SXSW Co-Founder Louis Jay Meyers (1955-2016)
Festival instigator dies on its biggest day
By Kevin Curtin,
9:47PM, Fri. Mar. 11, 2016
Louis Jay Meyers, one of the four men who founded South by Southwest, died locally of a heart attack this morning at St. David’s South – coincidentally the first day of SXSW 2016 and hours before perhaps the major moment in the conference’s 30-year history: a keynote speech by President Barack Obama.
Meyers was 60.
Connections to his native Austin ran deep: a guitarist, banjoist, and pedal steel player known for his work with insurgent country favorites Killbilly, a booker and show producer, partner at legendary venue Liberty Lunch during its early years, a manager of many bands including locals the Killer Bees, GM of the Austin Music Network, director of Folk Alliance International in Kansas City.
According to SXSW co-founder and Austin Chronicle editor Louis Black, Meyers was instrumental in instigating the annual music conference, born at the paper in 1987, where Meyers kept an office and the other three principals worked or owned.
“Louis Meyers and Roland Swenson came to Nick Barbaro and I in 1986 wanting to start a regional conference for people in the music business,” recalled Black on Friday. “Keep in mind, at that point there was just phone and fax. There was no Internet, there was no cell phones. There were people who managed bands in Kansas City who’d dealt with a booker in Austin and a booker in Tempe for 15 years and they’d never met.
“The whole idea behind South By was that it was supposed to bring everybody in the region’s music business together. We’d all been in the music business one way or another, but Louis had been a working musician, which none of us were, so he had hands-on experience that he contributed to make it really work.”
In 1994, Meyers divested in SXSW. Black says the conference’s growth didn’t suit his onetime partner’s style.
“Louis liked to be hands-on and micromanage, and South by Southwest was getting too big. He couldn’t stand that week of the year where he had to turn down all those bands and they were all mad at him. He literally turned grey from the first couple years of South by Southwest. To be effective, you really have to grow into a bureaucrat when you’re running an organization.
“He resisted that.”
Meyers left Austin in the late Nineties, returned to manage the Austin Music Network from 2003 to 2005, and relocated back to town for good following his departure from the Folk Alliance in 2014. A music lifer, he continued to be active in music production and management, and attended SXSW annually. As news of his passing spread, musicians from Austin and beyond have shared their stories about Meyers on his Facebook page — cherishing the undying support he showed for musicians and the community.