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SXSW-sanctioned report suggests major changes, including ban on unofficial events and performers

on October 01, 2014, 9:20pm

Photo by Heather Kaplan

In the wake of last year’s tragic car crash, which left four attendees dead and another facing life in prison, South by Southwest could implement new protocol that’ll drastically change the Austin-based music and film conference.

As Texas Monthly points out, SXSW commissioned a report from Populous, a global architecture firm who specializes in planning major events. Among Populous’ recommendations: “soft searching” (aka frisking) individuals walking on Sixth Street, where a number of music events are held during SXSW; banning unofficial street performers from playing music during the festival; and restricting events that take place in adjacent parking lots.

The report also recommends that the city of Austin establish a “Clean Zone” that “protects the brand equity of SXSW and its sponsor.” While the report failed to detail what the “Clean Zone” would entail, many assume SXSW could follow the lead of an event such as the Super Bowl and ask city officials to prevent unofficial events, such as FADER Fort and Hype Hotel, from taking place in close proximity to official SXSW events.

If such actions aren’t carried out, the report suggests the festival “will eventually need to make decisions about whether or not they can continue to exist in their current format and location.” Adding, “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. This would be a serious matter for all parties considering the significant financial impact and returns SXSW provides to the community as well as the contribution to the brand and PR value of the City.”

Update: SXSW has issued a statement clarifying its stance on the recommendations included in the report. Specifically, the festival says it is not trying to ban unofficial events, but rather asking the city to “put a limit on the number of permits issued for events that require temporary permits, based on location, capacity and infrastructure.” SXSW also notes, “We’ve been careful not to imply a threat to relocate SXSW, and have also explicitly stated that is not our position numerous times.

The full statement is below.

We’ve been careful not to say anything that implies we’re trying to ban unofficial events because, even if we could, we wouldn’t try to do that. We totally get that unofficial events are part of the appeal of SXSW, though the line between “official” and “unofficial” can be hard to distinguish.

The Populous report is their expert assessment and opinion, not ours, and we agree with most of it, but not all of it. In our own statements we’ve been careful not to imply a threat to relocate SXSW, and have also explicitly stated that is not our position numerous times.

What we’re asking the City to do is put a limit on the number of permits issued for events that require temporary permits, based on location, capacity and infrastructure. The City did that for the first time this past year, and we think it was a common sense move that should be a standard procedure. Parts of 6th Street are severely overcrowded and can’t support more pop-up events. The majority of the unofficial events are in existing businesses and this would not affect them.

The most important part of what we’re asking for is a comprehensive safety plan that will include not just SXSW events, but every other significant activity downtown during our event. Marketing companies are fond of the tactic of keeping everything a secret until the last minute to avoid scrutiny. SXSW, the unofficial events, and the City all need transparency in order to plan for safety properly.

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