As if our great state wasn’t awesome enough, each year around this time we are further reminded of our supreme status amongst the other 49 with the entertainment mega-festival that is South by Southwest in Austin.
Music, movies, emerging technology … it all convenes in this little festival that has grown to be the largest of its kind in the entire world. Everyone, from those who follow the Hollywood blockbusters to those who tip the guy who sings on Saturday nights at their neighborhood pub, knows South by Southwest, and that’s what makes it so unique. It transcends all areas of showbiz.
It’s slam-packed with talent, it's world-famous, and better yet, it’s accessible to anyone who dares to brave the Austin traffic and experience the festival first-hand. We all know it’s the highlight of our state’s entertainment culture, but have you ever wondered how it came about? I did, and I researched it for us.
In the mid 1980’s, Ronald Swenson, an employee at The Austin Chronicle, along with editor and co-founder Louis Black, The Austin Chronicles publisher Nick Barbaro, and musician Louis Meyers got together and created the now legendary event. Black came up with the name, a play on Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest,” and from there, the festival was born.
When expected attendance at the inaugural festival in March of 1987 was blown out of the water and almost 700 people stopped by, the founders knew they had something special on their hands. The four men continued the music festival year after year, each year steadily growing in popularity, and eventually had to break away from just music, and add in other components. SXSW grew so big that in 1994, the South by Southwest Film and Multimedia Conference was born. When that skyrocketed in popularity, just as music had done before it, organizers then decided to, in 1995, separate the conference into SXSW Film and SXSW Multimedia.
Since its conception back in the '80s, it’s steady rise through the '90s, and its reign from the 2000’s to today, South by Southwest has launched the careers of some of our mega stars. Nineties' teen heartthrobs Hanson first performed there; James Blunt and John Mayer were discovered there; Katy Perry debuted her first pop album there; and although it technically didn’t launch there, SXSW gets a lot of credit for Twitter’s take-off back in 2007.
Nowadays, SXSW has become the go-to place for so many famous faces, music and movie studios and technology giants. When you look at the star-studded line up now, it reads more like a set list for the Grammy’s or the “New Release” column in your Sunday paper, rather than the regional music festival that it started out as.
It’s glamorous, yet natural. It’s a place where on one stage you might have Kanye West, but next door you may find a great country singer following a dream and picking his songs on a guitar. Paramount may have a world premiere at one studio, but a small Dallas-area startup production team might play on a screen down the street.
It’s epic. It’s amazing. And thank God, it’s in Texas.
Chance Gibbs is an actor and writer living in the Dallas area.
He’s appeared in numerous television shows, films, professional and community theater, and TV commercials and has been a contributor to news publications since 2007. If you have anything entertainment-related that you would like him to cover, review, or write about, send your suggestions to our editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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