SXSW Reflection (Part One): SXSW History Lesson

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Did SXSW invent modern Austin?

“It’s like the world’s best singles bar. All you have to ask is: ‘What are you working on?’”

From a Statesman article Wherein: A case is made for the social spark that is our largest festival

By Michael Barnes American-Statesman Staff

In some ways, South by Southwest invented modern Austin. Or at least SXSW popularized what we were to become. It brought people downtown in great numbers all at once. It opened up the near-town neighborhoods. It created the impression that our sidewalks are regularly populated with smart, open, kind, fun, fit creative types.

At the very least, SXSW crowds predicted where Austin would go. As early as the 1980s, festival-goers tramped across deserted blocks to reach the essential Waterloo Records on West Sixth Street. Now that stretch between Congress Avenue and North Lamar Boulevard has become its own entertainment district. The same thing can be said for South Congress, far East Sixth, Rainey Street and other hotspots. This year, Rainey blossomed with the popular South Bites food trailer park, a tribute to Austin’s undying funkiness.

A visitor from Norfolk, Va. (metro pop. 1.7 million), said he could think of no food trailers in his hometown. Austin (metro pop. 1.8 million) is home to at least 1,200. Critical cultural marker?

These days, SXSW also stretches its tendrils down South First Street and South Lamar and up around the Capitol. If Texas Solons didn’t insist that the complex north of the Capitol remain an antiseptic state-worker reservation — putting the brakes on public-private projects — SXSW could embrace the University of Texas campus area as well.

Those Austinites who bitterly mourn the passage of the Armadillo World Headquarters more than three decades ago should get out into SXSW more often. The Armadillo’s core magic — the blissful mix of social unalikes — spills far beyond the demolished South Austin venue and onto almost every block of walkable Austin. The Armadillo lives! Everywhere!

A Brief History of Southby

From an Austin Post article Wherein: SXSW 2013 is reviewed

Since it began in 1987 as a grassroots music conference and festival spotlighting regional scenes primarily focusing on what was then American indie “college rock,” it has grown through a number of stages.

It used to be small and non-commmercial (obviously).

At the end of the 90s, as the record industry hit a downslide, SXSW Music suffered a downturn as well. It could have meant the end. Instead, Indie labels grew in might as the majors fumbled and took up the slack as showcase hosts. SXSW upped its efforts to draw international acts, with their appearances as well as parties, trade show booths, CD samplers and more subsidized by the nations’ governments. The surrounding party scene mushroomed even if SXSW tried at times to stifle it.Over the previous 10 years the music fest and conference burgeoned into something far beyond anything its founders originally dreamed of, and during the same time period that the music industry contracted, no less. By the middle of the last decade, consumer product companies began seeing branding value in the sizzle of pop music associations via the fest and started pouring funds into parties, promotions and their own non-SXSW showcase stages. The anguished hue and cry of “commercialization” became even louder.

The general public from outside of Austin also discovered the musical and party-hearty fun to be had, much of it for free. SXSW was originally scheduled for spring break because the University of Texas students were away and the clubs would be less crowded. Now it’s a mid-March vacation destination.

Over the years SXSW added first a Film and Multimedia confab and festival in 1994, split them in two the next year, then rebranded Multimedia as Interactive in ’96. SXSWi has ridden the rocketing digital zeitgeist to draw in more than 30,000 paid attendees this year. SXSWedu and a separate comedy fest have been launched alongside other elements. (Not to mention this year’s SWSW Gaming Expo!) At least 60,000 people bought badges to one or another of the SXSW events this year. Some 300,000 come to town for it. Simply put, SXSW is now fucking huge. 

SXSW 2013:  the surprise star shows exploded into a bounty of riches (if one managed to get into their shows): Justin Timberlake, Prince, Green Day, Depeche Mode, Snoop Dogg-now-Lion… the list goes on and on. There was so much musical star-power all over town that what would have been a lines-around-the block highlight in previous years, John Fogerty, only pulled in a half-house at ACL Live. It’s only going to get bigger.

Austin is the sizzling center of the popular music industry in mid March, and the biggest music event on the planet.


Written by messwatx

2013/03/22 at 9:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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