The under-the-radar events and entertainment keeping SXSW from feeling stale

Big-budget activations for Westworld and Ready Player One are earning ample attention at SXSW this year (more on that later this week), but under-the-radar events and entertainment have proven worthy of a trip off of Austin’s beaten path, bringing a level of authenticity to the festival that keeps it from feeling overly branded and bland. These highlights didn’t disappoint.


Brandathon founder ZeShan Malik and Sir Kensington’s Scott Norton, whose condiments company was acquired by Unilever in 2017, hosted a nacho-themed event that blended snacking and social activism. Dubbed Nach X Nachwest, the evening united a diverse group of young leaders to discuss Business for Good strategies in 2018 over a spirited nacho-making session. The event, in partnership with Latitude, was a special edition of the Nacho Knights gatherings, a two-year-old series that brings together strangers for heartfelt and vulnerable conversations around misogyny, racism, politics and religion—difficult topics tempered by the act of collaborative cooking. 


Arthouse horror is experiencing a renaissance, and The Head is a unique take on the genre from Ricky Fosheim of Detention Films and cinematographer Kevin Stewart, Director of Photography for Blumhouse’s latest thriller Unfriended: Dark Web, which premiered on opening night at the festival. The filmmakers offered select viewers a sneak peak of the visually stunning work, a single-character film that follows a medieval warrior seeking revenge against a creature that took his daughter’s life—think Game of Thrones meets The Witch.


Paige and Don Julio brought this laid-back affair to life away from the convention center crowds at Jacoby’s, where the emphasis on bonding over branding made it feel more like an elevated backyard BBQ than a stiff corporate activation. Coupled with custom denim embroidery, local performers, and epic #EEEEEATS from The Infatuation, and Smoke and Denim is a great example of how brands can pull off a SXSW event that feels authentically Austin.