These Photos Explain Why SXSW Made Such a Splash This Year

March 18, 2016, 5:02 PM UTC
Michelle Obama SXSW
AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 16: Missy Elliot (R) and First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama attend the keynote address at the Austin Convention Center during the South by Southwest Music Festival on March 16, 2016 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images)
Photography by Gary Miller Getty Images

Austin’s a city that prides itself on its weirdness. Add in South by Southwest and thing get even more bizarre.

There are no official attendance numbers yet, but by the time the interactive, film and music festival (which is currently celebrating its 30th year) wraps up on Sunday, more than 135,000 people are expected to filter through town. And while there’s the usual grumbling about the show getting too big and straying from its roots (something that’s been a common refrain for years), attendance keeps growing. Last year, the show brought in more than $317 million to the local Austin economy.

With the still going at full speed, there’s plenty to see, learn and do. If you couldn’t make it to Texas this year, here’s a snapshot of what’s been going on.


SXSW is as much a marketing event as anything else these days. Big brands, from Mazda (MZDAY) to McDonalds to Budweiser, have set up elaborate venues and big promotional events to catch the eyes of show goers.


This year’s festival has had some of its biggest speakers to date. The President and First Lady both gave keynote speeches. Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams debuted footage from his upcoming Westworld. And rock stars Pat Benatar and her husband guitarist Neil Giraldo discussed the evolution of their career.

Food Industry

As the festival has grown, it has begun to expand into other areas, including sports, gaming and comedy. Food is a fast growing area of interest among show-goers as well, with dozens of panels focusing on everything from sustainability to the craft beer and spirits markets.

Cell Phone Woes

Your cell phone’s battery life takes a beating during SXSW. Mophie was on hand, though, sending out rescue dogs with chargers to help people who were running low on juice. And, because everything is done on a big scale here, they arrived in the sidecars of Indian Motorcycles.

Big Promotions

A big stunt can capture big crowds. USA Network set up a 100-foot Ferris Wheel in the middle of downtown Austin to promote the second season of its show Mr. Robot, which debuted here last year. Lines for the ride were consistently long.

Movies, Movies, Movies

From big world premieres to independent documentaries, there’s always something to see at SXSW. The show is one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world.


The growth of SXSW’s comedy program has lured some of the biggest names in the industry. This year Tracey Morgan had a surprise performance and improv troop the Upright Citizens Brigade had several shows of its own, including one that took aim at the Republican party’s frontrunner and NJ Governor Chris Christie.

Just Plain Austin Weirdness

Beyond the sometimes carnival like atmosphere of the show, there’s the usual Austing oddities out and about. And as the show gets more focused on music, it’s only getting weirder.

Guerilla Marketing

Can’t afford a booth or presence at the official SXSW venues? Not a problem for most startups, which canvas the area handing out promotional items or in costumes guaranteed to capture someone’s attention long enough to thrust a flyer into their hand.

Jobs … And Yoga?

SXSW Interactive is a good place to network and the festival has a substantial job fair each year, with companies from Apple (AAPL) to The Home Depot looking for their next tech genius. But it wouldn’t be SXSW without a twist, which is why one recruiter decided to offer yoga classes in the middle of the job fair this year.