As many have you have likely heard in the past few days, South-by-Southwest, better known in the written form as SxSw, has descended onto Austin for its 25th rendition. What exactly is SxSw? For those of you not aware, SxSw used to be a cool event that took place in Austin every March when people from the major music hubs would get away for a few days and check out unsigned emerging bands. Nowadays, not so much.
This time around, the event has a shitload of events some of which are affiliated with the festival and many that aren't. Besides some of the actual unsigned bands that are performing, its become a dog and pony show for labels, publishers, publications etc to showcase either bands that have been in development, stars or fading stars. It seems as if everyone and their mistress is in Austin this week, but don't know why. The event has become the spring break of the music biz where you can hobnob with your favorite execs or pals while guzzling beers, chomping down some Texas BBQ while checking out a few "buzzed" about bands in cramped quarters.
What used to be about music has changed dramatically. Older stars use the event as a platform to regain their coolness factor, while younger bands are merely trying to get someone or anyone to give their outfit a shot in the big leagues. SxSw used to be what could pass for cool in the music biz. Before it became a clusterfuck of pats on the back, it was a great place to see bands. Groups like The White Stripes, Amy Winehouse, Norah Jones Franz Ferdinand, Spoon and The Strokes all got their shot at the big time through standout performances at the festival. Over the past few years artists like Jay-Z, Kanye West, Bruce Springsteen, Fiona Apple and yes, The Strokes (it's possible to be in both categories) flew down to Austin to build press for one reason or another.
If you check your Facebook or Twitter feeds, they're both inundating with at least a few messages about how a particular person is either at SxSw having the best time or wishing they were at the event. Blech. The event is about what party can outdo the other, not entirely about the music.
Despite the zoo that Austin becomes in these few days, there are some positives about the festival for event goers. For starters, maybe there is the new band that you discover and can interact with before they get back. The festival has expanded beyond its traditional music roots to include a technology conference (smart since Austin is a hub for tech companies) and a film festival (another cool aspect that doesn't get much play) that has allowed for people in other fields to enjoy the festivities, without the fanfare. There are still some cool events, but few and far between.
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As SxSw flies past its silver anniversary, the future looks bright with regard to its commercialization. When planners first started the event, they could have never guessed that Bruce Springsteen would eventually the keynote speaker at the event. So change IS good, if you can intelligently decipher see through the dog and pony aspect. As the event evolves from industry-only to all-in, it gives you a chance of catching a group that deserves your attention. If the masses understand that's what SxSw was founded and keep that spirit going, then they're miles ahead of the game.