Five days in, five more to go. We’re in the thick of the festival madness as SXSW Music kicks off Tuesday, March 15, in Austin. As the saying goes, SXSW is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. To help you rev up for all of the incredible music offerings of the festival, we’ve curated a streamlined guide to the best free official shows happening now through the weekend.
Tuesday, March 15
Second Play Stage at Hotel Van Zandt with Walker Lukens and Jackie Venson
The great thing about SXSW is that if you do it right you don’t have to spend a dime on seeing great music. It's a way to make the festival accessible to locals (and visitors), so show some love to Austin-based alt-pop rocker Walker Lukens and blues crooner Jackie Venson at the Second Play Stage at Hotel Van Zandt. Lukens plays at 6 pm followed by Venson at 7. Hotel Van Zandt will have shows every night starting at 6 pm through Saturday evening.
Second Play Stage at Hyatt Regency with Suzanna Choffel and The Dead South
Also playing Tuesday night at 6 pm is Austin native Suzanna Choffel, whose soulful vocals make for a fun and funky listening experience. The Dead South will follow at the Second Play Stage at Hyatt Regency, a high-energy bluegrass group out of Regina, Saskatchewan.
Wednesday, March 16
Showtime Roadies House at Clive Bar with Børns
Head to Clive Bar Wednesday afternoon for a stacked lineup at the Roadies House. Seratones opens at 2 pm with Whitney, Big Thief, Bronze Radio Return, Grizfolk, Mothers, Hey Marseilles, and Givers also performing. Børns closes the set at midnight. This event is open to all badges, but if you don’t have one, you can RSVP through Do512. It goes without saying, but this does not guarantee entry. May the odds be ever in your favor.
Second Play Stage at Liberty Tavern with Colin Gilmore, Small Houses, and Say Girl Say
Tuesday through Saturday, the Second Play Stage at Liberty Tavern will be buzzing with Texas talent. Our favorite lineup of the week is happening Wednesday at 6 pm with country musicians Colin Gilmore and Bonnie Whitmore. Indie-folk singer Small Houses will perform after followed by the sweet sounds of Houston-based Say Girl Say.
Thursday, March 17
2016 SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake
Auditorium Shores will pack ‘em in once again for the annual free concert in the park. Running nightly Thursday through Saturday, we are exceptionally excited for Thursday night’s lineup. Gates open at 3 pm with the first act going on at 4. Get ready to dance to the alternative folk rock of Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, one of our must-see bands at SXSW this year. Ray LaMontagne headlines at 8 pm, so you can sing your heart out to “You Are the Best Thing” as a nightcap. Just don’t talk in the front row — he once asked someone to leave for not paying attention to his set.
Wolfmother and Coheed and Cambria headline Friday, and Grupo Fantasma and Intocable headline Saturday. You must sign up for the free SXSW guest pass in order to attend.
Flatstock 53 at Austin Convention Center
Back again this year is Flatstock 53, a gallery of gig and festival posters from world-renowned artists. Guests to the exhibit will have the opportunity to meet with artists, shop for posters, or take a trip down music memory lane. Located at the Austin Convention Center in Exhibit Hall 4, Flatstock 53 is open to the public via the guest pass Thursday from 2 to 6 pm and Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 6 pm.
NXNW Second Play Stage at The Westin with Flor
Relax at The Westin Tuesday through Saturday for its Second Play Stage setup with bands from the Pacific Northwest. We highly recommend checking out indie-pop group Flor on Thursday at 6 pm.
ATX Composers SXSW Showcase at Hideout Theatre with Mother Falcon and Graham Reynolds
To check out what the innovative composers of Austin are up to, stop by Hideout Theatre Thursday evening for the second annual ATX Composers Showcase. The event brings together both traditional classical music and artists that are bending the genre. Mother Falcon and Graham Reynolds are just a few of the night’s performers. Get the guest pass to attend.
Live at the BBQ at Austin Music Hall with Nas
Live at the BBQ is presented by Mass Appeal with the king of rap himself, Nas. DJ Khaled will also perform along with Yo Gotti, Just Blaze, Trae tha Truth, and Mannie Fresh. You can RSVP for this free event here and get ready to line up early. Doors open at 6:30 pm.
Friday, March 18
Free Spotlight Showcase at Palm Door Sabine with The Nightowls, Formation, and Sphynx
SXSW is offering a number of Free Spotlight Showcases around town during the music festival. You must have a guest pass to attend, and one of our favorite shows is happening at Palm Door Friday night. Get ready to dance the night away with a diverse lineup of electronic, pop, rock, and R&B.
Music is Universal at JW Marriott with Vince Staples
Also one of our best music acts of SXSW, hip-hop artist Vince Staples will perform early Friday evening at the Music is Universal showcase in downtown Austin. Other notable events at Music is Universal is the poolside DJ bash with Mayer Hawthorne on Tuesday night.
Saturday, March 19
Cover bands at Emo’s
Tired of seeing anonymous rock and folk bands that you can’t sing along to? For a little nostalgia and a lot of fun, sing along to classic hits by visiting Emo’s Saturday night for an epic cover band showcase. Capsula will pay homage to the late great David Bowie while HeartByrne will perform the timeless rock ‘n’ roll of Talking Heads. A guest pass is required to attend.
Drum and Bass Night at Plush
For some of the best up-and-coming DJ talent, head to dance-inducing Plush Saturday evening for this free electronic music showcase. Berlin Beats plays host, featuring rRoxymore, DJ Paypal, DJ Richard, and Robot Koch.
Free Spotlight Showcase at Esther’s Follies
It’s always fun to see atypical venues transformed into concert spaces. Esther’s Follies is no exception as the comedy theater closes down with three days of Free Spotlight Showcases Wednesday through Saturday. Get a guest pass and watch the bluesy Breanna Barbara, pop acts Victoria+Jean, and Austin’s own rock ‘n’ rollers Young Tongue.
Sunday, March 20
SXSW Closing Party at Palm Door Sixth with Jonathan Toubin
If you’re not completely dead by day 10, please tell us your secrets. The official SXSW Music 2016 Closing Party is free, open to the public, and features Baby Shakes, The Mystery Lights, a special guest DJ, and Jonathan Toubin’s soul clap and dance-off with a $100 cash prize.