Last March’s South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin was met with no shortage of drama. Aside from tragic car crash that killed four and the unwarranted arrest of Tyler, the Creator for inciting a riot, the Austin City Manager’s Office drafted a report of considerable improvements to be made for the following Spring’s reiteration of the famed festival. To reinforce a sense of safety, the City of Austin suggested limiting decibel levels to 85 for outdoor concerts, improving staff numbers and police presence among other changes. Yet, under the accordance of Populous, an international design and planning firm whose clients include the Super Bowl, the World Cup and the Olympics, these efforts won’t suffice.
One of the changes Populous suggests is to ban unofficial shows from the festival grounds. As Stereogum writes about the issue: “If you’ve ever been to SXSW, you probably know that the unofficial shows that surround the festival — the free daytime marathons, the corporate-sponsored superstar surprise shows, the late-night bridge shows — are as important as the official events that you need a badge or wristband to get into. They might be more important.” Due to the nonchalant stage set-ups of these unofficial, bandwagon shows, there – in turn – is no stage backdrop to shellack with corporate logos. With momentary attention being taken away from the ever-coveted businesses who sponsor this event, Populous fears SXSW needs to become more corporate-friendly.
In order to maintain some of its character, there has been a motion to structure a ‘Clean Zone’ that operates via permit allowance to perform on-stage. It’s a swift attempt that, as Texas Monthly reports, “protects the brand equity of SXSW and its sponsors.” Needless to say, moving forward with any of these plans would detract from the electric energy that is the festival’s total allure.
With Populous additionally trying to cap the number of events allowed, FACT magazine instills the belief that it is “‘very possible’ that SXSW ‘will have no choice but to entertain notions of bidding their event to other cities to sustain their business model.'” Considering SXSW earns Austin hundreds of millions in revenue, it’d seem unlikely and unhopeful for the festival to part ways with its since-1987 homegrounds.