Austin, Texas, has just concluded its 30th Spring Break-style mega-music, film, and technology festival.
SXSW, or Southby as locals call it, started as a modest week of music performances in a central area of town, and has since outgrown the root system it put down in 1987. Recently on Facebook, there was a picture of a newspaper ad from the maiden year, offering 200 musicians for a $10 ticket. Major deals have been signed, legendary albums have been made and released, millions of dollars have been made since that ad was placed. But as time has passed, while those things may be true for the rare diamond in the rough, the real value of SXSW for most of us is the random human connections you make while walking down the street.
I'm not in the business of complaining about The Way Things Used To Be versus The Way Things Are Now. Everything changes. Cities evolve and the unique aspects of those cities grow with them. SXSW started as a way to entice music lovers to come to the tiny capital of the great state of Texas and spend their money hearing amazing music they had never heard before. In that way, the festival might still be on the right course. You can't walk into a grocery store without being exposed to a live band. In my mind, that's a fantastic thing.
You can walk to the coffee shop and hear the tones of familiar and new bands alike – what a luxury! Many cities in the world are being terrorized and we are overrun with live music for a week. I know which intrusion I greatly prefer. But then, it's all about perspective. All of my music friends come to my town and play their songs.
Of course, with such immense expansion there are commensurate growing pains. The city is plastered in posters, littered with handbills and free plastic crap. This year the street team of a former member of Destiny's Child spray painted her logo over murals and on sidewalks. It's that kind of questionable behavior that leads some locals to detest the behemoth festival. Another aspect the denizens of Austin could do without is the rampant drinking. On the final night of the festival in 2014, that led to a deadly accident where a car plowed into a crowded street.
I wish the draw of the music could be enough without the eponymous offering of “free drinks” to get bodies into your shows. Maybe the audiences should expect to pay for their drinks and that money can be filtered back the musicians? Isn't that the real reason any of this is happening? I played eight shows during this year’s SXSW and only one offered payment … and I was super grateful for that single check.
As with any huge party, there are always problems and cleanup is a big task, but I think it's important to focus on the positive. Here in this usually fairly sleepy college town, we get a week of economic boom accompanied by simply the greatest current music from all over the world. I am thrilled to have our supportive community expand by thousands for the week. Please, come eat our tacos, drink our coffee, and play your sweet jams.