Five-story-tall stages. Multiple domed structures popping up all over downtown. The Boss.
This year’s South By Southwest will be more big and “out there” than ever.
Take a wander over to downtown Austin’s warehouse district — west of Congress between 5th St. and Cesar Chavez — and you’ll see the construction crews, staging and other signs that the area is going to be busier than normal during this year’s SXSW, which kicks off on Friday with the Interactive conference.
Don Pitts, City of Austin Music Program manager, said more large-scale promotions are headed to the warehouse district and staying for a longer period this year, making it the segment of Austin that will see the most growth in SXSW activity. That assessment came based on a review of single- and multi-day sound permits submitted to the city ahead of the music, film and interactive festival.
With the deadline to apply for outdoor sound permits passed — Monday, Feb. 27 was the cutoff for SXSW events — Pitts said the city received 95 permit requests and approved 83 of them, with a marked increase in multi-day events up to 61 locations this year versus 45 last year.
But it’s the increasingly grandiose nature of the events that’s going to draw attention. As evidence, Pitts pointed to several domes being erected for parties, or a 52-foot tall stage on Red River near Fifth Street that was proposed by planners to have attendees careening down a 70-foot slide.
Don Pitts, City of Austin Music Program manager, said more large-scale promotions are headed to the warehouse district and staying for a longer period this year, making it the segment of Austin that will see the most growth in SXSW activity.
“They wanted a 72-foot (tall) structure with people getting down from the stage on this giant slide, but we brought them back to reality on that one because we don’t want patrons sliding from up that high,” Pitts said Monday. “You’re seeing a little more elaborate setups on these events, and we’re trying to make things as safe and manageable as possible.”
As part of the newly revised application process, permits were reviewed by a committee made up of representatives from the city’s police, fire, emergency medical, code compliance, special events and development review departments.
By involving more departments in the permit review process, city officials hope to avoid snags that occurred last year, such as fence storming during the Strokes concert at Auditorium Shores, or the shutdown of several events along South Congress that lacked noise permits.
While Pitts had speculated about possible street closures, shuttle service and centralized food courts to ease foot traffic and flow of more than 220,000 festival attendees, none of those measures were deemed necessary this year.
For the most part, large outdoor events are concentrated in the same general areas that have become popular in recent years, such as East Sixth Street, East Fifth Street, near the Austin Convention Center and in the warehouse district.
Pitts wouldn’t name specific artists because some promoters are still working to finalize their deals, but he said all signs point to a big influx of hip-hop and R&B talent this year, though nothing that will create an planning headache like last year’s late-developing Kanye West/Jay-Z concert at the Seaholm Power Plant, which is under reconstruction and no longer available as a venue.
“The frustrating part is a lot of them want to be very secretive about who they’re bringing in to play and we have to explain to them that we won’t tell them they can’t have someone come here, but we have to know so we can be prepared for their event,” Pitts said. “People with South By and others who know what’s going on say that Bruce (Springsteen) is about seventh in order of popularity of the acts that are going to be here.”
Pitts met with Austin police on Monday to review the department’s plan for the festival and said the new review process has helped police anticipate what parts of the city will need more attention for things like pedestrian crossings and general order.
“They’ll have more officers available to work, though it’s not going to be in any overbearing presence,” Pitts said. “It’s refreshing that we’ve got so much communication happening now to know what’s going on all over. South By, it seems, has a much better handle on everything this year as well, and so even though this has been a ton of work we think there’s going to be a lot more awareness all across the board.”