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South by Southwest 2009 Looks to Be a Vibrant One

Recession has done little to stave off crowds

Mar 20, 2009 By Evan Rytlewski
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Forget all the talk about this year’s South by Southwest festival floundering because of the recession. On Wednesday, the venerable music conference was as crowded as ever, as musicians of all genres filled the streets of Austin’s music venue-saturated downtown. Buzz on the ground was that, if anything, the economic downturn might actually increase attendance this year. During these cash strapped times, the festival’s offer of so much free (or nearly free) music only becomes more enticing.

Befitting a festival that coincides with spring break, downtown Austin takes on a mardi gras air for the event. Last night drunk music fans stumbled from venue to venue, while a man in a panda custom passed out flyers for his band and an affectionate young woman walked around with a sign promising “Free Hugs!” as packs of police socialized and looked on approvingly. Hungry revelers lined up to order from pizza-by-the-slice windows and vans turned into makeshift barbeque stands.

Emo’s, a bar that like so many in the city is fitted with a surprisingly large backyard amphitheater, hosted one of the night’s more anticipated bills, with punk veterans the Circle Jerks and Juliette Lewis’ new, non-Licks (but very Licks-like) band Juliette and the New Romantiques opening up the stage for Echo and the Bunnymen. Looking exactly like you’d expect three-decade punk veterans to look, Circle Jerks blitzed through an overstuffed 30-song set that kept the crowd moshing, while sometimes actress Lewis paid homage to Karen O with her oversexed rocker shtick.

Some of the bigger headliners treat their SXSW performances more like commercials than concerts, plugging whatever new project they have in the pipeline, but Echo and the Bunnymen were more concerned with pleasing the crowd than promoting their upcoming album, which they didn’t mention once. Refuting conventional wisdom that the band has grown mellow with age, the band kicked up a marvelous rumble, playing a mix of moody album cuts and familiar hits, turning “The Killing Moon” and “Lips Like Sugar” into mass sing-alongs. The band’s sentimental 2005 album Siberia, underrated like much of their newer material, yielded just two tracks, and singer Ian McCulloch cut one of them off early on, deeming it “too sad,” then leading the band into a frantic version of the Porcupine single “Back of Love.” McCulloch’s voice has lost much of its power, its resounding baritone neutered by years of nicotine, but he was still the consummate rock star, attired with dark glasses and a thick black jacket even though it was well past midnight and at least 80 degrees on stage.


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May 7th 2010

It was good that the music conference was nearly free.  Hence it gathered so much crowd in the time of such crisis. The way it is pasteurized by Evan in this article is really very true.  I was noting the same things around on that event.  Any way I like to enjoy such events and I enjoyed it in my own way.  It was a nice get together of the popular personalities in the field of music .  Eco and the Bunnymen pleased the crowds with wonderful presentation.

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