SXSW was a whirlwind adventure filled with some amazing times and entertainment. While I had some crazy great times, it wasn’t all perfect. There were several high moments, but a few low ones as well. Below, I share the “Pit and the Peak” or the best and worst moments of my time at SXSW.


Winning an Olympus OM–D Digital Camera at the Drink & Click Event

You never know what you could win at SXSW. Many companies have giveaways at their booths in the streets, at the convention center and at the parties they sponsor. About a week ago, while researching parties to attend, I saw that an event series called Drink & Click was coming to town for SXSW. This is a traveling event intended for photography enthusiasts to get together for a drink to share best practices and take awesome photos.

Olympus was sponsoring the event and giving away a pretty sweet camera, called the Olympus OM-D. I’ve wanted a decent camera for some time now, so I was determined to go to this party for a chance at winning it. Brooklyn Brewery was also sponsoring the event, so free beer was appealing as well.

When the time came to do the drawing for the camera, there were several hundred people with the same hopes as me. I knew my raffle ticket number by heart, #614.

They called the first number, and no one called out. Someone must have gotten their ticket and left before the drawing. Everyone was excited for another opportunity to win the camera. Then they shouted the next number: “614!” Instantly, I said to myself “That’s me!”, but I must have been in shock because I didn’t say it out loud. Everyone started thinking again that maybe they had another shot at it. Oh heck no. I looked down at my ticket one time for confirmation, and yelled, “That’s me!!” Someone next to me asked, “Seriously?”  I replied, “Yep!” and started jumping for joy.


Heat Exhaustion, Crazy Lines & No Entrance at The Spotify House

As SXSW Interactive was coming to a close, and the SXSW Music Festival was starting to rev up, I decided to end my coverage of the event by checking out one of the most notable places to rock-out, The Spotify House. My goal was to catch Day 1 headliner and R&B singer, Miguel, at 6:15 pm. I knew the lines would be ridiculous so I RSVP’d in advance and arrived two hours early.

When I arrived, the line was already wrapped around the building.  I decided to wait since two hours seemed like enough time before the show to get in, and I didn’t plan anything else for the rest of the day. An hour went by and I hadn’t moved up at all. I started to get worried that I may not get in. Just then, a Spotify rep came down the line, telling us we most likely would get in, so I continued to stick it out.

After waiting for an hour and forty-five minutes in the sun, on the record-breaking hottest day of the year, with the heat index reaching well into the mid 90’s, I finally made it to the actual line near the entrance gates. There was light at the end of the tunnel!

Miguel started performing as I approached my turn to get into the concert. Exactly as was making my way to enter, The Spotify House reached capacity, and the gates were shut in our faces. Disappointment and frustration set in as well as heat exhaustion. Two people near me passed out as there was no water available. And I was starting to feel faint from standing in the heat without water for the past two hours.

Goes to show that even when you plan, you still need to be prepared for waiting in lines…and not getting in!

Tips for next year:

  • Arrive several hours in advance for headliners.
  • Bring water, hand-held fans and other cooling mechanisms.
  • Wear sunscreen, hats and sunglasses.

Bad Moments in Austin are (Fast) Fleeting

I didn’t want to leave Austin on a bad note, so I stopped in a local cantina, called Licha’s Cantina on my way back from what would have been the Miguel concert. I immediately ordered a huge Tecate and water to re-hydrate and chill me out from what just happened.

This spot was amazing and had a great ambiance. They offer delicious “Interior Mexican” cuisine and an enormous amount of different Mezcal drinks, which are my favorite type of drinks. I had the Alambre Tacos (Wagyu skirt steak, bacon, queso asadero, onions & peppers) paired with a Mezcal Negroni (Union Mezcal, Carpano Antica, Campari). After eating this delicious food, having a few great drinks and assessing all my winnings and experiences from this weekend, you can bet I no longer cared about not getting into the Miguel concert. All I could think of was SXSW 2017! We’ll see you there!

Licha's Cantina at SXSW

Denise is a Creative Circle Houston candidate and YOUR guide to the unofficial SXSW.

Free Brews, Tattoos, Bikes & St. Bernards

With non-stop action happening around every corner at SXSW 2016 – including back-to-back parties, live music and an array of people ranging from eclectic hipsters to badass bikers – it doesn’t take long to find an awesome party or do some spectacular people-watching.

Strolling through the streets without a plan or badge during SXSW can be one of the most entertaining experiences Austin has to offer. There’s something for everyone – from those who just want to enjoy a free cold beer to the more extreme, who get free tattoos.

Below, we highlight some of the interesting unplanned moments we’ve come across so far.

Mophie Rescue Party Powered by Indian Motorcycle at Bad to the Bone Bar

Not all parties are purely for entertainment. We loved stumbling upon the Mophie Rescue Party at 5th & Trinity this weekend. In partnership with the St. Bernard Rescue Foundation®Glympse® and Indian Motorcycle®, in an effort to help raise money and awareness for St. Bernard rescue as well as provide power to those in need, this party offered free beers, badass bikes on display along with moto artwork and dozens of adorable St. Bernards.

This was one of the coolest partnerships and parties we’ve seen during SXSW this year, and it was free and open to the public. Not to mention, Indian Motorcycle® is raffling off a sweet custom mophie Edition Indian Scout Sixty motorcycle. Even if you weren’t able to attend this great charity party, you can still enter the motorcycle raffle. The winner will be chosen on March 23, 2016.

Enter to win at


Mophie Rescue Party - SXSW


Free Tattoos at Harley Quinn’s Tattoo Parlor

To promote the premiere of the upcoming DC Comic inspired Warner Bros. movie, Suicide Squad, a local tattoo shop at 513 E 6th St. has been transformed into the Harley Quinn Tattoo Parlor, offering up free temporary tattoos – and for the super badass and extreme– free permanent tattoos of Suicide Squad characters. Open from March 11-14.


Harley Quinn's Tattoo Parlor Austin - SXSW


The Interactive Street Scene + Local Love

Austin is all about showing local love. So while in town for SXSW, make an effort to support local businesses by stopping into a pub for a cool brew or two, or to catch some free live music in the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World.” Grab a seat near a window for A+ people-watching on the street. Also, partake in the street action with interactive performances around 5th and 6th Streets. Don’t forget to tip the artists!


Denise is a Creative Circle Houston candidate and YOUR guide to the unofficial SXSW.
Watch as she takes on Austin, for free.

If you’re in Austin for SXSW this year, you may or may not be able to afford a $1,200+ Interactive badge to gain access to all of the sessions and festivities. Either way, there’s plenty of free stuff to do all around the city. So, make sure you’re taking advantage of everything SXSW Interactive has to offer – for free.

Every year, companies come by the thousands, just to spend millions on giving away promotional items, food, beverages and wicked awesome entertainment. We are here to be your guide to doing SXSW Interactive without having a badge or “Official” access.

If this is the case for you, take the following steps and you will have the best time at SXSW Interactive 2016, without spending a dime:


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1. Get your Guest Pass

A SXSW Guest Pass is free and available to anyone who downloads it online. This will get you into multiple free “Official” SXSW events throughout the city and even a few things at the conference, such as the PBS Lounge at the Austin Convention Center, where they are giving away free T-shirts and gum. You’ll also gain access to several other lounges that have charging stations for your phone.

Register for your free SXSW Guest Pass.

Here is a list of the “Official” SXSW events that allow Guest Pass access.


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2. RSVP to Everything!

All of the “Unofficial” SXSW events typically require RSVPs in advance. This will allow you access to free events happening throughout the conference, including some seriously crazy nightlife and parties offering free food, drinks, giveaways and entertainment. Stop by places like the Mashable House on 6th Street near Sabine and get free sunglasses, tacos, drinks, take cool space photos and more.

Another favorite of mine is the Spotify House, technically a part of SXSW Music but overlapping with the Interactive portion. If you’re still in town, you won’t want to miss a free performance by Miguel on Monday, 3/14/16 at 6:15 pm. RSVP in advance and arrive early if you want to get in. Hurry up though, because many companies close RSVP prior to their events due to over-capacity!

Mashable House Austin – 610 E. 6 Street
Spotify House – 1501 E. 6th Street

For more info on other parties and places to RSVP, check out the following link by CoolinAustin that summarizes some of the best free SXSW events around town.


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3. Download the Eventbrite Mobile App

This mobile app allows you to locate as well as RSVP to events and happenings near you, and they have a special section specifically for SXSW. It also sends you updates to your email before the event reminding you to download your tickets.

BONUS: You can also put the events you RSVP to on your calendar so you can prioritize them and don’t forget!

Download Eventbrite.


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4. Download & Filter the SXSW Mobile App – SXSW Go

This app is obviously great for finding the “Official” SXSW events, but can be a little overwhelming if you don’t have a badge and are specifically looking for free events. Luckily, they have a great filter feature.

Download the SXSW Go App, then go to “Filter”, then “More” and filter by “Tags”. I use the tags “Free” and “Guest Pass”.

Download the SXSW Go Mobile App.


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5. Just Walk Around!

Several companies host events around the city that are free and open to the public. Just across the street from the Austin Convention Center you will find the Samsung Gear VR Experience Lounge where you can go for a virtual reality Six Flags Tatsu Rollercoaster ride with gyrating seats to give you the feeling you’re really there, and believe me your stomach will drop! They also have free popcorn!

BONUS: If you’re a Samsung Galaxy user, you get to skip the long entrance line!
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Likewise, the McDonald’s Loft is giving away free McFlurries and custom burgers with those who have a Guest Pass from 9 am – 5 pm.


Overall, if you follow these steps, you should be able to navigate through SXSW without spending a ton of money, or any for that matter! The one thing you should spend money on though is safe transportation. Yes, I went there. Don’t drink and drive. I prefer Uber, but Lyft representatives are passing out discounted ride tickets on the streets during SXSW. (Code for $10 off: BUDSXSW)

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Also, Mazda is giving away free rides within three miles of the convention center with registration to their Mazda Express, but it’s only to a few predetermined destinations and ends at 6 pm.

Have fun!

Denise is a Creative Circle Houston candidate and YOUR guide to the unofficial SXSW.
Watch as she takes on Austin, for free.