The extraordinary cancellation of SXSW on the weekend will create a ripple effect all the way to Australia.
The annual Austin, Texas showcase and conference extravaganza was due to kick off this Friday (March 13), though the City of Austin has made the tough decision to keep its doors closed this time due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the Coronavirus.
It’s the first time in its 34-year history that SXSW has been cancelled.
Spare a thought for the 43 Australian artists, who were due to make the long haul to showcase to industry and thousands of punters. For many, SXSW was positioned as their launch pad for the year ahead.
“We are most heartbroken” for the artists, reads a statement from Millie Millgate and her team at Sounds Australia, which creates pathways for Australian artists to perform abroad.
“It is a huge achievement to have been selected from the 7,000 plus artists that apply each year. To have lost this opportunity after spending several months and thousands of dollars preparing and planning is devastating,” the statement continues.
The likes of Alex The Astronaut, Ali Barter and Mo’Ju were booked to showcase. Now, it’s a race (and just maybe, a fight) to organise refunds on travel and accommodation, and all the moving, synchronized parts that have been meticulously put in place.
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To see the “countless hours of work, setting up opportunities, meetings, showcases, travel logistics and more only to be reversed will have an enormous impact which cannot be underestimated.”
On the weekend, Austin mayor Steve Adler declared a state of disaster in Austin, and with it, the end of SXSW 2020. Performers and high-profile guests this year were meant to include Hilary Clinton, The Beastie Boys, Trent Reznor and Ozzy Osbourne.
The loss to the local economy will be enormous.
According to a study commissioned last year by SXSW, the total economic impact of the fest came in at US$356 million, or roughly a quarter of 1% of the region’s annual economy.
Those impacted will include “caterers, pedicabbers, ride-hailing drivers, bartenders and servers, tech crew and security staff, and countless others who rely on SXSW as a windfall to pay off bills and get their heads above water each year,” notes Texas Monthly.
“A whole host of bars and restaurants are able to weather the slow winter months because they know that, come March, rental fees and prepaid bar tabs will keep them afloat. There are plenty of large corporate hotels that might take a bath if they have to refund reservations for rooms they’ve doubled or tripled the rates on, sure—but the economy that’s built around SXSW is significantly more diffuse and working-class than that.”
SXSW organisers now admit they’re not covered for Coronavirus. Speaking to the Austin Chronicle, SXSW co-founder Nick Barbaro says the event is not insured against disease outbreak or from the intervention from Austin city representatives declaring a “local state of disaster,” which is exactly what happened.
As the entertainment industry enters its busier, warmer months, attention turns to the next big gatherings. Among them is next month’s Coachella.
SXSW wasn’t the first major show to collapse due to the epidemic. It won’t be the last. Ultra Music Festival in Miami (featuring Aussie EDM star Flume) and Abu Dhabi have been canned, and a string of major tours and concerts have been postponed or wiped.
In Australia, it’s business as usual, notes Live Performance Australia. “It’s essential we keep the doors open and lights on for live performance as much as we can given our economic and social contribution,” the peak body explains, “including in regional communities which are trying to recover from recent bushfires.”