The Austin Chronicle

SXSW Expands Music Festival

By Kevin Curtin, July 25, 2016, 11:00am, Earache!

The countdown to South by Southwest 2017 ticks at 228 days. Next year’s buzz bands are still six to eight months away from reveal, but we doubt Donald and Melania Trump will get the same keynote invitation the Obamas received earlier this year. Nevertheless, SXSW 2017 has begun taking shape with this morning’s announcement of 11 speakers.

The first wave of talent, convening locally March 10-19, includes basketball legend/HIV survivor Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and Jennifer Doudna, co-inventor of the gene editing technology CRISPR-Cas9, plus Jill Soloway, creator of the daringly relevant comedy series Transparent and director of Afternoon Delight. Today’s talent breakdown this early in the cycle might be termed unprecedented.

SXSW Music played little of its hand, but did announce artist/activist Nadya Tolokonnikova of famously jailed Russian punk group Pussy Riot.

It’s typical for the massive festival to announce initial Interactive speakers in the late summer, but unusual for a Music participant to be trumpeted so far in advance. Tolokonnikova’s first Texas appearance represents a major early attraction, Convention Center attendees sure to eat up Tolokonnikova’s harrowing accounts of life as a Russian protest artist: serving 21 months in jail on hooliganism charges for an anti-Putin performance in a cathedral, and being attacked by Cossacks during a street performance at the Olympics in Sochi.

The most important detail of the press release sent out this morning wasn’t a speaker confirmation, but news that starting next year, registrants will have access to most events outside their badge type. That means Music badge holders will get secondary entry to most Film and Interactive events and vice versa.

This wasn’t out of the blue.

SXSW Managing Director Roland Swenson confirmed in April that the lines between the Conference’s three platforms would continue to blur.

“It’s certainly been growing in that direction for a number of years, with more and more events overlapping all three,” he said. “It started when we merged the two trade shows [Film/Interactive and Music] into one in the middle of the event. While we work to keep the three different parts distinct, South by Southwest is already merging into one event on its own, because many participants have multifaceted interests.”

At the time, he said “incremental changes” would be in store for 2017. Now more than ever, there’s a clear push to cross channels, entwine elements, and present SXSW as a unified, all-encompassing experience. This year’s homepage reads, “SXSW March 10-19,” when in years before it listed different sets of dates for Interactive, Music, and Film. A chart on the What’s New? section of the website details the time spans of each platform, Film running the full calendar, March 10-19, Interactive filling March 10-14, and Music beginning a day earlier than last year, March 13-19.

“We’re going to have some official Music Festival showcases on Monday night of SXSW,” Swenson told us recently, adding that the number of acts will stay roughly the same. “There has been a lot of music in the first weekend during Interactive for years, but they haven’t been showcases curated by South by Southwest.”

With Film running throughout the entire Fest and some of the tech-related conference tracks extending beyond the usual Interactive dates, the question may now become how long visiting attendees are expected to stay in Austin. Can registrants expense account all 10 days? And if so, can they find a hotel room for that long? Swenson says that whenever attendees arrive, there will be something of interest for them in the program.

“We’re fortunate that the Film Festival runs the length of the event and attracts a wide array of talent throughout,” he offered. “We’re trying to give the Interactive attendees reasons to stay later in the week and reasons for Music people to come in earlier. We’re extending some of our Interactive tracks through Thursday.

“Eventually, we want people to base their choice on which days are convenient for them to be here, and know there will be compelling programming for them whenever that is.”

Registration for the increasingly blended SXSW opens one week from today, on August 1. Same for press accreditation. Meanwhile, bands and artists interested in performing at SXSW can apply now.

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