SXSW History and Fun Facts

Bringing thousands of visitors to Austin each March, SXSW is one of the world's premier events showcasing music, film and interactive media. The internationally-recognized conference and festivals is an interactive and educational event with live panels, special events, cinema and much more.

SXSW History


☝ The first SXSW conference and festival in March 1987 in Austin, Texas. The inaugural event had 15 panels, 177 artists and 15 stages. While the SXSW team expected only 150 registrants, over 700 showed up on the first day of the event. Now, over 300,000 people attend the event each spring.


🤩 Willie Nelson was invited to give the festival's keynote speech, only to miss the opportunity by rolling in late from an event the night before. Willie made up for it by surprising festival attendees with a free concert at Auditorium Shores.


📽 Film & Multimedia (now called "Interactive") events were introduced to the festival.

🎤 Johnny Cash gave a musical keynote address and later performed at Emo’s with a little known musician, Beck, as the opening act.


 😂 Fred Armisen creates the short film Fred Armisen’s Guide to Music and SXSW , which put him on the comedy map.


🎸 John Mayer was discovered after performing at SXSW and caught the eye of Aware Records, who later signed him and released his debut album.


🤳 Twitter (now X) blows up at SXSW, making it a mainstream and popular social media platform.

👩🏻 Amy Winehouse performs at SXSW, further propelling her to superstardom.


🌿 SXSW EDU launches conference tracks to address education, sustainability and environmental issues.


😴 JUMPIN JAMMERZ threw the worlds largest footed pajama party, breaking the Guinness World Record by just over 50 people.


💜 Prince closes out the festival with an exclusive and epic set at La Zona Rosa that went on until nearly 3 AM. 


🌮 After visiting Torchy's Tacos (where he ordered the "Democrat", "Republican" and "Independent" tacos off the menu), President Barack Obama gave the SXSW Interactive keynote, discussing a number of topics, including civic engagement in the 21st Century.


🏆 Everything Everywhere All At Once premiered at SXSW. The film was the first launch at the event to go on to win an Oscar Best Picture award.


🎉 SXSW has another incredible year with almost 3,000 conference speakers, 350+ sessions, 1,570+ artists and 75+ stages.

🦘The first SXSW Sydney launches in Australia, adding a new location to the event for the first time in 36 years. 

Other SXSW Fun Facts

📰 The event was started by a few staff members from the Austin Chronicle, an locally owned news outlet that reflects the heart and soul of Austin.

🎬The name South by Southwest was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s film North by Northwest. The festival was almost named “Third Coast”. 

💿 The first three years of the Multimedia festival had panels called “The Web is Dead?” and “So You Want to Make a CD-Room?”

🎭 Comedy movies are a hit at SXSW. Some of the most famous films to come from SXSW include 21 Jump Street, Bridesmaids, Knocked Up and Baby Driver. 

🥃 During his visit to SXSW, Bill Murray jumped behind the bar to pour drinks at Shangri-La. No matter what people ordered, Murray was only pouring tequila shots.