Volunteering for SXSW

It’s Friday! Excitement!

Of course, I’m always excited for Friday, but I’m especially excited this week. Reason being- I’m EXHAUSTED. SXSW will do that to you!

If you’re not familiar, SXSW is a set of interactive, film and music festivals and conferences held in Austin every March. There are other components too- gaming, comedy, style, etc. It’s a BIG deal, and the event contributes more than $160 million to Austin’s economy annually.

When I moved here, I promised myself that I’d get involved with SXSW every year, at least in some capacity, and so far I’ve kept true to that. This was my second year volunteering and although it’s quite a commitment, it’s absolutely worth it.

Stateside Theater, night and day.

Stateside Theater, night and day.

Austinites, if you’re interested in volunteering for SXSW, DO it. I really can’t recommend it enough. Again, I’m only two years in and don’t profess to be an expert on the topic, but I’ll share a bit about my experience with it.

PROS —

The badge. The chief perk of volunteering for SXSW? You earn a badge. Now, there are plenty of events open to the larger public during SXSW, but most of the main attractions- panels, film screenings, concerts, parties- are badge-only events. There are several types of badges available- Interactive, Film, Music, Gold (Interactive and Film) and Platinum (Interactive, Film and Music). You can earn any kind of badge, depending on how much time you invest and the type of work you do.

Behind the scenes action. Both years, I’ve worked as a production volunteer on the Stateside film venue crew (I talk about the different kinds of volunteer positions below). We’re responsible for seating film screenings, managing lines outside the theaters, communicating with other venues about capacity and availability, and accepting ballots, among other things. I’m hardly a film buff, but I really enjoy the film component of SXSW. We’re often welcome to sit in on screenings when there are open seats, and you see a lot of celebrities. This year, Mud, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Sound City all premiered next door at the Paramount, so I spotted Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Matthew McConaughey and Dave Grohl while working shifts.

Pretty hard to see, but from left to right that's Steve Carell, Dave Grohl and Matthew McConaughey

Pretty hard to see, but from left to right that’s Steve Carell, Dave Grohl and Matthew McConaughey

Networking. I don’t care what line of work you’re in, you’ll meet interesting people during SXSW. This might be the best part really. I love getting to know the other volunteers and chatting with people I wouldn’t have met under other circumstances.

Tech Cocktail event at Stage on 6th.

Tech Cocktail event at Stage on 6th.

Buzz and free stuff. Austin really comes alive during SXSW, and it’s just a lot of fun to be downtown at the center of it all. Volunteering keeps you informed about which events are getting a lot of buzz and traffic. You won’t waste time waiting in line for a film that’s gotten a poor response, and you’ll know where to find free booze and food.

T-shirts. Every volunteer receives two. It’s not a huge perk, of course, but still worth mentioning. Gap sponsored the T-shirts this year, so they were really soft and comfortable. I’m sure I’ll wear mine for years to come.

Loved this year's design!

Loved this year’s design!

CONS —

Time. Volunteering for SXSW is a BIG time commitment, no matter what role you take on. FYI, there are two different categories of volunteers- conference and production. The main differences between the two are how your time/hours are tallied and the perks available. Conference volunteers work hours toward their perk, and production volunteers work a set number of shifts. Be prepared to invest at least 30-80 hours of your time. Both years, I ended up putting in around 40-50 hours to earn my perk of choice, a Gold Badge.

Traffic and parking. I’m listing traffic as a con, but it really hasn’t been a big problem for me personally. I live south of downtown, so driving north at the hours of my shifts hasn’t been bad at all. I’ve heard different things from those making the trip from up north. Parking, like traffic, doesn’t necessarily have to be an issue. If you’re willing to walk, there is ample free parking south of the river around the Palmer Center and in neighborhoods off South Lamar and Zilker Park. I normally park near the Palmer and can be at the Stateside Theater after a 20 minute (brisk) walk. I’m sure there are plenty of other free places to park- ask around! Many people bike in too. Just be sure to bring a good lock.

Really, those are the only cons I can think of! I’ve had a wonderful experience both years and strongly recommend getting involved.

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Free Fun in Austin

Austin readers, do you all subscribe to this website? You should! I stumbled upon Free Fun in Austin a few weeks ago, and I’m so glad I did. Stephen and I have done so many interesting things lately that I would have never known about otherwise.

Driskill Hotel Tree Lighting

Wednesday evening, we met our friend Claire at the Driskill Hotel to watch its 6th annual tree lighting. The place was packed! I didn’t take many pictures, but it was fun to stroll around the lobby after the crowds thinned out. The tree was beautiful, of course, but the gingerbread house was really special. We took in a few caroling performances before heading out to dinner.

Carolers at Driskill Hotel Christmas

Thanks to Free Fun in Austin email updates, we heard about the Extreme Home Makeover open house event in Bastrop and drove out for a tour on Saturday afternoon. We missed the episode when it aired in early December, so everything about the house and the Zdroj family was a surprise to us. Mizzy Zdroj is a volunteer firefighter, and her family’s home was destroyed in the Bastrop wildfires last summer. The show built her family a 2,500 square foot home and remodeled the local volunteer fire department.

Bastrop Extreme Home Makeover

The living room was so cozy and beautifully decorated for Christmas.

Living Room Bastrop Extreme Home Makeover

There were volunteers throughout the house to answer questions and offer more information. We were told that the bookcase in the background of the photo above holds several toys that were salvaged from the fire.

Kitchen Bastrop Extreme Home Makeover

I thought the kitchen was pretty unique. At the far end of the room, there’s a large storage area for dishes and bakeware, and the window above the sink and stove is actually a sliding glass door, making it an indoor/outdoor kitchen for entertaining.

Laundry Room Extreme Home Makeover

The laundry room was pretty much every woman’s dream. Granite countertops, deep cabinets, front-loading appliances, a huge sink… swoon.

Bastrop Extreme Home Makeover Stairs

Master Bedroom Bastrop Home Makeover

Upstairs, we toured the master bedroom. The headboard was custom-designed for the family, modeled after a mural Mizzy once painted.

Curtains master bedroom Bastrop home

A volunteer told us that the curtain rod is a piece of wood reclaimed from the fires.

Master bath

Master bath Bastrop Extreme Home Makeover

Millennium Falcon room extreme home makeover

Just off the master bedroom, the building crew created a unique play area modeled after the Millennium Falcon for the family’s two boys, who are apparently big fans of Star Wars. How fun is that?! The boys can also access the play area by climbing a ladder from their bedroom on the ground floor.

Boys' room Bastrop Extreme Home Makeover

Outside, there are a couple smaller buildings: a studio for Mizzy and shelters for the family’s farm animals.

Studio Extreme Home Makeover

Garden Bastrop Extreme Home Makeover

Farm animals Bastrop

Rabbit Bastrop EHM

Chicken Little Bastrop EHM

Chicken Little, the family’s sole surviving chicken of the wildfire, is pictured above. In addition to chickens, the family keeps rabbits (providing them with 3,200 pounds of meat per year, one volunteer said), guineafowl (to keep snakes away from the rabbits), and a donkey (to scare off coyotes).

Rooster Bastrop EHM

I’m so glad we heard about this event. It was really interesting to learn more about what went into building the home and the family’s experience with the fires.

Saturday evening, we shopped at the Domain and watched Home Alone on a big outdoor screen. We had a blast. Stephen and I had both forgotten (or never noticed) several hilarious scenes in the movie. You miss a lot of the jokes when you’re a kid!

It was a really fun, festive day, and I’m feeling very much in the Christmas spirit now. Seriously, check out Free Fun in Austin next time you have an open day with no plans.