The performing arts are alive and kicking in the Texan state capital. Head on down to Austin and you’ll be treated to a range of festivities that encompass every style and genre of artistic expression you can imagine. From music to food, from sports to beer, from ice cream to bats, the quantity of festivals on offer (not to mention the quality of their production) is sure to leave you reeling. The best thing? Most of them won’t cost you a dime. Check out the best on offer with our guide to the ten best free festivals in Austin.
1. Lago Fest
Lago Fest is one of the biggest and brightest additions to Austin’s annual line up of festivals. A vibrant celebration of music, food, arts and sports, the festival offers everything from animal petting zoos to face painting, volleyball to lawn games, handmade crafts from local artisans to delicious beverages from Whitestone Brewery and Bent Oak Winery. With all-day live music providing the perfect soundscape, it’s the ideal place to soak up the cultural, dining and artistic delights of Texas’ capital. You may have missed the boat for 2019 (the festival takes place each June), but you’ll not regret marking it in the diary for next year.
2. Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival
August 25, 2019 marks the 29th year of the annual Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival, quite literally the city’s (and possibly the world’s) hottest celebration of all things hot-sauce related. After you’ve tested your endurance by sampling some of the fieriest sauces known to man, cool your taste buds down with some refreshing Fireman’s Light before moving on to some of the other culinary delights on offer (this year’s lineup of local producers is expected to include Amy's Ice Creams, Garbo's Lobster Truck ATX, Johnny Joe’s Concessions, Sun Garden Shaved Ice, Torchy's Tacos, Fiesta Tortillas, Ze Wurst). Once you’re full, sit back and enjoy performances from the likes of Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis, Harry Edohoukwa, Mariachi Capitál, and Batty jr. Admission is free, but if you’d like to make a donation to the Central Texas Food Bank, you’re very welcome.
3. St. Elias Mediterranean Festival
If food is your passion, you’ll not want to miss the St. Elias Mediterranean Festival. Scheduled to take place over Sept. 20-21, 2019, the festival is a celebration of all things the Mediterranean – which in reality means a celebration of all things delicious. While the live music from special guests Andree Ibrahim and The Land Band is sure to be an entertaining distraction, it’s the range of tempting goodies from Lebanon, Palestine, Greece, Eritrea and Russia that are set to be the real star attractions. With the chance to treat your taste buds to such culinary delights as Gyros, Kibbee, Baklava, Spanakopita, and Arabic Coffee, this is one festival no self-respecting gourmet would miss.
4. Fall Pecan Street Festival
If you’re in Austin in Fall (or, to be exact, Sept. 21-22, 2019), don’t miss a visit to the Fall Pecan Street Festival. The festival is one of the oldest events in Austin, and there’s a reason it’s stood the test of time. Equal measure live music festival, arts and crafts market, and classic street carnival, the festival is a joyous, celebratory occasion that brings the whole of Austin to the streets.
5. Austin Museum Day
If you’d rather a more sedate affair than the festivals we’ve mentioned so far, this next offering may please you. On September 22, 2019, Austin will be giving visitors and residents the chance to view the exhibits and displays of over 30 of the city’s most engaging museums. Entry is free, and you can explore as many venues as you care to. See the official Austin Museum Day website for a list of all participating museums.
6. Texas Mesquite Arts Festival
Another addition to the Fall lineup of festivals is the delightful Texas Mesquite Arts Festival, one of the world’s largest mesquite wood artist events. Situated at the Marketplatz Square, Fredericksburg, the festival is a celebration of the work of the country’s finest mesquite craftsmen. Taking in everything from mesquite beds, dressers and chairs to superbly crafted lamps, scrollwork, calligraphy sets, vases and Christmas decorations, the festival is a unique opportunity to view (and even buy) some truly exquisite pieces of art. See the website for event dates and times.
7. Waller Creek Show
If you’ve got a free night (or nine) to fill, don’t miss the Waller Creek Show. Taking place over nine nights, the festival consists of a series of light-based art installations at multiple sites along Waller Creek. This year’s event takes place between November 8-16, 2019 and offers visitors the chance to enjoy a fabulous combination of art, live music, and interactive activities. Check out the official festival website for more details.
8. HONK!TX Festival
Next on our list is HONK!TX Festival, a non-profit, community-spirited event that sees the streets of Austin come alive to the sounds of the best brass bands from around the country. Taking place in March at various public spaces across the city, the festival aims to bridge the gap between the audience and the performers by inviting everyone to join the fun and get involved.
9. ABC Kite Fest
As one of Austin’s best loved events, the annual ABC Kite Fest is not to be missed. Taking place at the end of each March, the festival is the perfect way to kick off the city’s Spring festivities. There’s no charge to enter, and you can even bring your dog along for the ride- although whether they’ll enjoy the sight of hundreds of colorful kites drifting around the Texan sky as much as you is another question entirely.
10. Eeyore's Birthday
The last and perhaps most eclectic entry to our list is Eeyore's Birthday, known to many as Austin’s “Original Hippy Festival”. Held in April (although dates do vary, so be sure to check out the official website for the most up-to-date information), this celebration of all things Winnie-the-Pooh is a fun, family-friendly occasion offering everything from live music and drumming circles to maypole dances and games.
Written by Dana Hanson
Read more posts by Dana Hanson