Monday, March 2, 2020

Open Letter To SXSW Organizers: Pull The Plug!


Truth be told, I honestly thought that the organizers of the South By Southwest music festival in Austin, TX would have announced by now their decision to cancel this year's event in light of the ever-increasing threat of a global pandemic.

Earlier Today, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was the first notable cancellation of what this writer predicts will be many notable no-shows that will render this year's festival unless organizers step up and make that most horrible of decisions.

After all, so much planning goes into each year's SXSW festival. When I think of all the hard work put in by festival organizers and the vendors who print the t-shirts and the banners, construct the stages, provide the lights and the sound, and make the whole week go off without a hitch.

But I also worry about the bands who are now placed in a position of uncertainty. The most pressing question for foreign acts is "Will travel to the festival even by possible?" With airlines announcing new travel restrictions every day in hopes of containing the spread of the virus.

Even domestic acts have reason to be biting their fingernails because exactly what kind of situation will they be walking into? Just because the festival isn't cancelled doesn't mean anybody shows up.

This is a potential pandemic we're talking about, after all.

Trust me, I know more than anyone what it feels like to throw all your eggs in one basket and then have tragedy strike at the last moment, throwing your entire festival into uncertainty.

For me, 2010 would be my first time running merch for an artist at SXSW after agreeing to design and sell t-shirts for Dwight Twilley's performance at Antone's in support of Big Star. Just days before the festival, however, Big Star founder Alex Chilton passed away unexpectedly, throwing the night's festivities into complete disarray.

My first thought: Holy fuck, I am stuck with these t-shirts made specifically for the fucking festival, but what could have been a total clusterfuck turned into a celebration of Chilton's life and career and I feel lucky to have been there to witness such a night. We also sold a fuckload of t-shirts.

While I am hoping for a similar outcome for all involved with this year's festival, the next few days will hopefully provide some indication so that bands, filmmakers, and attendees can avoid arriving in Austin to find the fest has been called off or that they're the only one who showed.

Thing is, SXSW is a total bank-breaker even in the best of years and often the rewards are little more than being able to say that you once played SXSW. Granted, if you play your cards right, you won't pay for a drink or a meal for the entire duration, but there are still flights, lodging, and those unexpected expenses that always seem to pop up to consider.

Blowing all that cash to play at a poorly attended pandemic fest might not be the best way to spend one's "promotional budget".

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