Organizers say turnout for the event is slightly lower than in 2019, in part due to the number of international attendees not attending due to COVID-19.
AUSTIN, Texas — More people are in town for South by Southwest (SXSW) this week after the music festival kicks off Monday night. SXSW organizers say the second part of the festival, which includes more concerts, usually attracts the most attendees.
SXSW technically started when SXSW EDU started on March 7. Then, on March 11, the film festival started, followed by the music festival from March 14.
In 2019, the last time SXSW was held in person due to COVID-19, over 230,000 people attended the festival and 62 countries were represented. One in four badge holders in 2019 came from another country.
Organizers say this year the total attendance is slightly lower – something they say is partly because they are seeing fewer international participants.
“In 2019, 25% of our badge holders were from outside the United States. That’s one in four enrollees,” said SXSW Programming Director Hugh Forrest. “This year it’s probably 22-23%, so a bit down, especially in Asia. It’s just because travel from Asia to the US has been more difficult with COVID.”
Forrest said that this year the festival had many participants from Brazil, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. He also said COVID-19 has caused people to buy badges at different times than normal.
“It’s definitely been a different record pattern in the sense that at the beginning of February when the omicron number started to go down and level off and go down, we started getting a lot more badge sales, badge dealing,” Forrest said. “And it’s a little different from how it usually works.”
In 1987, when SXSW started, it was purely a music festival. Now the event includes everything from music and film to sports, government and gaming.
This year, SXSW even added a transport lane. US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg will be one of the speakers at the festival.
“One of the things we’ve added for 2022 is a transportation track on transportation innovation,” Forrest said. “So we have a lot of transport people coming into town this week. We have Formula E people, we have Formula 1 people, we have all kinds of electric vehicle people [electric vehicle] companies, including Porsche and Volkswagen, which is one of our sponsors. So it’s really, really exciting.
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But even with all the new events and growth, Forrest — an Austinite who has worked with SXSW for more than 30 years — said the festival still has the same mission.
“The bottom line is still the same,” Forrest said. “That we focus on very, very creative and innovative people in a city that celebrates and cultivates creativity and innovation. And so, even though it has changed, it hasn’t changed much. And, you know, the fact that so many people come to Austin, love Austin, love this event is definitely what keeps me and my staff going.
Forrest hopes locals will also come to enjoy some of the events. He said a free and “quintessential Austin” option is concerts on the outdoor stage near Lady Bird Lake.
These shows will take place Thursday through Saturday at Vic Mathias Shores, formerly known as Auditorium Shores. Doors open at 4:00 p.m. each day and music starts at 5:00 p.m. The music lasts until about 9:30 p.m. each evening.
The Outdoor Stage is SXSW’s largest stage, and in 2019 over 16,000 people attended the free concerts. You can see this year’s lineup here.
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