There is nothing more overwhelming and thrilling for a music fan than the annual Austin-based music festival SXSW. Showcasing thousands of bands from all over the world in one week, March 13th-19th, SXSW has been one of my favorite music festivals for the past 6 years. In fact, my best friend and I vowed to go back every year after our first year and we haven’t broken that vow yet, the festival even prompted her to move to Austin! Here are several reasons why.

Austin is the best city. Most people in Austin, native or transplant, are chill, super gracious, passionate and so much fun. At SXSW, you will meet these people and more fans from all over the world who come to Austin for the musical mecca it is during that glorious week in March. How can you not be in good spirits surrounded by music all day and all night? You will make at least one friend at this festival if not many, many more. I can’t tell you how many dear friends I have made over the years by just randomly talking to each other waiting for a show to start, and I am still extremely close friends with them. Not to mention, if you know what your favorite bands look like, you are more likely to run into them in the street or see them jamming out to another one of your favorite bands during the festival. You can bug them in person about coming to your town to play or when the next record is coming out (like I did with Bombay Bicycle Club and Little Comets my first year…sorry guys!).

Almost every bar and location Austin has to offer is turned into a venue. Random field? Check. Abandoned warehouse? Check. Parking garage? Check. Tiny hole in the wall dive bar? Stage dive city.

Poor as shit? No problem! You can experience most of SXSW Music Week for free during the day! Just make sure you RSVP to as many free day shows as you can, including the upcoming Volcom Garden: a full-time music venue and gallery by the rad people at Volcom on E. 6th St., Vans Showcase, Hype M Hotel, Spotify House, and pray for an invite to Fader Fort. These parties offer up some incredible shows, usually with free food and drink vouchers! Due diligence for day party announcements are key here. You can find a lot of these via Twitter, Facebook event or RSVPster. There are Twitter feeds dedicated to free everything at SXSW: parties, food, drinks, backyard barbecues, you name it. Let social media be your guide to getting the most (free stuff) out of your week.

Now that I have us both thinking about food, the food in Austin in amazing as are the drinks! Home of Tito’s Vodka, Deep Eddy’s Vodka, and incredible restaurants and food trucks you can eat and drink like a Queen/King and not feel bad about it because you will be walking at least 100,000 steps a day running around town to all of the different shows every day. You will get to know Austin more than your hometown because by the end of the week you’ve walked across the entire city, several times over.

Trying to schedule seeing all your favorite bands during the week is intimidating as hell. I’ve seen people with excel sheets, charts and everything else under the sun with names, dates and venues trying to figure out how to see as many of their favorite acts as humanly possible during the week. The good thing here is most of your favorite bands will be playing several shows throughout the week, so although your wall leading up the festival might look like the below, chances are, you will be able to see them at least once during your epic week.

SXSW Artist Schedule

One of my top SXSW Music week hacks is look at as many full schedules at each venue as you can and go to the one that features the most artists you like on one bill. For example, if you know and like 3 out of 5 of the artists listed at then venue, go there and stay there. You will most likely love the other two artists you’ve never heard of. The festival does curate each showcase quite well for the amount of musicians they’re hosting. On top of that, it is much harder to run from show to show to see certain artists as you do have to wait in lines to get in each venue. Find a venue, stay there, and discover more music you’ll love.

Although thousands of bands from across the globe are playing official showcases, even more will show up and play unofficial parties, houses, or straight up in the street. You have the opportunity to find your next favorite artist everywhere you go. On the other side of the spectrum, you might end up at a tiny venue or party with a massive artist you love. Remember that time Cage The Elephant played a house party last year? My friend Michelle does and she hasn’t stopped smiling about it since. Remember when Incubus, one of my favorite bands since I was 13 years old played the smallest stage they’ve been on since they were 15 years old? I do, and I burned that show into my brain as one of the best nights of my life. SXSW Music Festival can be surprising in that way and is always exciting, fun, and the ultimate trip for a music lover. Sure, you’ll want to sleep for a week after to recover, but you’ll be looking forward to going back next year as soon as you wake up.

If you want to make sure you get into all the shows you can, especially the official showcases, make sure to buy your pass now here! For schedules, full lineup and other information click here!

Words by Cher Dunn / Photo Credit: Stefani Reynolds | Austin