One of the biggest weeks of the year for many DIY bands is the week of South by Southwest, a week-long arts festival in Austin, Texas that features independent films, musicians and other artists. Groups often plan week-long tours on their way to Austin in hopes of promoting their music and expanding their audience at the festival. This year, however, there’s been a change of plans; due to the over looming threat of COVID-19, the city of Austin has decided to cancel the festival.
This is the first time in the event’s 34-year history that anything like this has happened, and bands are not thrilled. Many of these bands use South by Southwest as a yearly opportunity to gain exposure from different publications, websites and music fanatics at large. With the announcement coming less than two weeks before the festival was slated to begin, the hours of preparation and effort these groups put into planning their trips has gone out the window, with many scrambling to find any and all opportunities to play around the city.
The city’s decision to cancel the festival comes at the recommendation of Austin’s Public Health officers. After declaring a local disaster, Mayor Steve Adler canceled the festival. SXSW, in a statement, said they were devastated, but they would “faithfully follow the City’s directions.”
The SXSW crisis also signals another issue the coronavirus could potentially lead to: concert attendance. DIY musicians fund their tours through small door fees which allow them to pay for tour expenses like gas and food. However, with the fear of large public events that COVID-19 has instilled in a growing percentage of the world’s populous, touring bands may not be able to depend on these shows as much for support. This also presents a larger issue for more established bands that use music as their full-time career and depend on touring revenue as income.
Many travel-based industries, like airlines, are already seeing a significant decline in profits in just the past few weeks, and I believe we will see similar trends in the entertainment industry. Especially in the age of streaming, artists rely heavily upon the money made from touring — to lose that source of income could be devastating to many musicians.
I’m not sure how basement shows will be affected by this outbreak, but I doubt it will increase attendance. Though I’ve definitely seen a small increase in attendance at local shows recently, I’m fairly certain that being in a dark, damp and crowded basement probably will not help to prevent the virus’s spread. Not only could this cause a decrease in the amount of shows around town, but also discourage out-of-town bands from coming into a town containing a large population of college students who just returned from spring break.
That being said, now is a more important time than ever to support artists through purchasing albums and merchandise. I know some local Michigan groups, like Shadow Show and Dogleg, were planning on heading down to SXSW after gaining a considerable amount of popularity in the past year. Supporting these local artists, even just a little bit, could make a huge difference, especially as we enter a time where live music could suffer a significant loss in attendance.
Upcoming local shows:
PJ's Lager House (Detroit)
Peace to Mateo
The Loving Touch (Ferndale)
The Safest Ledge
Button & Bella's Music Box (Ypsilanti)