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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Remembering SXSW

Chronicling a Great Music Festival

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Austin is well situated as the site for one of the world's most important music festivals. The weather is warm, the students are numerous and PBS's "Austin City Limits" called attention to its thriving outlaw country scene. But the South By Southwest festival had no assurances of success in its early years. As recounted in SXSW Scrapbook: People and Things that Went Before (Essex Press), year one (1987) was a nail biter. No one knew who would travel all the way to Texas to play local clubs but within two years, the festival was booking bands and drawing fans from around the world.

SXSW Scrapbook describes how the event was developed by a handful of what then were called "new music" fans in collaboration with the Austin Chronicle, which wanted to demonstrate that an alternative newspaper could shape as well as comment on a city's culture. Edited by rock critics Peter Blackstock, Jason Cohen and Andy Smith, the Scrapbook chronicles the event year by year. Attractively designed and full of concert photos, the Scrapbook also includes some good stories. Back in the day, getting signed to a label—any label—was most every band's dream and a gig at SXSW was sometimes the ticket. It's how the Spanic Boys were signed to Rounder, to name the festival's biggest Milwaukee success story.