What started as a small collection of bands and industry reps in a single downtown hotel has expanded to one of the largest multimedia festivals in the country. Each March, thousands of musicians and their associated crowds—critics, businesspeople, groupies—flock to Austin  for South by Southwest (or SXSW, a.k.a. the music industry’s Spring Break) for ideal weather, ice cold beer, barbecue and Tex-Mex, and every kind of music under the warm sun.
During this week, Austin becomes the epicenter of the music industry, complete with international media coverage, splashy promotional events, and enough black leather to make locals flee in horror. Although the concept is to expose bands and sign contracts for up-and-coming artists (acts getting their first major buzz at the festival include the White Stripes, Norah Jones, and, um, Hanson), SXSW has become such an enormous showcase, it regularly hosts big names and reunion gigs (The Pretenders, Big Star, Morrissey) for the publicity factor among the collaborated industry.
Back in the day, visitors and locals could buy an all-access wristband for about $50. Now you need to fork over nearly $1,000 for an unrestricted platinum badge. Fortunately, there are hundreds of fun, worthwhile, and free music options during SXSW week for the common folk, mostly daytime parties featuring lesser-known and some well-known bands who’ll play anywhere possible—a back alley, street corner, or front lawn—just to maximize exposure.
SXSW organizers also work with the city to stage free shows at the downtown park Auditorium Shores, where past notables include Spoon, Public Enemy, and Echo and the Bunnymen. For more information, visit www.sxsw.com  or call 512/467-7979.