SXSW Turns 30!

As you try to navigate all that happens during SXSW, it might seem hard to fathom that SXSW started out as a humble, regional music convention that drew hundreds of people to conferences during the day and a slew of live shows at 15 local venues at night. Wristbands were $10. That was 30 years ago.

After just being a music event for its first seven years, 1994 saw the introduction of the Film and Multimedia Festival, which would soon be spun off into SXSW Film and SXSW Interactive. These days, hundreds of thousands of people are drawn to SXSW’s annual festivities, which now include everything from stadium-headlining musicians playing small clubs and the latest in tech, to world premieres of films and television shows and the innovative realms of sports, healthcare, fashion, gaming, virtual reality and even food. The event attracts world leaders, celebrities, music legends, business leaders and more, mingling with SXSW registrants and even the general public.

Over the past three decades, SXSW has hosted these events, among so many others:

* An unknown country singer named Billy Ray Cyrus trying to gain notice in 1988. “Achy Breaky Heart” was still a few years off.

* A surprise performance by Willie Nelson at a free Auditorium Shores show in 1992.

* A film panel in 1997 featuring Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater, Mike Judge, Kevin Smith and Stephen Soderbergh.

* Also in 1997, the Flaming Lips’ “Parking Lot Experiment,” in which singer/songwriter Wayne Coyne assembled 30 cars in a parking garage and distributed 30 cassette tapes, which were then all played simultaneously. A crowd of around 1,500 showed up for the event.

* Tom Waits’ memorable, last-minute show at the Paramount in 1999, during which SXSW staff handed out tickets to thwart scalpers trying to sell admission to the free event.

* Music keynote speakers Little Richard (2004), Pete Townshend (2007), Smokey Robinson (2010) and Bruce Springsteen (2012), who all played intimate concerts in addition to presenting at keynote sessions.

* The launch of an exciting new thing called Twitter in 2007, which rapidly evolved from an unknown app to a tech stalwart. Foursquare made a splash at 2009. Periscope got a big buzz last year.

* The premier of locally-based film director Richard Linklater’s long-term project, Boyhood, in 2014. The film was later proclaimed one of the year’s best, winning three Golden Globes and an Oscar.

This year’s SXSW will run from March 11-20. Most official conference events are headquartered at the Austin Convention Center, one of the nearby hotels or the Palmer Events Center/Long Center complex. Films are screened at downtown theaters, including temporary sites at the convention center, Zach Scott Theater and the Long Center. Music venues are located downtown and on the near east side.

The best way to access SXSW is by buying a conference badge, which will grant you admission to just about any official event. Music wristbands and Film wristbands are available for Austin-area residents only. See for more information.

There are also a number of SXSW events that are free and open to the general public. These include the free concert series at Auditorium Shores, outdoor film screenings on the Long Center Terrace and a number of events at the Palmer and Convention Center, such as SXSW Create, Job Market, Music Gear and Expo, Flatstock and all of the SXSW Gaming events. See for more details. Or if you prefer, you can do what so many other locals do and just walk around to see what you encounter. Whatever your approach, you’ll be enjoying the 30th anniversary of one of Austin’s signature events – and one of Blairfield Realty’s favorite Austin traditions!

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