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SXSW seeks thousands of volunteers to help out with this year's festival

People wait in line to pick up badges for SXSW at the Austin Convention Center last year.
Patricia Lim
People wait in line to pick up badges for SXSW at the Austin Convention Center last year.

South by Southwest is looking for 3,000 volunteers to help run its annual music, film, technology and education festival.

Organizers are hosting events at the Austin Convention Center on Sunday afternoon and Tuesday evening for prospective volunteers to ask crew managers about the different opportunities. They can then register, select their role and pick the times they want to volunteer. Or they can skip the in-person event altogether and do everything online.

Tami Richter, the vice president of event operations at SXSW says there are lots of volunteer opportunities. She started off as a SXSW volunteer in 2000. First working as a volunteer in the trade show, then at the conference expos and then as an ambassador — a greeter who checks that people have the right badges to access the events. She said that’s why she likes talking about the value of volunteers.

“Our volunteers are really a big part of the program,” Richter said. “Not just operationally but because we enjoy having people from our local area greet our global audience. Basically, they really kind of produce the flavor of the event and really showcase what Austin is all about, as well as South by Southwest.”

Who can volunteer?

You have to be 16 or older to volunteer. Minors need permission from their parent or guardian. Some venues require volunteers be at least 18 or 21 years old.

You don’t need any specialized skills. In-person training will be held mid-February for volunteers who live in the area and online training will be available for those who live further away. Training takes less than two hours and counts toward your volunteer hours.

What are the benefits?

Depending on how many hours a volunteer signs up for throughout the festival, they can get different levels of access to the rest of the festival. Access and priority for different events are controlled by badges.

“For 24 hours on a music festival crew, for example, you can earn a music badge,” Richter said. “For 32 hours, you can get a platinum badge on a music festival crew.”

Richter said the number of hours required to get certain badges have been reduced from prior years.

Volunteers get those badges at the start of the festival and can start accessing events during their free time. But don’t get any ideas on signing up for a lot of hours to get a badge and then not showing up for your volunteer shifts. If you miss a shift, your badge gets deactivated.

Richter said volunteering can also help professional development.

“Whether you're interested in the events industry or you're interested in one of the topics that we're going to be discussing during the conferences or the festival, it's kind of a catchall for a whole bunch of different types of industries,” Richter said.

How many volunteers are needed?

SXSW organizers want 3,000 volunteers for this year’s festival. That’s about how many they had in 2018.

“If we don't get enough volunteers, we can obviously pivot some of our operations to accommodate for that,” Richter said. “We've had to do that last year.”

In 2019, when the University of Texas spring break didn’t align with the festival, the festival had only about 1,700 volunteers.

The annual event was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic. Richter said in 2021 when the event was fully virtual, paid staff filled all the roles and there were fewer than five volunteers. Last year, the festival returned to normal operations and had about 1,500 to 1,700 volunteers.

Sangita Menon is a general assignment reporter for KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @sangitamenon.
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