If it’s March and it’s Austin, then it must be SXSW
THEY REALLY did build this city on rock’n’roll. The Live Music Capital of the World is the claim to fame on the city walls and you’d better believe it, man. Not that anyone is likely to forget it this week of all weeks.
If it’s March and it’s Austin, it must be South By Southwest (SXSW). But let’s stall a minute before we head to that rodeo. The thing about this city, a liberal metropolis in a state that usually votes red when it comes to elections, is that it’s a music town 52 weeks a year.
Those 100 odd (very odd, in some cases) venues that host SXSW shows aren’t dark the rest of the time. Some of them have other uses and, sure, the Central Presbyterian Church will revert to having worshippers rather than hipsters in the pews, yet Austin still has more than enough regular working venues to make it a live music powerhouse. Forget Nashville, LA and New York, this is Live Music City USA.
While Austin only began calling itself the live music capital in 1991, on the back of a campaign by local blues musician Lillian Standfield, it was a go-to spot for rockin’, jivin’ and hoppin’ for decades before. A local chitlin circuit was going full pelt in the late 1920s and 1930s, but the arrival of outlaw country stalwarts such as Willie Nelson in the 1960s and early 1970s put the Texas capital on the musical map.
More and more musos arrived to take advantage of laidback vibes, cheap digs, cheaper beer and the chance to jam with local reprobates. As country and bluegrass met stoner and hippie rock, an Austin Sound began to emerge from the haze. Later, punk and new-wave arrived by Greyhound bus to add to the musical melange.
When SXSW began back in 1987, the aim was to keep the focus on these local acts. Around 140 acts played and 700 people showed up. The organisers decided to keep going.
In 2012, the scale of SXSW is overwhelming. Leaving aside the massive interactive and film festivals (and the various strands for games, marketing, journalism, comedy and everything else), SXSW Music features 2,000 acts from all over the globe.
Yes, like the bands who arrived here in the 1960s and 1970s, they’re after cheap beer and lodgings. But it’s the new school music business and that means they’re here to meet influential people, boost their profiles and get some traction. A big record deal? Dude, it’s 2012, not 1992.
So here we are in the middle of the maelstrom. Like punters at Cheltenham, we have our tips and form books. We don’t have a horse outside, but we do have a bike to get us around that bit faster.
SXSW in Austin, in March: sure, where else would you be?