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SXSW 2013 Showcases Megastars, Unknown Artists

  • Katherine Cole

Iron & Wine's Sam Beam performs with his new band at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas, March 13, 2013.

Iron & Wine's Sam Beam performs with his new band at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas, March 13, 2013.

This month saw the 27th annual South By Southwest Music Conference (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, where more than 2,000 acts from 49 countries played on over 100 stages around town.

SXSW started out as a way to promote unknown and unsigned artists. But these days, more and more megastars are grabbing the headlines.

Prince and Justin Timberlake were arguably the hottest tickets this year. Unlike the standard showcases, their closing night “secret” shows were not open to all conference attendees who could squeeze into a club. Instead, they were events produced with corporate sponsorships and tickets were available to a select group of attendees and customers of the brands by lottery.

Hip-hop legends LL Cool J, Ice Cube, and Public Enemy were also onboard for events sponsored by a snack food company. That’s something you didn’t see at SXSW a few years ago: famous faces fronting big production shows with corporate tie-ins.


The event began in 1987 as a way to bring attention to bands from Texas, and only 700 music industry professionals attended. This year, 19,000 people were registered for the conference and they - along with the bands - came from around the world.

Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day performs at the SXSW Music Festival, March 15, 2013.

Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day performs at the SXSW Music Festival, March 15, 2013.

Unlike the event’s earlier days, SXSW now includes official showcases for well-known acts introducing new material or even new band members. Among the “names” this year were Green Day, Depeche Mode, and Iggy Pop.

Even with all the big name shows, one thing hasn’t changed: the event is still the place where companies show off their “Next Big Thing.” Getting a lot of attention this year was a group called The Lone Bellow.

While The Lone Bellow often tours as a trio, this year the Brooklyn, New York- based band brought its full rhythm section to Austin. They not only played an official SXSW showcase event, but at least 15 other private and public parties during the week.

There were also acts just taking their first steps into the music business.

William Harries Graham plays at SXSW 2013. (VOA/G. Flakus)

William Harries Graham plays at SXSW 2013. (VOA/G. Flakus)

William Harries Graham, 13, is following in the footsteps of his father, Jon Dee Graham, a true Austin singing, songwriting and guitar-playing legend. William performed one showcase with his father and another as a member of a band, The Seaside Swifts.

But as a SXSW first timer, how would he know if the week was a success?

“In my opinion, it’s really just seeing how many people come out to my concerts, how many people cheer when done playing, or if someone comes up to me when I’m done and wants to talk with me about how I was during it," he said. "Or, like, says ‘you guys were awesome!’ It’s really a matter of what everyone else says to me. Even if I get a few people liking me and everyone else is kind of like ‘I don’t like you,’ which I hope doesn’t happen, it’s still going to be like I got to play this awesome festival and I had a great time playing it, and it was really fun!”

What was the verdict on William Harries Graham’s first SXSW showcase?

He was greeted warmly by the crowd, and there was even a yelp of appreciation as he stepped up to the microphone and sang "Mystical Ways."
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