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AUSTIN, TX- Every year, like clockwork, I find myself drawn back to Austin, Texas, for one of the most electrifying gatherings of musical talent on the planet—South by Southwest (SXSW). As a passionate music lover and dedicated journalist, SXSW holds a special place in my heart. It’s a festival that promises the discovery of the next big thing in music, a melting pot of genres and cultures that converge in an explosion of sound and creativity. For a music enthusiast like me, there’s nothing quite like it. But as the years have rolled on, I’ve found myself reflecting on the evolution of SXSW and wondering if it’s time for a bit of reinvigoration.

SXSW began as a pure music festival, a platform where artists could showcase their talents to eager audiences and industry professionals alike. The festival was born in 1987, a brainchild of Roland Swenson, Louis Black, Nick Barbaro, and Louis Jay Meyers. It was conceived as a music festival that would showcase the burgeoning talent in Austin and beyond. The vision was clear: to create a space where artists could be discovered, where music could thrive, and where the magic of live performances could be experienced by all. It was here that I had the privilege of seeing Billie Eilish perform in a church, Billy Strings take over a booze cruise, and Fontaines D.C. rock a 250-capacity bar. These are the moments that define SXSW for me—intimate, raw, and unforgettable.

Billie Eilish @ Central Presbyterian Church for SXSW 3/14/18. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@Methodman13) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Billie Eilish @ Central Presbyterian Church for SXSW 3/14/18. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@Methodman13) for www.BlurredCulture.com.

However, as SXSW has grown, so has its scope. What started as a music festival has expanded to include film, television, comedy, tech, and gaming. There’s a lot happening, but for me, it’s always been about the music. This year, I felt a shift, a change in the atmosphere that had me questioning whether the heart of SXSW was beating as strongly as it once did.

One of the hot-button issues this year was the presence of certain sponsors, notably the US military and defense companies. With the heightened attention on the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the military’s presence sparked controversy. Artists began boycotting the festival, with over 80 acts pulling out in protest. This included a significant number of Irish artists, which was a real blow for someone like me who had looked forward to their performances.

As a music journalist, I find myself torn. I understand and support the sentiments of the artists who chose to boycott. Music is a powerful form of expression, often used to protest injustices and promote peace. At the same time, I recognize the financial realities of running a festival as vast as SXSW. Sponsorships are a crucial part of the festival’s revenue stream, and finding a balance between financial sustainability and ethical considerations is no easy task. The festival relies on a mix of ticket sales, sponsorships, grants, and partnerships to survive. While it’s easy to criticize the choice of sponsors, it’s also important to recognize the complexity of putting on an event of this scale. The intersection of art and commerce is never simple, and SXSW is no exception.

Atmosphere at SXSW 3/12/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/12/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.

The withdrawal of these artists certainly added some wrinkles to my schedule, but it also highlighted a broader issue: the energy of SXSW felt different this year. The streets of Austin weren’t as packed, the lines at venues were shorter, and the buzz that usually permeates the festival seemed somewhat muted. Last year, I relied heavily on the SXSW Fast Pass service to get into venues, but this year, I barely used it. There just wasn’t the same level of excitement and urgency to see the next big thing.

As I reflect on this year’s SXSW, I can’t help but wonder if the festival has become a victim of its own success. Since its inception in 1987, SXSW has evolved from a music-centric event to a sprawling showcase that includes film, tech, and more. This expansion has undoubtedly brought incredible opportunities and diversity, but has it also diluted the core focus on music?

Watching the hyped crowds waiting for celebrities to arrive for the screening of “The Fall Guy” and comparing it to the energy at music events, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the balance might be off. The excitement that used to define SXSW’s music scene felt overshadowed by other elements of the festival. Maybe it’s time for SXSW to consider re-centering its focus on what made it special in the first place: the music.

Atmosphere at SXSW 3/12/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/12/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.

In those early years, SXSW was a beacon for music lovers. The streets of Austin were alive with the sound of guitars, drums, and voices that seemed to sing directly to your soul. It was a place where you could stumble upon an unknown band and witness a performance that would stay with you forever. It was raw, it was authentic, and it was all about the music.

As SXSW grew, so did its ambitions. The addition of the Film and Interactive tracks in 1994 marked the beginning of a new era for the festival. This expansion brought a wave of innovation and creativity that was both exciting and, at times, overwhelming. Suddenly, SXSW was not just about music; it was about film, technology, education, and more.

This growth has been a double-edged sword. On one hand, it has elevated SXSW to new heights, attracting a diverse audience of professionals from around the world. On the other hand, it has sometimes felt like the music, the very heart of SXSW, has been overshadowed by the festival’s other components.

Annabelle Chairlegs at Hotel Vegas for SXSW 3/16/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Annabelle Chairlegs at Hotel Vegas for SXSW 3/16/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.

As I look ahead to future editions of SXSW, I can’t help but feel a sense of hope. SXSW has always been a festival that adapts and evolves, and I believe it can recapture the magic that made it special in the first place. Here are a few thoughts on how one might reinvigorate the music festival:

  • SXSW should consider refocusing on its musical roots. While the expansion into film, tech, and other areas has brought many benefits, the heart of SXSW is music. Let’s put the spotlight back on the artists, the bands, and the live performances that make SXSW unique.
  • Create more exclusive, intimate music events that harken back to the early days of SXSW. These could be secret shows, pop-up performances, or unique collaborations that generate buzz and excitement.
  • Foster a stronger sense of community among attendees, artists, and locals. SXSW is as much about the people as it is about the performances. Encourage more interaction and engagement to create a vibrant, inclusive atmosphere.
  • Continue to seek sponsorships, but strive to find partners that align more closely with the values of the artistic community. Transparency and open dialogue with attendees and artists can help navigate these complex decisions.

Despite the challenges and controversies, I keep coming back to SXSW because of my unwavering love for music. There’s something magical about Austin during SXSW—the way the city comes alive with sound, unexpected discoveries, and the sense of being part of something truly special.

I’ll never forget the first time I attended SXSW. It was a whirlwind of performances, each one more captivating than the last. I saw bands I’d never heard of before, and by the end of their sets, I was a devoted fan. I met fellow music lovers from all over the world, each with their own stories and favorite acts. There’s a camaraderie among SXSW attendees that’s hard to find elsewhere, a shared passion for music that transcends boundaries.

Glixen at Empire Garage for SXSW 3/16/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Glixen at Empire Garage for SXSW 3/16/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.

The music industry has changed dramatically since SXSW’s inception in 1987. The rise of digital music, streaming services, and social media has transformed how we discover and consume music. SXSW has played a crucial role in this evolution, providing a platform for artists to showcase their talents and connect with fans in new and innovative ways.

In recent years, SXSW has become a launchpad for emerging artists, a place where careers are made, and legends are born. From the early days of indie bands playing in small bars to the current multi-venue extravaganza, SXSW has remained a vital part of the music industry’s ecosystem.

In an age where digital music reigns supreme, the importance of live music cannot be overstated. There’s something irreplaceable about the energy of a live performance, the connection between the artist and the audience, and the communal experience of sharing music with others.

SXSW provides a unique opportunity to experience live music in its purest form. Whether it’s a big-name act at a major venue or an up-and-coming band in an intimate setting, the festival offers a diverse range of performances that cater to all tastes. It’s this diversity and authenticity that keeps me coming back year after year.

As SXSW continues to evolve, it’s important to embrace change while honoring the festival’s rich traditions. The world of music, film, and technology is constantly shifting, and SXSW must adapt to stay relevant. However, in doing so, it’s crucial not to lose sight of what makes SXSW special: the music.

Atmosphere at SXSW 3/12/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/12/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.

Looking ahead, I’m optimistic about the future of SXSW. I believe the festival can find a balance between its various components, ensuring that music remains at the heart of the experience. By focusing on the core values of discovery, innovation, and community, SXSW can continue to be a beacon for artists and fans alike. My experience at SXSW this year was a mix of highs and lows, but through it all, my love for the festival remains unwavering. SXSW is more than just a music festival; it’s a celebration of creativity, a showcase of talent, and a gathering of passionate individuals who share a love for music.

As I reflect on my time in Austin, I’m reminded of the countless memories I’ve made at SXSW over the years. From iconic performances to unexpected discoveries, the festival has given me moments that I’ll cherish forever. And despite the challenges, I remain hopeful for the future of SXSW.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll keep coming back to SXSW as long as I’m accredited as press. It’s in my blood. But I hope to see a renewed emphasis on the music, a rekindling of the excitement that comes with discovering new talent and seeing iconic performances in intimate settings. Perhaps it’s time for the music festival to branch out from the other components, reclaim its identity, and stir up the passion that first drew us all to Austin.

So here’s to SXSW—to the artists, the fans, the organizers, and everyone who makes the festival possible. Let’s keep the music alive, let’s keep the spirit of discovery burning bright, and let’s continue to create unforgettable memories together. See you next year, Austin.

Atmosphere at SXSW 3/12/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/12/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/12/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/12/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/13/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/13/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/13/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/13/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 2024. Photo by Mike Golembo (@Instalembo) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 2024. Photo by Mike Golembo (@Instalembo) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 2024. Photo by Mike Golembo (@Instalembo) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 2024. Photo by Mike Golembo (@Instalembo) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 2024. Photo by Mike Golembo (@Instalembo) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 2024. Photo by Mike Golembo (@Instalembo) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 2024. Photo by Mike Golembo (@Instalembo) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 2024. Photo by Mike Golembo (@Instalembo) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/13/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/13/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/13/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/13/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 2024. Photo by Mike Golembo (@Instalembo) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 2024. Photo by Mike Golembo (@Instalembo) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/12/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/12/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/12/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/12/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/12/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/12/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 2024. Photo by Mike Golembo (@Instalembo) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 2024. Photo by Mike Golembo (@Instalembo) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/12/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/12/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/12/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/12/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/13/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 3/13/24. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@DKLPHOTOS) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 2024. Photo by Mike Golembo (@Instalembo) for www.BlurredCulture.com.
Atmosphere at SXSW 2024. Photo by Mike Golembo (@Instalembo) for www.BlurredCulture.com.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE ACTS WE CAUGHT AT SXSW!