If it’s March and it’s Austin, then it must be SXSW

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - News -

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?

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