SXSW Official vs. Unofficial: What's the Difference?

Differences between the SXSW official and unofficial festivals, including how to tell which events belong to which festivals.

For 10 days in mid-March Austin, TX becomes the center of the world. The city hosts a constant scene of parties, lounges, film screenings, music shows, technology showcases, and free tacos. It all starts with the official SXSW conference, but you'll also hear people talk about unofficial and free events. So what's the difference between official and unofficial, and how can you tell if an event is free?


The official SXSW conference is a 10 day event composed of several sub-festivals, owned and operated by SXSW, LLC. The sub-festivals are:

  • Interactive (March 8 - 12)

  • Film (March 8 - 16)

  • Music (March 11 - 17)

  • Comedy (Mach 8 - 16)

  • Gaming (March 15 - 17)

Each sub-festival has panels, keynotes, lounges, and other events unique to each festival. For example, Music has music showcases, Film has film screenings, and Interactive has industry showcases like technology exhibitions, and startup pitch competitions. You can learn more about each sub-festival here:

To attend official SXSW events you need SXSW credentials. There are 3 types of credentials, which we'll go over in our next blog post.


For over 30 years the official SXSW conference has brought tens-of-thousands of people to Austin every March: artists, film-makers, entrepreneurs, industry professionals, music enthusiasts, event organizers, etc. At some point people started thinking, "Why not throw a cool event outside of the SXSW conference just for fun?" As the years went by, more and more events started being organized outside of the official sub-festivals. Today, all these "other" events make up a massive collection of parties known as the unofficial (sometimes called free) festival.

These events are totally free with no SXSW credentials required. They range from free tacos at a food truck, to huge music showcases at Austin\u2019s biggest venues. It's key to note (especially so we don't get sued) that unofficial events are NOT associated with the official SXSW conference.

So how can you tell if an event is unofficial or not? Easy! Search for the event at or on the SXSW mobile app. If you can't find the event listed there, chances are the event is unofficial.

For the full list of unofficial events, and our short list of official event suggestions, check out our ultimate spreadsheet: