mt. Joy, Heartless Bastards, and Golden Dawn Arkestra.
On Thursday, March 9, KUTX takes over programming as it has done on and off since 2007. This year's theme is ska, but the island genre only influences each set — performers from several genres including the blues, chiptune rap, and "billingual indie music for kids," will play their own music, plus at least one ska-flavored tune. This will be interesting when celebrated Austin guitarist Rosie Flores adapts her rockabilly style. Thao, an eclectic, folksy but funky solo artist from Oakland, closes out the night.
Fridays's shows are without theme, and only showcase three artists compared to Thursday's six. Afrobeat progeny Baba Kuboye (American nephew of Nigeria's late, great Fela Aníkúlápó Kuti) opens the day in a danceable way, followed by pop artist AJ Smith and vibes that couldn't be more different save for the general upbeat overlap. The Zombies — yes, those psych rock 60s icons — are currently touring with Smith, and will play Austinites home or onto their next plans (since all outdoor shows end at 7 pm).
Saturday is the last of the three-day mini-series, hosted by Honk TX (stylized HONK!TX), an Austin non-profit that brings street and brass bands to the Live Music Capital for free. This rowdy series will feature another six bands, this time all Austin's own, including the "undead" costumed Dead Music Capitol Band and the 25-person collective Minor Mishap Marching Band.
The full lineup for 2023's Community Concerts at Lady Bird Lake is as followed:
Thursday, March 16
- Lucky Diaz
- Mega Ran
- Red Yarn & Aaron Nigel Smith
- Jonny Langford and the Silver Sands Roustabouts, and Rosie Flores
Friday, March 17
- Baba Kuboye
- AJ Smith
- The Zombies
Saturday, March 18
- Dead Music Capital Band
- Mazel Tov Kocktail Hour
- Minor Mishap Marching Band
- Moon Tower Brass Band
- Yes Ma'am Brass Band
Attendees may bring a picnic or purchase food and drinks from local food trucks and a Beer Garden. More information about set times and other logistics is available at sxsw.com. Lineups are subject to change.