Recession? Texas festival SXSW bigger than ever

Fri Mar 20, 2009 6:12pm EDT
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By Chris Baltimore

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The U.S. economy is in the grip of recession, but you wouldn't know it from attending the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, a 10-day music, film, and interactive industry networking marathon fueled by massive quantities of beer and barbecue.

By nearly all measures, the festival, now in its 23rd year, is bigger than ever. Big musical acts include the Decemberists, Metallica and rapper Kanye West. At the related film festival, attendees got a sneak preview of Sacha Baron Cohen's upcoming film "Bruno."

More than 1,900 artists from over 40 countries will play in the music portion of South by Southwest, also dubbed as SXSW, that runs through Sunday, up about 100 from last year.

Hotel bookings are up about 10 percent from last year for the festival that attracts about $100 million to the economy of Austin -- capital of the Lone Star state.

"I don't know if there is any relationship at all" between the nation's economic woes and the festival, creative director Brent Grulke said. "But I know that more people are making music than ever before."

The only negative: sales of passes to attend the music event -- which sell for $695 each - are down about 10 percent from a year ago. But sales for passes to attend the interactive portion of the event are up, organizers said.

A walk through SXSW's bustling trade show offered a view of the music industry's changing face. If there was one common theme, it was "do-it-yourself" -- book your own shows, record your own music and sell it on the Web without a middleman.

"There is a lot more that an artist can do on their own at very low or zero cost," said Matthew Seigel, co-founder of Indaba Music, a website where artists can collaborate on songs and post music for sale by linking to iTunes and   Continued...

<p>Lead singer Colin Meloy performs with The Decemberists at the Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California April 28, 2007. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>