Lonely Planet Writer

SXSW: five things you need to experience at this year’s event in Austin

In its 30th year, Austin’s South by Southwest festival has ballooned into a heady convergence of creatives. This annual meeting in Texas’ most liberal city, taking place between 10-19 March, has helped form ideas and elevate acts including Grimes, The Strokes and M.I.A.

A general view of the atmosphere on 6th street in downtown Austin during the South By Southwest Music Festival.
A general view of the atmosphere on 6th street in downtown Austin during the South By Southwest Music Festival. Image by Gary Miller/FilmMagic

The biggest hitters in the business have taken to the stage, past speakers include Barack Obama, Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash, but the unofficial parties and unplanned street shows with aspiring rappers, DJs, YouTube stars or indie bands are as much a part of the experience as the heavily promoted attractions.

This year, more than 1500 artists are on the bill, performing in various strands dedicated to interactive, film, music and comedy, plus ten exhibitions. Creatives can also dive into networking meet ups and witness awards dedicated to 2017’s creative geniuses. If you’re super lucky you may even catch a legend in a free show. Read on for our top picks over the coming nine days…

A post shared by Wyclef Jean (@wyclefjean) on Feb 11, 2017 at 3:55am PST


A free Prince tribute featuring Wyclef Jean and members of Prince’s band The Revolution will take place at Auditorium Shores Park. Hip hop legends Wu-Tang Clan will also be performing during the festival as will American rock band, Weezer, and California space rock five piece, Grandaddy. London all-female garage band, The Big Moon, are well worth a look, as is alt hip hop Minnesota artist, Lizzo, and grime MC, AJ Tracey.

Film & TV

Ryan Gosling and Natalie Portman’s new movie Song to Song is the hottest film ticket this year. It will open the festival telling the story of two struggling songwriters that meet against a back drop of the Austin music scene. It’s a match made in heaven for SXSW. Upcoming spy thriller Atomic Blonde, starring Charlize Theron and James McAvoy, will also be premiered. It follows Theron’s character in search of a list of double agents. One of the most fun TV experiences to be had is trying to get out of the Prison Break Escape Room. It’s not a new concept to Austin but Fox is giving fans free one-hour sessions all weekend.

A post shared by Buzz Aldrin (@drbuzzaldrin) on Feb 20, 2017 at 12:13pm PST


Astronaut Buzz Aldrin will take to the stage, sharing his experience of travelling into space on Apollo 11 with Neil Armstrong in 1969. Expect some fan-crazed pandemonium as Game of Thrones creators, David Benioff and D.B Weiss, plus actors Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner talk about the show. New Zealand-born radio DJ Zane Lowe will be chatting about his career, his latest venture as an LA anchor for Beats 1, Apple’s first free global radio station broadcasting round the clock to more than 100 countries. Last but not least, former US vice president Joe Biden joins SXSW for a talk about his new anti-cancer initiative.


The world’s first 8K virtual-reality motion ride will be on show, and requires no goggles. The Virtual Reality Theater will allow users to experience Tokyo though displays that make pixels undetectable to the human-eye. If it lives up to the hype, expect a revolution in realism technology. The Sony Wow! Factory is back again, offering tech heads the chance to check out all their new gear, experimental concepts, plus virtual reality activities, image recognition, and conversational androids.

A post shared by Randi Alberry (@randialberry) on Mar 5, 2017 at 8:58am PST


BBQ and Mexican food is king in Austin. A tasty lunch spot is Franklin BBQ, serving brisket, pulled pork and other heavenly smoked meats until they run out. Juan In A Million is the place to fuel up after a heavy night and famous for their Don Juan tacos (a secret recipe of of potato, egg, bacon and cheese wrapped in a tortilla). Meanwhile, the food truck scene in Austin could be the best in the world. Try Chi’lantro for kimchi fries (with pork, caramelised kimchi, cheddar, cilantro, sesame and magic sauce) or tuck into their Korean inspired tacos.
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