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What to expect at SXSWi, part 3: The party scene!

Not surprisingly, some of this year's notorious soirees at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival might be asking that attendees actually pay for their drinks.

This is part three of a four-part series. Here are part one and part two.

Surprise: Despite budget cuts and a general malaise about making a big, bubbly scene when loads of people in the tech industry are out of work or in danger of losing their jobs, there are still a ton of parties at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, which starts Friday in Austin, Texas. There will be fewer open bars for sure; nevertheless, rest assured that you'll still be able to find far more nightlife options than you could possibly want. They do refer to it as "spring break for geeks," after all.

You'll probably see a lot of the same people at most of these parties, the majority of which require only an SXSWi conference badge for entry (which means the lines get long). But the parties themselves vary wildly in size and vibe.

Some are off-the-walls wacky, like the "Pasties and Pastries Burlesque Cupcake Cookoff" on Friday night, or off-the-walls wacky for a good cause, like the Bacon-Flavored Benefit for the Children's Music Fund, which asks for a $5 donation at the door. On Monday evening there's something called Nuclear Taco Night. I don't think I'm "in" enough with the SXSWi scene to even start to explain that.

Many of the earlier parties (i.e. the ones that start at 6:30 p.m.) are networking-friendly cocktail hours sponsored by big and medium-size companies like Rackspace, several Microsoft divisions, and Google (well, Google Reader and Blogger). Then, of course, there's the official SXSWi party on Saturday night. Sponsored by Frog Design, it's held every year at the Mexican American Cultural Center, which is thankfully big enough to accommodate attendees but is maddeningly far from the rest of the SXSWi mayhem. With temperatures on Friday and Saturday expected to be unseasonably chilly, this partly outdoors party may be smaller than last year's.

The late-night parties will likely just be total nuthouses. Some of these, like Facebook's second annual "friends.get" party at the sceney Pangaea nightclub on Sunday night or RockYou's St. Patrick's Day bash at the Speakeasy music hall on Tuesday, have a guest-list policy and will be tough to get into. Others, like the annual Bigg Digg Shindigg (hosted, Digg) are more open but will still likely have a line snaking around the block.

Keep tabs on your Twitter feed, too. One unofficial party, called 32bit, isn't even disclosing its location until the last minute via Twitter. And last year, the party that took everybody by surprise happened when a bunch of popular Twitterers let their friends known that seven cases of wine had just been carted to a hotel lobby. Expect the flash-mob model to get repeated this year, probably several times.

P.S.: Here's one you should totally check out: CNET's own Buzz Out Loud podcast is having a mixer at the Cedar Door on Friday at 6:30 p.m., after its live show taping.