South by South-Mess
Here’s an interesting fact: the number of outdoor music permits issued by the City of Austin for South by Southwest grew to 74 permits this year. That’s 30 percent more than last year. In the wake of this year’s music conference, some are wondering if maybe South-by hasn’t grown a little too big for its own good – or the good of the city.
For Don Pitts, who manages Austin’s music program, this year’s South by Southwest marked something of a turning point – and not necessarily in a good way.
“The event has become a spring break destination,” Pitts said.
As evidence of that “spring break-ificaiton,” Pitts points to reports of festival-goers sleeping the Texas State Cemetery; incidents when crowds tried to break down fences at two concerts and complaints he heard like the one he received from Lori Renteria with the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Association.
“I’d say the biggest negative this year was the crowd seemed very large compared to other years and the trash is just out of control over here,” Renteria said.
Organizers of the music conference point to the growth in free shows as a reason for larger crowds. Many free events are not South by Southwest-sanctioned and compete with official events. So it might not be a surprise that South-by representatives would want to see them curtailed.
Pitts agrees that the festival should be “dialed back,” and that tougher standards should be applied to South-by parties. But he doesn’t want to draw a distinction between “official” and “unofficial” concerts.
“We should look at it totally from a health and safety aspect,” Pitts said.
In East Austin, Renteria thinks the city and concert organizers should do more to ease parking problems and keep the streets clean, but she’s opposed to the notion of cracking down on free events.
“That puts us right back where we were,” Renteria said. “Our neighborhood was invaded and nobody from the neighborhood can even afford a badge to get into the venues.”
It’s a conversation between the city, its citizens and concert organizers that Pitts says will be ongoing over the next year. That’s right after we all catch up a little on our sleep.