Page Two: Everlasting Love
Our annual ode to South by Southwest
There are hundreds of music shows, movies, and other events, including a number of free events, put on by SXSW that are open to the public. There are also so many scores of day parties, afterparties, and other shows that one can become almost oversaturated with input. SXSW is just a multiplier (maybe even a considerable multiplier) of what goes on in Austin, Texas, every day of every year.
A week from the cover date of this issue of the Chronicle marks the beginning of South by Southwest 2010. The first one was in March of 1987; this is the 24th. Below are some of the highlights.
Austin Music Awards: For any number of years now, the AMA show, honoring the winners of The Austin Chronicle Music Poll, has been held on Wednesday nights. This year, just to shake things up, it's being moved to Saturday night, March 20,, at the Austin Music Hall. The extraordinary lineup includes the Texas Sheiks with Geoff Muldaur, Jim Kweskin, Bruce Hughes, Cindy Cashdollar, and Johnny Nicholas; Will Sexton & Friends; Sarah Jarosz with special guest; the Explosives with Peter Lewis and Stu Cook; Mother Falcon; and an All-Star Soul Jam starring Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears.
The SXSW Film Festival, under the leadership of Janet Pierson, is offering the strongest program of movies it ever has boasted. The Film Festival runs from Friday, March 12, through Saturday, March 20. There are Film passes, which cost $70 inclusive, now available at Waterloo Records and the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema's South, Ritz, and Village locations.
Over the last half-decade, SXSW Interactive has become one of the most important events of its kind anywhere. Hardware and software visionaries intermingle, but most of the attendees have their minds firmly lodged in the future – thinking about it, predicting it, understanding its potentials, and creating it.
The schedule for the SXSW Music Festival 2010 speaks quite eloquently for itself: almost 90 stages with close to 2,000 bands spanning four nights. The initial stock of SXSW Music wristbands has long sold out, but there will be some number more made available. Their release will be announced online, on the radio, or in the Chronicle (though interested parties should monitor all three, because the announcements will not be made simultaneously).
SXSW has always sponsored a number of free events, but this year there are more than ever.
The Auditorium Shores at Lady Bird Lake Concerts: There are free nighttime outdoor concerts here, as well as a family-oriented music program on Saturday afternoon. This year, featured acts include Ozomatli, Cracker, the BoDeans, Cheap Trick, Justin Townes Earle, She & Him, and more (check the SXSW Music Festival schedule for exact details).
Austin Convention Center: There are any number of special events free to the public at the ACC this year.
ScreenBurn at SXSW Arcade will feature the latest in video games, as well as competitive tournaments. It is open 2-6pm Friday, March 12, and on Saturday and Sunday, March 13-14, from noon to 6pm.
There will also be three major free events at the ACC the weekend of the SXSW Music Fest (Thursday, March 18, through Saturday, March 20).
The Austin Record Convention: Thirty years on, the ARC is the largest show of its kind and still going strong. Dealers from around the country and the world will offer rare, collectible, and desirable 78s, 45s, LPs, CDs, cassettes, 8-tracks, posters, and more.
The Texas Guitar Show: Located in the adjacent exhibition hall is a buy-sell-trade event. There will be a truly amazing collection of every kind of instrument and music-related gear imaginable, including guitars, banjos, amps, mandolins, sound gear, parts, and on and on. Attendees are invited to bring their musical instruments to sell, trade, or have appraised.
Flatstock 24: Rare and collectible posters will be available both at the Austin Record Convention and the Texas Guitar Show, but if you have any interest in posters at all, you can't miss Flatstock. Co-presented by the American Poster Institute and SXSW, the event will display works of more than 100 national and international artists, with many of the posters for sale.
George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center, in conjunction with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department, offers a full schedule of free SXSW events, including panels and films. At the Boyd Vance Theatre, there will be two major sessions: Blacks in Technology on Friday, March 12, and Latinos in Technology on Sunday, March 14 (both will be from 6 to 9pm). There are a number of films screening, including Texas High School Shorts, as well as the works of acclaimed documentary filmmaker Alan Govenar.
Time for that annual conflict-of-interest acknowledgement. Austin Chronicle Publisher Nick Barbaro and I are partners in SXSW Inc. along with Roland Swenson, our other partner and the hands-on managing director.
Swenson, Barbaro, and I were three of the original four partners (Louis Jay Meyers is now head of the Folk Alliance). As managing director, Roland is the visionary; while not lacking some creative thoughts of our own, Nick and I really concentrate on logistics. But all our hearts – Swenson's, Barbaro's, the SXSW staff's, and mine – have always been in the same place: our belief and affection for Austin and what goes on here. Ideally, SXSW mirrors and reflects the large, extensive, diverse but cooperative community driven by the notion that the quality, innovation, and integrity of creative work should be its very first priority as well as passion.
Business isn't far behind – not as a celebration of business (though not excluding that either) but because by understanding it, creators can control their careers and work. This is the core belief – that media is both art and business. The more creative talents understand the latter, the more flexibility and control they have over the former. This is not to say every creative talent has to be an independent artist. Instead, it is to argue against any single template as being best for all artists.
Yes, there are complaints about SXSW in Austin. Many of these are more than reasonable. A number of them are easily explained, but there are also some that are simply the consequence of an event like SXSW.
Over the 24 years of SXSW, the main complaints have remained fairly consistent. Not being able to get into shows that registrants and/or locals wish to see is probably the lead one. This is often proclaimed as a new development, an indication that SXSW has just gotten too big – but those complaints started the second SXSW (1988), if not even at the first.
The other traditional objection is that there is too much music or too many movies or far too many Interactive panels. A particularly rich buffet seems more a conceptual problem than a real one. Often, especially with music, the argument is fine-tuned to make the case that there are too many name bands mucking up the chances of the large number of unsigned bands. A common variant on this is that SXSW doesn't do enough to support Austin music and that it should book more than the couple-hundred-plus local bands that it does every year.
There is a delicate balance of booking, based on the philosophy that drives SXSW. The event supports regional, independent, and outstanding music. It is not about just unsigned bands or Austin bands, because if booked that way, the Music Festival wouldn't attract nearly the number or extraordinary range of musicians and those involved in the music business it does. Regarding the former, this year well over 10,000 bands applied to play SXSW, of which more than 2,500 were international acts.
In terms of the latter, there is no other event that brings together such a large, diverse crowd, representing every aspect of music and the music business. This includes media, retail, performance, management, technical, labels, and instruments, as well as thousands of musicians.
It is safe to say that because of the many acts based in Austin, Austin City Limits (both television show and festival), numerous internationally famous clubs, and SXSW, national and international attention is paid to the Austin music scene year-round.
South by Southwest was conceived as a regional event – thus its name. The original ambition was to bring together musicians and those working in the music business from a five- or six-state area to meet with and talk to one another. It might have been regional that first year and maybe even the second, but by the third year, it was national and soon international.
I am proud of SXSW, and I very much love the event. It is my favorite time of the year. People have claimed that my passionate enthusiasm can be translated into dollar signs, that as a result of SXSW, I own yachts and mansions, and I am so heavily weighed down with bling that my movements are like those of woolly mammoths.
There is nothing I can say that will change those minds already made up, but during SXSW, throughout all the different events, walking around, one can't help but feel the energy – crazy, shared, intense, and creatively driven – which always reminds me of what SXSW is and why I love it.