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Cirque Du Soleil
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Feature [Issue #14]
: SXSW: Music's Meeting Ground
By Dean Truitt

For one week in March each year, Austin, TX becomes the center of the music world. Bands, singers, executives, promoters, lawyers, managers, agents, and fans converge on the state’s capital to partake in the nonstop musical merriment known as South By Southwest.

What makes the conference interesting is that at SXSW, the mission of each participant can be markedly different. Many relatively unknown artists travel from literally ever corner of the globe to promote their music and possibly land a record deal. While such Cinderella stories are not eveyday occurrences at the convention, they certainly do happen from time to time. More established acts might come to meet press and make important contacts. People within the industry primarily want to champion their bands, create buzz within the community, and mingle with one another. For the average fan, the convention is a golden opportunity to see as many artists as possible in just under a week. One common reality among them all is that there is little time to sleep when so much activity awaits everyone. This year’s conference drew over 1,300 acts and every conceivable local venue swarmed with crowds.

As someone who has participated in SXSW over the years wearing a number of different hats (fan, performer, writer), I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed being able to imbibe on the scene and savor each incredible performance. Experiencing the New York Dolls perform at Stubb’s on Red River was an incredible treat. Dolls’ frontman David Johansen strutted and wailed like a glam Mick Jagger from the Tattoo You days. Also on the bill was Atlantic Records’ Louis XIV, who pounded out a tireless onslaught of indie rock anthems.

Another amazing benefit of the convention is that there are industry panels in which people can learn invaluable information about the business and hear music legends speak about their careers. The greatest attraction of 2005’s panelists was former Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant, who also performed later in the week at the Austin Music Hall. Aside from Plant, The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson spoke with longtime collaborator Van Dyke Parks about making the long-awaited Smile CD. Gospel singer Mavis Staples reminisced eloquently about her legendary career with the Staples Singers. She also revealed fascinating tidbits about her family’s appearance in The Band’s farewell film documentary, The Last Waltz.

For those wanting to learn about trade secrets, SXSW offers mentoring programs, which are similar to a private tutoring session from a music business veteran. People can ask questions and hear honest answers about their particular fields of interest.

Overall, South By Southwest is a rare chance to absorb a smattering of amazing talent, attain critical insight from genuine experts, and witness the future of the musical landscape. Anyone wishing to spend five days in an artistic and cultural oasis should attend and soak up an amazing opportunity.

SXSW: Music's Meeting Ground

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