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South By Southwest Music Festival Provides Venue for Discovering New Artists - 2004-04-14

Now in its 18th year, the annual South By Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas has the reputation of being an event where new artists are discovered. In recent years, the festival has provided "big breaks" for artists including Norah Jones, Hanson, The White Stripes, and The Strokes. VOA's Katherine Cole attended the 2004 South By Southwest and filed this report.

More than 7,000 bands and artists applied to perform a 45-minute set at one of the Austin venues taking part in South By Southwest. More than 1,100 performers, including 270 from outside the U.S. were accepted. Colin Gilmore, who recently released his first album, The Day The World Stopped And Spun The Other Way, was among them.

"It's an opportunity to play at as many things as I can. And this year has just been great for that,? he said. ?I've got one main showcase, and then five other things going on. Living in Austin, it's a chance to meet people from out-of-town, and it's a chance to meet people really involved in the industry. It's also really hectic and crazy. It's one of those things where you might meet 200 people, and one of them might make something cool happen later on."

Which is exactly what happened for Colin Gilmore. One of the people who caught his showcase set at South By Southwest 2003 happened to be a booking agent looking for new acts to represent. Another was a manager in search of new artists for his roster. Now, with a brand new album and a management team in place, Colin Gilmore is a South By Southwest success story. This conference is known as a place where young bands generate self-promotion, get discovered, even grab record deals and become stars. But it is also a second chance for artists who are on the rebound. Alison Moorer falls into that category.

In the late-1990s Alison Moorer was expected to be the next "big thing" in country music.

Her first album earned a Grammy nomination for the song, "A Soft Place To Fall," part of the soundtrack to the film The Horse Whisperer. Her two following CDs received excellent reviews, but couldn't find a place on commercial radio, leaving Allison Moorer in the position of being "a critic's darling," but dropped by her label.

Allison Moorer now records for Sugar Hill Records, an independent label based in North Carolina. Her showcase at South By Southwest was to promote her upcoming release, The Duel. It features 11 original songs, including "Believe You Me."

Since its debut in 1987, when only 700 people and 200 bands attended, the South By Southwest Music Conference has grown to showcasing more than 1,100 bands in 58 venues around Austin. Twenty percent of the musicians taking part in South By Southwest 2004 came from outside the U.S. This year, 20 bands from Australia took part, with New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, and nearly every country in Europe also represented.

The success of the South By Southwest Music Conference has spawned both a film and interactive media festival, and their economic impact on the Texas town is immense. In 2003, the three events brought more than $25 million to Austin, with the average attendee spending more than $250 a day in the city's restaurants, hotels, and, in many cases, the local record stores.

This year's trip ended with a visit to Waterloo Records to buy CDs from some of the artists I discovered on this trip. One big find was "The Green Cards," an Austin-based bluegrass band made up of two Australians and one Englishman. Although it sounds improbable, The Greencards have quickly become one of the most popular bands in town, taking home the coveted "Best New Band" trophy at last month's Austin Music Awards.