Top Ten SXSW Kid-Friendly Events 2013

SXSW 2013

South by Southwest (SXSW), Austin’s world-famous music, film and interactive conference, is almost here. You might be thinking – SXSW is about loud music in crowded bars late at night, requiring an expensive wristband or badge, with no parking and long lines – so why mention it on a parenting blog? But, if SXSW has about six million events that are not kid-friendly, who cares, if it has at least one? And they don’t have just one, they have ten. These options don’t require a SXSW wristband or badge, are sometimes/mostly free, are during the day and (mostly) easy to get to. My SXSW for Moms-with-kids tips – pick one or two events, stay just one or two hours, get home for dinner and drink water instead of beer. If you are ready to take it on, here is the info…

NASA’s James Webb Telescope Exhibit
FIRST week of SXSW, during SXSW Interactive! Friday – Sunday, March 8-10, 12:00pm – 11:00pm
Long Center lawn, 701 W. Riverside Drive
The music portion of SXSW (March 12-17) gets all the girls, right? But the Interactive (March 8-12) and Film (March 8-16) conferences are pretty sexy too. NASA is playing a large role in the Interactive conference this year, with exhibits, panels and speakers. Most important, the James Webb Telescope Exhibit outside of the Long Center is free and open to the public. The exhibit includes a life-size model of the successor to the Hubble Telescope that is 100 times more powerful. The telescope will study how the universe was formed, if our solar system is unique and if we are alone in the cosmos. Imagine that! The model is the size of a tennis court, is four stories high and weighs 12,000 pounds. The NASA Experience Tent features displays, videos, multimedia products and hands-on activities. The model and the tent are designed to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers to push the boundaries of science and technology. That is pretty darn sexy!

Texas M.I.L.K.’s Mom Rocks
Sunday, March 10, 11:00am-5:00pm
Freddie’s Place1703 South First Street
Mom Rocks is back this year and it is one of my favorite events, because it is FOR Moms and FOR kids, on purpose. Live music is provided by Mom musicians including Sara HickmanThe Jitterbug Vipers and Shelley King. Kid’s activities are music related, pretty fun and free. Vendors from local businesses have some not-so-free options that I enjoyed very much last year.  The event moved to Freddie’s, one of Austin’s best kid-friendly live music venues, and they will have food available.  The event is hosted by Texas M.I.L.K. (Mothers I’d Like to Know), a growing collection of conversations with the Lone Star State’s most fascinating Texas Moms.

SXSW International Showcases at City Hall Plaza
Wednesday – Friday, March 13-15, 3:00pm-7:00pm
City Hall Plaza, 301 West 2nd Street
The City of Austin is hosting SXSW 2013 showcasing artists from around the world to play free for the public at Austin City Hall. How about this for a music-hiking-art combo – check out the art installation and music at Austin City Hall, then walk a few hundred feet south and walk the trails around Lady Bird Lake. This is a Growing Up Austin trifecta that doesn’t happen every day. The art exhibit is a rotating exhibit of local Austin artists that have won a juried competition. Rumor is that there is a lot of variety in style and mediums.  Paid parking is available at the city hall parking garage. UPDATE: The stage is outside, in front of City Hall, and close to very busy streets. This option is best for 5+ years old and babies, unless your toddlers are easy to manage.

School of Rock’s SXSW Showcase
Wednesday, March 13, 1:00pm – 6:00pm
Scholz Garten1607 San Jacinto
The School of Rock is an music school that combines traditional music lessons and ‘band’ lessons, like how to how to get along with your band mates and how to play in front of people. I take my kids to see grown-ups play music, so why not take them to see music made by people closer to their own size? Their house band, The B Team, and other kid bands will play music for free and food and drinks will be available. Parking shouldn’t be bad for this event, since it is a bit north of the action and there are several parking garages close by.

South Congress (SoCo) Walk
Wednesday, March 13 – Saturday March 16, 11am – 5pm
South Congress between Annie and Riverside
South Congress walks are free and funky and likely to be remembered. Bands play in just about any spot they can find with room for a drum set and an amp. The people-watching is world-class, since SXSW has it’s own sense of fashion, with equal parts cowboy boots and tattoos. The day time is the best because parking (mostly in neighborhoods) isn’t crazy yet, the sidewalks aren’t too packed and it is too hard to keep up with kiddos at night anyway. Bring a wagon, if the kids might get tired of walking. The walks are free, but bring a few bucks to tip the bands. If you get hungry, Guero’s is a great place for a sit-down meal indoors or a tasty snack on the patio. Indoors gets crowded, especially during SXSW, so off-peak hours are best. For Guero’s parking, head south on Congress, turn right on Elizabeth, then right into the first driveway. The parking garage on your left is free for two hours, with a validated ticket from the restaurant. UPDATE: Also good bets: South by San Jose at the San Jose Hotel and Music by the Slice at Home Slice Pizza (especially for Mother Falcon on Friday night.)

KUTX Live at the Four Seasons
Wednesday – Friday, March 13-15, 7-10:30am and Saturday, March 16, 8-11:30am
Four Seasons, 98 San Jacinto Blvd., Hotel Ballroom
KUT host live music performances at the Four Seasons downtown in the mornings during SXSW. The shows aren’t setup for kids specifically, but they are in a mostly contained space during the day, so it works. The lineup this year includes Amy Cook and Dana Falconberry, who both play way too early, unless your kids are early risers anyway. They request a $10 donation, benefiting the Seton Shivers Cancer Center, and they provide a breakfast taco, granola bar and coffee. Parking is available at the hotel at a discounted rate of $5 per car. UPDATE: Both broadcast series, KUTX and KGXR, have been especially packed this year, with reasonably close parking filling up by around 7am. This option is best if you and your kids are early birds.

KGSR SXSW Live Broadcast at the W.
Wednesday – Friday, March 13-15, 6am – 10am and Saturday, March 16, 8am – noon
W. Austin Hotel, 200 Lavaca Street, Great Room, 2nd floor
KGSR also hosts live music performances in the mornings during SXSW. This setup feels less kid-friendly, in a way I can’t define, except I called them once to ask them about it and they said it wasn’t kid-friendly. It is true that it gets crowded and very serious music fans are present, so it isn’t an option for everyone, especially certain toddlers, like my very own Buttercup. But, if you don’t have too many kids and they are babies or five+ years old, then why not head on down. The line-up is especially good, with the Divine Fits, Emmeylou Harris, Courtyard Hounds and more, so you might want to time it right, to see one of your favorites. They request a $5 donation to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central and South Texas and the first 300 people get a complimentary breakfast item. To enter, take the stairs at the corner of 2nd and Lavaca that lead to the ACL Live at Moody Theater, then head left towards the W Austin. Paid parking is available at the hotel and at the City Hall garage at 2nd and Ceasar Chavez. UPDATE: Both broadcast series, KUTX and KGXR, have been especially packed this year, with reasonably close parking filling up by around 7am. This option is best if you and your kids are early birds.

Roky Erickson’s Psychedelic Ice Cream Social at Threadgill’s
Friday,  March 15th, 11:30 AM – 7:00pm
Threadgill’s World Headquarters South, 301 W Riverside Dr
Threadgill’s World Headquarters is a home cooking restaurant and music venue in one. It’s hard to know which is more famous, the vegetable plate with choices like Red Beans and Rice, San Antonio Squash and Stewed Okra with Tomatoes or its musical history as home of the country+hippie mix, with legendary performers like Willie Nelson and Janis Joplin.  Threadgill’s has an outdoor stage that is self-contained for the kiddos, with seating for the grown-ups and room to dance for everyone. The parking is pretty decent, especially if you get there early. There is a $10 cover charge, but kids under twelve are free and so is the Amy’s ice cream.

SXSW at Auditorium Shores
Saturday, March 16, 1:30pm- dark
Auditorium Shores, 800 W Riverside Dr
Auditorium Shores has been the home of free music during SXSW for a long time. Sparkles saw her first SXSW here, when she was nine months old. Most of the action is in the evenings, when there are huge crowds, difficult parking and a dark skies, which makes for a lot of trouble with the kids. But, they also have Saturday afternoon shows, when the bands are still good and the younger adults are still home in bed. There are art and fashion vendors, if you want to do a little shopping. Food and drinks are available. If you get there early, the Palmer Events Center should have paid parking.

Austin Rodeo
Friday, March 8 – Saturday, March 23, 11:00am – 8:00pm
Travis County Expo Center7311 Decker Lane
This might not seem like part of SXSW, but most of the events in this post aren’t official SXSW events and the rodeo meets all the criteria for grown-up live music in a kid-friendly venue.  Rodeo Austin is held for two weeks every March, always overlapping with SXSW. They have mostly country and classic rock concerts on multiple stages; this year includes Restless Heart, Three Dog Night and Merle Haggard. They have a pro rodeo competition with steer wrestling, barrel racing and bull riding. The fairgrounds remind me of the last scene in the movie Grease, with fun houses, carnival games and cotton candy. They also have mini-roller-coasters, which were a big hit with niece and nephew when they were elementary-school-age. There is also a Kid’s Town where kids can ride a pony, visit a petting zoo and be a farmer for a day. The rodeo is an long-term commitment, because it is a bit of a drive out of town and parking takes a while. It can get pricey too. General admission is just $8 for adults and $5 for kids (under 2 are free), but parking is another $10 and the food, games, rides and concerts cost more.

Your Favorite Babysitter and Threadgill’s World Headquarters
Wednesday – Saturday, March 13-16, 9:00pm-ish, check lineup for exact times
Threadgill’s World Headquarters South, 301 W Riverside Dr
Your Favorite Babysitter isn’t a new indie band, it is literally, your favorite babysitter. Because, why should the kids have all the fun? Why not get a night out and enjoy the big event in our great city? It is a bit of a trick, with the wristbands and badges and all, but here is an option – check out the evening shows at Threadgill’s World Headquarters. During SXSW they have a great lineup of some of Austin’s most established musicians, including Marcia Ball, Jimmy LaFave and Del Castillo. (I would also mention Bob Schneider, but he doesn’t start until 11pm. What is up with that?) It isn’t exactly a daring lineup and it might be old news for people who see live music all the time, but hey, I don’t see live music all the time, so why not see some of Austin’s best? And there are the practical considerations as well. If you get to Threadgill’s early to have dinner first, you will most likely find parking at the restaurant. And, the show in the outside stage has a dirt floor and seating, unlike some indoor places with concrete floors that are impossible to stand on for long if you aren’t twenty-five anymore. The cover charges are a bit pricey, between $12 and $25, but the music and the venue are worth it.

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Well, shoot, that was eleven, not ten. Remember that provides information about grown-up live music in kid-friendly venues year-round, so check that out. Also check out (kid-friendly hikes right in town) and (places for kids to see and do art). If you LIKE Growing Up Austin on Facebook (see button on the top, right of the page) or subscribe to an RSS feed (just below that), you will get regular updates. Have a great time!

I'm Mad for SoCo

Photo courtesy of Dallas Morning News

It is horrible how I think sometimes. I live on the edge between doing everything I ever wanted to do and going nuts because I’m trying to do everything I’ve ever wanted to do. I swear, about every other month, I get so excited about things I want to do that I think that I can stay up late or wake up early and get them all done so I try it and then I crash and burn because I’m 42 and I have three kids and I’m too old to function properly and still be nice to people when I don’t get enough sleep… Read More »