Recently, the South by Southwest music, film, and interactive festival wrapped up after another successful year in Austin. Because it falls during spring break week, it has become my tradition to take a break from my teaching job to work for the festival at one of the music venues. It is always an interesting and enjoyable change of pace for me, and my students get a real kick out of imagining their teacher working at a club and reveling along with the music lovers and club hoppers. This year was no different.
The SXSW music festival draws over 1400 bands and more than 5000 music industry professionals to Austin, and that number doesn’t even take into account those thousands attending the film and interactive festivals which run concurrently under the SXSW banner, and Austin welcomes them all with open arms. After all, the festival pumps a hefty $30 million into the local economy, and every year, the crowds grow. At least at this time of year, Austin rightfully deserves, and proves its status as “The Live Music Capital of the World.”
Austin boasts more live music venues per capita than any other city in the U.S., and clubs of all sizes, including a church, play host to bands from all over the world during the four-night music festival. The party officially kicks off on Wednesday night with Austin’s own version of the Grammys, The Austin Music Awards. Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel, was a big winner, and Pete Townshend formerly of The Who, took the stage with fellow Brit, Ian McLagan, now a beloved Austin performer.
At my club on 6th Street, we showcased bands from New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Amsterdam, and celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with “Irish Music Night” on Saturday. Without exception, the members of the bands and their entourages were excited about playing Austin and having the opportunity to be “discovered” by a producer or promoter, or picked up by a record label. One band member excitedly informed me that after their show, they were approached to collaborate on a major motion picture soundtrack! At least during SXSW, Austin is the city where dreams really can come true.
Up and down the 6th Street entertainment district and beyond, record executives checked their schedules and hurried from club to club, munching chopped barbeque sandwiches and checking out the artists, who ranged from acoustic singer/songwriters to outrageously dressed and spikey-coiffed punks and heavy metal screamers clad in their inevitable black garb.
Early one night, a nicely dressed middle-aged couple approached me to ask if they could buy a ticket for the show. “You must have a son or daughter performing,” I smiled, because they were definitely not your typical club hopper. Naturally, their son was playing, and the proud parents had followed him to Austin for the show and a mini-vacation all the way from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That day had been beautiful, with the temperature hovering near 80, and we chatted for a while about their visit, and what they had seen and done while in Austin. The couple was exuberant in their praise and promised that next year they would be back for a longer vacation and would definitely be bringing friends.
Later that evening, a woman from the UK dropped in to thank me for recommending Maria’s Taco Express, one of my favorite haunts, and invited me to an after-hours private party in a hotel penthouse nearby. I thanked her, but had to decline, because this golden carriage that is SXSW has to turn back into a pumpkin by Monday morning, and I had some lesson plans to write.