SXSW: A Brief History

South by Southwest, a conference for new ideas wrapped inside an art festival enclosed in a film festival and encased in a music festival. The best way to describe SXSW is that it is a lot of everything. The festival is on right now until March 20th, and the biggest names in art, film, technology, music, almost everything, are there right now. But how did this giant festival of life begin? I was curious if it had just started as a lowly music fest that grew and grew into what it is today. Turns out that the story doesn’t quite go that way.

It began in 1986 when Ronald Swenson, Louis Black (not the comedian), Nick Barbaro, and Louis Meyers met together in the offices of The Austin Chronicle to create a festival in order to attract attention to all the musical talents that Austin, Texas held. Their key idea was to create a way for the talent in Austin to get noticed. But they also wanted to make a festival for arts and ideas. In order to not make the event exclusive to Austin, to include the world, they named is South by Southwest. Thus, in March of 1987, the first SXSW was held. The organizers figured they would get about 150 people to attend. To their surprise and delight, 700 people came on just the first day.

It wasn’t until their 8th event that they added in SXSW Film and Interactive. In the film festival’s first year they managed to have two world premiers, 36 speakers, and 8 panels. That same year, the brothers that made up the band Hanson were brought to SXSW by their father to audition for music executives. They just happened to meet their future manager at the festival.

This brief history of South by Southwest barely covers all that the huge festival has done and has to offer. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on Austin when March comes around, because you never know if the next big band, film, or technological breakthrough is going to come through.