In a small town of about 843,000, two weeks of the year are set aside for educational panels, new films, and live music. Mostly, though, it’s just two weeks of ideal opportunities for brands and companies looking to up their cool factor. They’ll team up with hip bands and blogs with much less money, pay for shows, drinks, and food (if you’re lucky), and have their name plastered everywhere. If the brands are lucky, the band will even shout them out. Austin, Texas becomes one of the very few places you can overhear two strangers bonding on a bus ride over the prospect of free tattoos at one event and then two hours later hear someone say “Oh yeah, I ran into Lady Gaga and Coldplay yesterday,” as you look on in awe eating free tacos and drinking free beer. Visitors can pay $625 for the cheapest music badge and make it all up in booze, food, and swag, or RSVP to just about all the shows for free, hear free music, drink and eat for free. Free. Free. Free. And that's exactly what I did.
Event: South By South Woof
Food: Clif Bars, Whole Foods breakfast pastries, and a cheese platter with grapes
Drink: Water bottles
Ryan Hemsworth DJ’d a dog run at the animal shelter Austin Pets Alive!, playing “Who Let The Dogs Out” to a chorus of barks. After, Young & Sick and Mahaut Mondino (with the voice of an angel) played an acoustic set as the shelter’s handlers sat in a circle each sharing a blanket with a dog. Free vibes, free puppy cuddles, best showcase of SXSW. Hands down.
Perk Scale Rating: 9/10
Good Lineup, Better Perks
Event: Brooklyn Vegan Showcase
Food: Popcorn, some sort of baked nacho dish
Drink: Veri Organic soda
In an intimate Austin backyard, Brooklyn Vegan teamed up with Life or Death PR and had the sponsorship game on lockdown. Marshall Headphones gave away popcorn and soda to attract attention, while across the lot Mix Radio handed out flash drives and a more substantial food offering. I only wrangled a free alcoholic beverages from a friend with some drink tickets—a personal perk, if you will. Also, Little Dragon is one of the best live acts of all time. There, I said it.
Perk Scale Rating: 9/10
The Last Resort
Event: A3C’s Best In Show
By 8pm on Thursday night, pretty much every venue in Austin was at capacity to the point where even VIP’s were waiting in line with the strict one-in-one-out policy in effect. I got blocked out from seeing Young Thug, a personal favorite, so I moped around with some friends who knew a guy who knew a guy at A3C, which is a huge hip-hop festival in Atlanta that throws a much smaller showcase at SXSW. The turn up was real, but the free swag was not.
Perk Scale Rating: 1/10
The Hip-Hop Fiesta
Event: The Illmore by ILLroots and scoreMORE
Drink: Tito’s Vodka and Red Bull
The craziest late-night party at SXSW hosted A$AP Rocky, A$AP Ferg, Migos, Casey Veggies, Dom Kennedy, Lunice, Kaytranada, Brenmar, and Steve Aoki in one night, all after 12pm. The wildest party in Austin went down at The Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex, a 55,000 sq. ft. community center owned by the city of Austin to provide “a safe, secure, and comfortable environment.” Kendrick Lamar cracked the floor singing “Backstreet Freestyle,” so guests had the option of taking a real piece of the party home.
Perk Scale Ratings: 8/10
Lauren Schwartzberg is a New York City-based writer.