From keynote speakers to live music, here are 8 highlights to add to your SXSW 2017 lineup.
When someone tells you they’ll be at SXSW 2017, a fair question to ask is “Which one?” The gargantuan festival, which overtakes seemingly the entire city of Austin (or, at least, the area surrounding downtown) for 10 days in March, isn’t just one thing. It started as a music festival, but that hasn’t been its primary identity in at least a decade. It’s a tech conference famous for helping launch Twitter and FourSquare, but “tech” barely encompasses an event that’s been known to feature keynote sessions from, say, Barack and Michelle Obama. There’s a world-class film festival as part of SXSW, but when you’ve got all the other stuff going on, a major film festival is almost an afterthought. The comedy portion of the festival pulls headliners like Amy Schumer, Seth Meyers and more. And that doesn’t even touch on SXSW Sports, SXSW Gaming, SXSWedu and the other satellite parts of the event that help explain how one festival can fairly take over an entire large American metropolis for more than a week every single year.
With such expansive programming, then, the question is how to possibly take it all in. At SXSW 2017 this March 10-19, do you go see New Jersey Senator Cory Booker speak, or attend a live interview with pro wrestling great John Cena? How do you track what bands are playing on Wednesday night when you’re busy monitoring the comedy lineup for late-breaking additions? While those problems can’t be easily solved — SXSW FOMO (fear of missing out) is real, y’all — you can do your best to prep a lineup of can’t-miss events across the full spectrum of disciplines represented at SXSW 2017. Then at least you’re not wasting time crying about what you missed over chips and queso even as a ton of other fun stuff is happening blocks away.
The breadth and depth of SXSW’s programming means there is something for literally everyone. It’s the only festival in the world to book both FBI Director James Comey and Kanye West protégé HXLT. The panels, discussions, showcases, screenings and other events number in the thousands, so the approach to being all things to all people is basically accomplished by literally booking all the things. With that in mind, our list of eight SXSW 2017 highlights includes some things that will light a fire under some and bore others to tears — but that’s fine, because there is no shortage of counterprogramming. Other highlights and big-name artists, films, athletes, personalities and political figures are sure to be added in the days leading up to the event — but as a starting point, you could do a lot worse at SXSW 2017 than the following:
Keynote – Buzz Aldrin
There are very few humans who walked on the moon, period, and there’s only one human to have done so before Buzz Aldrin did. That alone makes anything Buzz Aldrin is doing worth checking out. At SXSW 2017, he’ll be participating in a conversation with Time editor-at-large Jeffrey Kluger, where they’ll be talking about Aldrin’s advocacy for the continued practice of human space exploration and manned spaceflight.
Sports – John Cena
SXsports is one of the newer additions to the festival. It launched in 2014, but it’s quickly grown into a significant contributor to the culture of the festival. Superstar athletes like to be near the action, and SXSW comes in during a slow season for a lot of sports, so it’s a good match for athletes — as well as sports media, broadcasters, agents, doctors and others with an investment in athletics — to come to Austin and talk about their work, the future of competition and the larger cultural relevance of sports. Also, sometimes a guy like WWE superstar John Cena shows up to give a keynote address. Expect Cena to talk about the athlete’s role in charity and giving back, as the most-requested Make-A-Wish Foundation celebrity of all time takes the stage.
Gaming – Nintendo Switch
Unlike most of SXSW, the SXSW Gaming festival is largely free and open to the public. While it’s not as big as gaming-exclusive events like CES or PAX, SXSW Gaming takes advantage of the tens of thousands of visitors to Austin by giving them something to check out — like access to the Nintendo Switch, which’ll be less than a week old when SXSW 2017 starts.
Government – Cory Booker
New Jersey’s junior senator has been a rising voice in politics for years, and he’s stepped up his profile as a key voice in the United States Senate. Cory Booker testified against Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearings — a highly unusual move for one sitting senator to make against another — and fought for detainees in the wake of the immigration executive order. Raising his profile seems like a stepping stone to a bigger move for 2020, so attending Booker’s session is a chance to potentially see a future President of the United States early on in his career.
TV – American Gods
Let’s be real: Television is better than film these days, and SXSW Film’s “Episodics” programming gives attendees a chance to check out new series weeks or even months before they debut. The adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is one of the most highly-anticipated shows of 2017, and an early peek of it — Starz has yet to even announce an official premiere date — means it’s one of the best premieres happening at SXSW 2017.
Film – Baby Driver
Filmmaker Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto Trilogy” — Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End — are modern classics, and his Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is cult perfection. But it’s been four years since his last film (he left Marvel’s Ant-Man halfway through production), which means the world premiere of his latest, Baby Driver, is going to be one of the hottest tickets at SXSW Film.
Music – Spoon
There are always world-class headliners who show up at SXSW, whether they play the free stage at Auditorium Shores or a private event as part of a promo from a brand like Bud Light or Samsung (each of whom shell out big money to top acts to create exclusive experiences for select festivalgoers). But mid-range acts like Spoon shine at SXSW, and the Austin indie rock heroes are accommodating their abundant audience by holding down a residency during SXSW 2017, taking the stage three nights in a row at the downtown venue The Main.
Music – Pussy Riot Theatre
Russian performance art collective Pussy Riot became a cause of international concern after five members were arrested — and two were jailed — for protesting Vladimir Putin in 2011. The jailed members of the group served 21 months in prison before being released, and these days they’re busy spreading their message of resistance to the powers that be around the world. At SXSW 2017, the Pussy Riot Theatre will be bringing an hour-long performance that includes elements of music, spoken word, theater and more as they speak for the cause of protest and political activism and the lessons learned from Putin’s Russia to an American audience eager for inspiration.
For more event info, visit SXSW’s website.