As the battle between SXSW organizers and free parties rages on, Austinites in the music scene must voice their support for independent parties.
The battle between SXSW organizers and the free events hosted by independent promoters has been raging since the inception of the festival twenty five years ago. The debate even made it into The New York Times a while back. As often as this sore subject has reared its ugly head, never before have fear tactics been used to scare the public and city officials into limiting free enterprise, or “unofficial” parties.
SXSW organizers claim that the recent accidents that took place over SXSW 2011 resulted from too many free events hosted by renegade party throwers. They don’t seem concerned with the fact that each of the four most dangerous scenarios that occurred happened at SXSW sanctioned events: the official showcase at The Red Scoot Inn where Screeching Weasel front man Ben Foster physically assaulted two women, the ‘riot’ at Beauty Bar, the stampede at The Strokes’ show at Auditorium Shores and the falling boom at Stubb’s that sent four people to the hospital all occurred under SXSW’s watch. There has yet to be one incident at an unofficial event that has made headlines as ‘dangerous’ or ‘out of control.’
Independent promoters have to deal with very strict regulations that are overseen prior to SXSW. They work closely with the fire marshal, city planners and health inspectors to ensure a safe environment that complies with the city’s strict standards for temporary public gatherings. The permits required cost money, and the City of Austin benefits from this additional revenue. Aside from the expense, permits are extremely difficult to acquire, as party promoters must comply with a long list of regulations.
There is no arguing that the popularity of SXSW and its scene of satellite parties have grown bigger and faster than other traditional trade shows. SXSW continues to be the ultimate cultural zeitgeist that Austin is lucky to host. However, the city’s infrastructure most certainly needs to find ways to accommodate the growth in attendance. The hundreds of thousands of people coming to spend money in Austin deserve a safe and somewhat clean environment, regardless of whether they can afford the $1200 badges or $120+ wristbands. The revenue they bring to the city doesn’t know the difference between an official SXSW event or that of one hosted by a sponsor or independent promoter.
According to an interview with KXAN.com, SXSW organizer Roland Swenson believes those people who can’t afford to go to his trade show are “troublemakers.” That would include students, artists, musicians, families and people from all walks of life. Why shouldn’t people on a budget benefit from the influx of talent streaming through this town by the thousands? The bands themselves choose to play multiple parties and showcases in order to perform for their fans and new listeners from the public, not just for industry people. The same goes for movies celebrated in the Film portion of the festival and innovators showcasing their talents during the Interactive portion.
The City of Austin needs to keep the public interest in mind, over that of SXSW organizers seeking to exploit the accidents at their events. SXSW does not and should not have any say whatsoever in the number of permits written or to whom they are issued. Their agenda is to limit the number of free events in order to cut down on their competition…plain and simple. The city should be motivated by ensuring the public’s safety and the possibility of record-breaking revenue during a time when most students leave for Spring Break, not the concerns of a private enterprise.
As the “Live Music Capital of the World,” the city of Austin should foster the growth of a burgeoning scene that supports musicians, film makers, innovators, small businesses, local venues, hotels and restaurants through thousands of dollars in much needed revenue. The recent incidents that have brought safety concerns into the limelight fortunately didn’t result in any permanent injuries. City officials should keep that in mind instead of focusing on the fear mongering from festival organizers.
Audrie San Miguel is a co-owner of local vintage boutique Prototype Vintage Design and co-produces the annual Fashion Freakout. She is also married to Graham Williams of Transmission Entertainment.