SXSW '22: A New Beginning?
For the first time since 2019, the behemoth that is SXSW pitched up in Austin, Texas for 10 days of merriment, against the backdrop of a still-raging pandemic, with a restriction weary city keen to stress that it was business as usual.
A free cocktail bar hosted by Ripple couldn't draw the crowds.
Understandably, Austin felt much quieter than in past years. The lines to get into venues that defined 2019’s event had all but disappeared for the most part (notwithstanding Wet Leg’s shows, which were always accompanied by ‘venue full’ signs and queues round the block), but this was no bad thing. Good spirits prevailed and the fans that did turn out certainly made the most of it. The still missing mega-stages hosted by the likes of Spotify, that were blamed for the busy-ness of 2019, were missed less this year, and it felt like everyone had somewhere to go. Those in charge of ticket sales at the festival may not thank me, but SXSW benefited massively from lower numbers.
SXSW 2022 took place against the backdrop of a global pandemic.
It was, however, saddening to see the effect that the pandemic has had on Austin, with many much-loved bars and venues on 6th Street, Rainey and out east all succumbing to foreclosure and / or the unstoppable march of gentrification. Seeing boards over the windows of Latitude30, Craft Pride and the fabulous Alamo Drafthouse Ritz all hit your reviewer particularly hard. 6th Street itself is a graveyard, with Austin’s Police Department barely even bothering to control traffic down the previously packed boulevard for much of the festival. There’s nothing there to attract a crowd any more, so why bother closing the road?
A quieter than usual Austin Convention Center during Interactive Week.
One can only hope that as the pandemic eases, Austin finds its feet again, and SXSW builds back into what it once was, the glory days will return. With the right guidance, and a strong-will, I’m confident that 2022’s festival will be seen as the start of something, and not an ending. For an event I love deeply, I can only hope this is the case.
Words and photos by Thomas Jackson