Austin Businesses Persevere Through SXSW Cancellation
By Ryan Chandler
AUSTIN,TX – After the City of Austin cancelled “South by Southwest” on March 6, the city’s service industry was left wondering how to make up for lost income.
The annual music, arts, and business showcase attracts nearly 300,000 attendees from across the globe for a week of speakers, concerts, and bar-hopping, bringing an extra revenue total of over $355 million for the city. Many bartenders, venue owners, and service workers rely on the busy week for a hefty paycheck. Yet, rising concerns amid the spread of the novel coronavirus cancelled hundreds of showcases, music events, and bar specials, and many of the workers who usually benefit the most are reeling.
“I guess [it was] shock, I didn’t think with the amount of time and preparation and money that they would pull out this late,” the general manager of Spiderhouse said. “All the money you were guaranteed… it’s gone. And they are not liable for anything.”
Spiderhouse, a bar and concert venue across the street from The University of Texas and a frequent stop for UT students, is still planning to host music events independent of South By Southwest but is worried about decreased traffic during the week. Its workers hope that people still come to Austin for independent events despite the official festival’s cancellation.
Many of the workers on Rainey Street, however, feel that there is a silver lining in losing the official South By Southwest event. They hope that Austin’s independent culture will fill the gap left by the corporations that will no longer participate.
“For the past ten years ‘South By’ has gotten more corporate,” Banger’s Beer Garden manager Tori Nelson said. “So I think seeing people go ‘hey, we’re going to have more bands and try to book more things…’ it seems like people are trying to get together now and try and make it better than what was expected I think.”
Banger’s, for example, is hosting their own alternative called “Bang by Bang Bang.” The staple Rainey Street sausage house and beer garden will feature day long concerts on March 21 and 22 with bands from Austin and all across the country.
“Now more than ever we all need to come together because that guaranteed money is gone,” Banger’s bartender Catherine Mayer said. “We got to support the city… how can we, as a Rainey Street community, get through this? Just have people come out… a lot of beer, a lot of music.”
Note: On March 19, the City of Austin issued an order closing most bars and restaurants and prohibiting all social gatherings of more than ten people. None of the events listed above occurred. This story reflects how these businesses intended to overcome SXSW’s cancellation and is not representative of the reality that the rapidly growing COVID-19 pandemic eventually imposed. As of publication, the venues listed above and all bars in Austin are closed. All residents are under a “Shelter in Place” directive until April 13, 2020 as the number of infected Americans surpasses 200,000.