Where Does San Antonio’s Music Scene Go From Here? Not Towards SXSW

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The infamous 6th Street during the first day of music at SXSW 2014. Photo by Mile Terracina.

The infamous 6th Street during the first day of music at SXSW 2014. Photo by Mile Terracina.

When Dorothy Gale wakes up from her epic dream at the end of The Wizard of Oz, she’s confused because of her dream’s realness.

This party bus had a DJ on the upper level and was full of party goers. The frat-house atmosphere of downtown was palatable.

This party bus had a DJ on the upper level and was full of party goers. The frat-house atmosphere of downtown was palatable. Photo by Miles Terracina.

“It wasn’t a dream – it was a place! And you and you and you were there,” she says.

After attending a few events at SXSW 2014, I woke up feeling like Dorothy, confused yet conscious after the tornado. My tornado, however, is self-inflicted and I’ve been religiously attending for eight or nine years.

On Wednesday, March 12, I had left downtown Austin and was on Twitter when the news broke on social media of the horrific incident that took place. Three people have died after an intoxicated driver, Rashad Charjuan Owens, plowed through a crowded sidewalk. The collision sent 23 people to local hospitals with injuries that night.

It could have been any of us on that sidewalk. That could have been me. That could have been my brother who was at Mohawk earlier in the day. Tyler, the Creator was scheduled to perform and that could have been my cousins on their way to see the show. If my friends and I ever had a routine hangout spot in Austin, it might have been Mohawk. I coincidentally didn’t return.

Andy Langer of 99.3 KSGR and music editor at Esquire spoke his mind in a blog post, later republished by Forbes, about the commercialism Doritos came to symbolize at SXSW via an extensive sponsorship/campaign. Their over-the-top presence with the world’s largest vending machine was a stark contrast to the young Austin crowd’s underlying mission to buy local and stay alternative – “Keep Austin Weird,” right? Langer does not condemn their practices entirely – he cites the economic benefits, $218.2 million in 2013, Austin enjoys from the week of concerts and conferences.

Doritos Bold Stage: Death By Doritos, Lady Gaga was denied a permit to perform in this stage, so the performance was relocated to Stubb's. Photo by Miles Terracina.

Death By Doritos:  Lady Gaga was denied a permit to perform on the Dorito’s “Bold Stage” stage, so the performance was relocated to Stubb’s. Photo by Miles Terracina.

Other music festivals around the country like Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo bring in millions of dollars to local economies, $120 million and $50 million respectively in 2012. According to a study by the Convention Industry Council, “1.83 million corporate and business meetings, trade shows, conventions, congresses, incentive events and other meetings” took place in 2012 resulting in $280 billion in direct spending and nearly two millions jobs.

San “ART”tonio

Cities want to host the Superbowl and the Olympics. Cities compete to host political conventions like the RNC  and DNC.

Comic-Con, the Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3), MIDEM are all conferences with various focus that get national attention. TED is a popular lecture series where speakers present their expertise and provide their fascinating perspectives. These annual events bring individuals from all over the world to participate. Some conventions are held in a single venue, while some are take place in various locations spread throughout a city, like CMJ Music Marathon.

San Antonio is a convention town. The city has specifically invested in conference space and the tourism and hospitality industries. We’re built to host visitors and keep them entertained. The Henry B Gonzalez Convention Center has over 440,000 square feet of exhibit space. We have the Alamodome, arenas, amphitheaters, hundreds of hotels with meeting space. San Antonio is also home to any number community activities in the arts and entertainment. Soon, we’ll have the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts to showcase it all.

The Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Photo courtesy of the City of San Antonio.

The Henry B Gonzales Convention Center facilities include four exhibit halls with over 440,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, three ballrooms and a 2,300 seat theater with a recently updated sound system. Photo courtesy of the City of San Antonio.

During the inaugural Luminaria art festival in 2008, Bill FitzGibbon's Alamo Lights was the first artistic lighting of the historic Alamo cathedral. It was a collaborative performance with the San Antonio Symphony. Commissioned by the City of San Antonio and the Daughters of the Republic. Photo courtesy of Bill FitzGibbons.

During the inaugural Luminaria art festival in 2008, Bill FitzGibbon’s Alamo Lights was the first artistic lighting of the historic Alamo cathedral. It was a collaborative performance with the San Antonio Symphony. Commissioned by the City of San Antonio and the Daughters of the Republic. Photo courtesy of Bill FitzGibbons.

As it is now, these events happen randomly throughout the year, but San Antonio could start strategically rescheduling them to overlap or be hosted in an effective sequence to develop one of these mega-conventions. For example, hold TEDxSA during Restaurant Week when Luminaria also takes place and hosts a series of concerts. this may provide a more concentrated opportunity to put San Antonio’s best under one, national spotlight.

San Antonio’s new growth is accompanied with a refreshed identity. We are in a unique position to steer our city’s rise towards a conscience direction. Before our eyes turn green for other cities’ festivals like SXSW, we should ask ourselves if San Antonio wants a cultural interpretation of ourselves mass marketed to us? Do we want outsiders to come into our city and say “This is who I think you are. Here’s some energy drink.”

Gentrification is now the one of biggest “four-letter” words and the caution exercised in developing older neighborhoods can be applied elsewhere like in our arts and entertainment industries. As our neighbors’s events reach a national audience and corporate interests develop, we run the risk of “SXSWizing.” Something that was once “real and authentic” is now “buy this and drink this.”

The documentary “Gringo Trails” explores the idea that world travel has an adverse effect on cultures and the environment. The various things we travel the world to experience are becoming homogenized and depleted.

There is a grit and a rawness that SA maintains that will get lost in a mass produced adaption of ourselves. An Animal Planet “showcase”  and a seven story tall Doritos vending machine parodies the purest intentions of SXSW, an event directly tied to the identity and economic success of the Live Music Capital of the World.

The creation of Hemisfair wasn’t without controversy, yet the World’s Fair in 1968 brought San Antonio into national awareness and arguably helped usher San Antonio into the modern era. By taking a page out of many events, not just SXSW, San Antonio could develop a conference that includes the best of many fields and that doesn’t mutate into a corporate advertising frenzy. We could host a convention that’s big on ideas, yet stays true to our core intentions and values.

*Featured/top image: The infamous 6th Street during the first day of music at SXSW 2014. Photo by Mile Terracina.

Related Stories:

San Antonio Alive and Well at SXSW

Reviving the Music Industry in San Antonio

Maverick Music Festival Brings ‘Alternatives’ Home to San Antonio

Check My Clique: Art, Music Community Unite for Creative Creatures

17 thoughts on “Where Does San Antonio’s Music Scene Go From Here? Not Towards SXSW

  1. I love the idea and I think San Antonio’ Maverick Music Festival started it off just right. Imagine, the creators of maverick, the people behind Geekdom and the stars of SAFILM getting together to create a most interesting event combining geek culture, music culture and film culture just as SXSW is doing.

    The problem – commercialism. This has to be limited to small companies, small startups, small organizations to be less commercial, if at all. I don’t think commercialism is bad. It should be limited. I think we (the public) should help the gogetters, movers and shakers. The goal should be to let creative thinking flow throughout the crowd.

    SXSW is interesting but it’s mostly members only, paying members. It keeps the crowds down and helps pay the costs of the event but there are other ways. Crowdsource an event! Throw fundraising parties.

    Anybody interested?

  2. FYI – when I try to share this, the page title comes up as “Page Not Found | The Rivard Report” and the thumbnail choices are all ads.

    • Thank you for trying to share this, I really appreciate it. Try clicking the FB share button on the article itself under the header photo at the TOP. Sharing FROM Rivard Report TO Facebook seems to work but only the share button at the top of the article.

  3. Fiesta and downtown in general have been what people remember San Antonio by.

    SA has little brother syndrome. We need to grow up…

  4. And with the gentrification taking place on the south side and soon the west side as we have a meeting about that taking place as I type this, shouldn’t we also be concerned what our own citizens and politicians are doing to our culture. We seem to be erasing it as is.

  5. First we need to support our local talent. Everyone should know of a local band and support them. We all need to buy their music, go to the various venues around town to see them play. We can have a thriving vibrant music scene if people would just go out and enjoy what we already have so it can evolve into something naturally, instead of forcing it to be something it isn’t. We have many different scenes in this town. There’s something for everyone from hip hop to Americana. Its going thru changes right now and its a fantastic time for local talent. The days of being ‘Puro Metal’ are over.

  6. I like the idea expressed here of being more strategic and inclusive with TEDx
    San Antonio – including finding a downtown and public transport accessible venue for it; Rackspace (Windcrest) is likely a generous host . . . but you would have to be ‘fanatical’ to make the 1+ hour / 10 mile journey from downtown to there by public transport currently (besides not ever doing much for the ‘decade of downtown’ from this location – imagine SXSW or TEDx Austin in Round Rock).

    Combining with the Luminaria or the Maverick fest – picturing a “Maverick / Rasquache Music, Arts & Ideas” fest emphasizing local talent, culture and initiative – sounds promising, including thinking of the success of Sydney’s annual ‘dangerous ideas’ and VIVID festivals.

    But we are more than just a city of organized official spectacles (with more on offer and much more walkable and equitable than either downtown Austin or Sydney currently), and there are plenty of great ideas lived daily ‘inside the loop’ by a majority of residents that, while not typical mega-event or convention fodder, are what much of the world wants:

    Owning and maintaining affordable and sensibly sized housing close to the downtown core, making your own work, riding the bus or a (any)bike for transport, keeping it bilingual, ignoring ‘quality-of-life’ and ‘way-of-life’ interfering rules, growing your own food, turning others’ waste and neglect into resources and opportunities, enjoying public parks and swimming pools, etc. – if this is ‘lame’, I am stricken.

    SXSW was a $10 ticket in ’89 and billed as an affordable spring break alternative, nothing more. Lots of people now have the t-shirt, but few get the ‘slacker’ opportunities and broadly accessible infrastructure (fixed tuition rates for a liberal arts / free person’s education, Barton Springs pool, Greyhound connections with the nation, affordable if not dillapidated share housing near downtown, etc) that created SXSW and that apparently only an economically ‘depressed’ Austin of the late 80s and 90s could offer residents. San Antonio gloriously still has many of these ingredients . . . if only the young and creative weren’t afraid of the / to be ‘poor’ – or had such a deficit or patron-client view of their city? Here we are now, entertain (& shelter, certify, sponsor, employ & protect) us?

    • Awesome comment! I like it. Yes, that is what we need. What am I saying. I don’t even live downtown or in the city for that matter. I am happy living in the boondocks. I enjoy paying less in property taxes than my city counterparts. I enjoy having enough space to do what I want. There are far too many restrictions in the city though I would like to live there, especially downtown.

      We need accessible infrastructure. We need affordable and sensibly-sized housing. Everything in the above comment,pretty much.

      I think the problem is that we have too many groups with too many overlapping goals.

  7. SXSW did not start big, but small with organizers from the Austin Chronicle wanting to provide a showcase for live music in a city known for such. Gaining popularity and expanding the showcase for creativity, they added Film. Of course, with the growth of technology and social media, it only made sense to add Interactive, now surpassing both Music and Film. But everything started from the same ideas being espoused here.

    The point is that whatever you start, if it’s very popular, can only grow into something big. Fiesta was small and grew to the size it is. The WEBB Party was a collection of 300 people. Now it numbers a couple of thousand. Cornyation was small enough to hold in the Bonham Ballroom.

    Great ideas, but if it’s popular, get ready for another SXSW.

  8. I think
    It’s correct that propel if the city need to support their local musicians and artists …it’s still a ways to go. But slowly improving.

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