SXSW Day 4: @WantonBishops Show Cancelled and Reporters on the Scene of a Tragedy

I had been looking forward to the Wanton Bishops performance at the Symphony House. Needless to say, I was curious about a Lebanese blues band anyway, and certainly eager to hear them, and besides, my friend Matt Sonzala was to be there as well, since Red Bull was a sponsor of the band’s trip to the United States, and the whole event was being filmed for inclusion in a documentary, and I would get to see him. Unfortunately, none of it was to be, because the Symphony House was one block north of the site of the previous night’s horrific carnage in the drunk driving incident. For whatever reason (for the event had had no impact on the Symphony House or anything else in that block of Red River Street), the Austin Symphony withdrew permission for the use of the house for the performance, citing the tragedy of the night before, and so I found I had walked up there for nothing at all. In the block to the south where the actual incident occurred, an industrial cleaning firm was already on the job cleaning up the site, something that I suppose was necessary although it seemed a little cold and cynical. News media outlets were set up all along Red River and surrounding streets.
Such tragedies happen in locations across America, and they usually don’t create the strong sense of shock and outrage that this did, and for awhile I couldn’t imagine why. Then it hit me. We love festivals, whether South By Southwest or Jazz Fest or Beale Street Music Festival or Mardi Gras, because they replace the real, everyday world with its crimes and problems, with an alternate world where everything is fun and music. For a few days, we can live in this alternate, better universe that the festival provides. So when something awful happens, like a tragic accident, or a violent crime, we feel outraged. The real world has invaded our party, forcing its way back into our face. It’s no wonder all of us were angered and shocked. Nobody likes to be reminded of death while they are having a good time.

SXSW Day 4: Reflecting at Breakfast on a Night of Tragedy

My homeboy Travis McFetridge, owner of Great South Bay Music, had invited me to join him for a brunch at the Driskill Hotel which was being sponsored by SESAC on Thursday morning, so I agreed to meet him there, and until I did, I wasn’t even aware that there had been an incident on Red River Street the night before in which two South By Southwest attendees had been killed. Apparently a man who was driving drunk was being pulled over by Austin police at 10th and Red River, and deciding that he didn’t want to go to jail, the driver crashed through a barricade and careened down Red River Street running over pedestrians. Two were killed instantly, and 14 others severely injured, including some who lost limbs. It’s not the sort of thing that one expects at a music conference and festival, and there was something of an appalled silence among people on Thursday morning. There were even those who called for festival events or showcases to be called off, but fortunately, South By Southwest declined to cancel events that were not directly impacted by the incident and where it occurred. Even so, I was shocked. I had just been at Cheer Up Charlie’s earlier in the afternoon, and could have very easily been on Red River Street when the tragedy unfolded.