By Erik “E-Rock” Rogers
What is the appeal to play SXSW?
Is it the incredibly rude volunteer staff that treats any artist who isn’t a multi platinum, multi million dollar artist like Snoop Dogg, Soundgarden, or Lady Gaga like they are worthless? How many of the 20,000 or more attendees are likely to have access to those shows that are for the upper echelon of sponsors and executives?
Is it the allure of communing with artists of similar backgrounds? My German client was thrilled to learn there was a German Haus where the German artists at SXSW could commune, network, and relax amongst their kinsmen. Imagine their dismay when they were turned away at the door because the list was “exclusive.”
Is it the safe / welcoming atmosphere for bands to play their showcases? I can’t begin to detail the excitement on my bus when we learned that the only way we would be allowed to load-in was to carry the gear 4 blocks from the bus to the venue (about 1200 lbs of gear). Once the gear was transferred to the venue we were elated to learn that we would be allowed to leave our gear on the street while waiting our turn to play. The only thing that could make the day better was FINALLY speaking with the house audio person and learning that I had 9 channels to work with. (all of this could have been worked out in an advance if anyone had bothered responding to me)
Is it the hospitality within the venue(s)? While a smorgasbord of free booze and junk food is always appreciated, 8 bottles of water and 4 moderately clean towels aren’t asking too much. …unless the event is SXSW.
Is it the friendly and knowledgeable parking staff? While my job title is Tour Manager / FOH Engineer and not Cartographer, I’d like to think that I know how to read a map. I would also assume that while the parking attendant may not be a skilled map maker, they at least have been instructed by their supervisors which vehicles are permitted to park in their particular area. But… I would have been wrong. There is nothing like waking up to a pound on the bus door that results in my teaching the parking attendant how to read a map.
What I found especially insulting is the “discounted” wristband that I was invited to purchase for $80.00 for every member of my touring party who isn’t a band member. As you know only artists are given wristbands and crew are not permitted to attend any events except for their employer’s event. As music festivals are akin to summer camp for road crew it’s disappointing to discover that in order to visit with old friends and clients the crew are required to pay. I have now learned that in order to circumvent this that I must lie while advancing credentials and make every tech and merch seller a member of the band. The next time I have the misfortune of playing SXSW I will make sure that I buy a box of kazoos and have a special encore on my client’s stage so my crew can earn the wristband that I had to stretch the truth in order to obtain.
With an estimated economic impact of $200million into the Austin, TX economy you are far and away the largest single revenue source for the city. 3000+ artists, bands, filmmakers, comics, and performers are invited to play this event annually. With stars in their eyes and without a clue of what they should expect as minimal compensation for their time and talent they pay their own way and endure the exorbitant charges for hotels, food and parking all in the hopes of having a career in the entertainment business. They do this for the hope of a chance that one of the 20,000 attendees is someone who will sign them to fame and fortune. As you purport yourself to be the stepping stone for careers perhaps, SXSW, you should consider a modicum of hospitality and a welcoming environment for the artists you exploit. Please keep pumping money into the economy. As for me and any future client of mine, we will never play SXSW again. The ratio of success:obscurity of SXSW artists isn’t worth being treated like vermin and being expected to be thankful for the experience.