SXSW 2013: What’s New | Music, Film, Technology and a Smashing Good Time

ZZ Ward came to SXSW following a successful season of touring. (Photo by Steve Horowitz)

The South by Southwest Conference (SXSW) enjoys a strong reputation as the place where new music groups get launched. But SXSW (March 8-17, 2013) actually has three parts, and music may not be its most important component. It’s also a place where creative souls in film and interactive technologies can meet up and explore what’s new in their fields.

This year’s Music Festival featured no new buzz acts, like 2012’s unknown Lumineers and Alabama Shakes, whose popularity exploded post-SXSW. Instead, the conversation revolved around established stars who showed up to perform for free in order to kickstart their careers, like Justin Timberlake, Prince, Green Day, and Smashing Pumpkins.

But even as big names were the most frequent topics of conversation, people really came to SXSW to hear the future ones. With over 2,200 official showcases and thousands of unofficial performances, no single person could hear them all. Nonetheless, two notable trends emerged.
The first was the continued increase in the number of female acts that caused a stir, including country rocker Ashley Monroe, blues rocker ZZ Ward, and English diva Paloma Faith.

Another was the resurgence of acts from the past. This includes the ’60s psychedelic pop group the Zombies, Dixie Chick Natalie Maines as a solo act, and the inimitable rocker Butch Walker, best known as a producer  for Taylor Swift, Pink, and Weezer.

The host state of Texas once again provided some of the best entertainment, including the honky-tonk hero Billy Joe Shaver, one-man show Shakey Graves, and the current king and queen of the Americana music charts, married couple Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis.

The Music Festival’s featured events included keynote speeches by Clive Davis of Sony Music Entertainment, a talk and performance by Foo Fighter Dave Grohl, and an interview with Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks, not to mention dozens of panel discussions on professional topics such as licensing, media, and legal issues.

Several representatives from the University of Iowa’s student concert productions (SCOPE) attended, including Emily Kane, who found their college-specific panels extremely helpful.

The only Iowa performers attending this year were the Diplomats of Solid Sound with the Diplomettes. Founding member Doug Roberson, who has played SXSW many times, always has a great experience. “First, you get to see so much incredible music in such a short time period—that situation is hard to beat,” he says. “Second, you just never know who you’re going to meet that you can make business connections with or just a strong friendship. Both are equally as important.”

For the 20th year, SXSW began with an Interactive (IA) festival that billed itself as “an incubator of cutting-edge technologies and digital creativity.” The figures have not been officially released for this year, but all indications suggest it was even bigger than last year.

Representing Iowa was Brooke Miller of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, whose aim is to get people “talking/thinking about Iowa as a place where tech happens.” IEDA hosted a social event at an Austin art gallery with an RSVP that invited attendees to “Get Nerdy With Us.”

Mike Gerholdt, Manager of Social Enterprise at ACT, Inc., who also attended last year, says that the Interactive festival is “a great way to connect with thought leaders in the social, cloud, mobile, and start-up space.” He calls it “the modern-day version of the World’s Fair, but for technology.”

For Scott Fiddelke, webmaster at the University of Iowa Office of Admissions, this was his seventh visit to SXSW. He says it’s the place to find “what’s new and cool in the area of technology/web.” Every year he comes back full of good information that he posts on a blog and shares with his coworkers.

The SXSW Film Conference, which  attracted 16,490 participants last year, featured the world premiere of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, with Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey, and Steve Carell.

More significant were the film panels at the conference. Of special note this year were “A Conversation with Danny Boyle,” in which the award-winning director discussed his past work and presented footage from his upcoming release Trance. Dozens of sessions on the technical and commercial sides of filmmaking were meant for professionals in the field.

In the end, SXSW provides a place where people in the same creative and technological areas can converge to share ideas in their fields. It’s a chance to see what’s happening now and to peek at the future. Judging by this year’s conference, the prospects ahead look good.