When I saw the KENS5 news item about the supposed "talks" of bringing South By Southwest to San Antonio, I could not have cared less. SXSW belongs to Austin, and it should remain in Austin.
Of course, it was all an April Fool's joke, a masterful bullshit story started by the Austin Chronicle, and San Antonio Councilman John Clamp bit. And some in the media followed. The eternal City of the Lame.
But the reaction it caused was no joke. The whole issue became a parade of SA put-down jokes, a forum of those who thought bringing SXSW to SA was a bad idea (the majority), and the naive ones who thought it made perfect sense (a tiny minority).
It became so big, that I felt I had to offer my take on it.
For starters, even if the world’s largest music and film festival/convention had moved to San Antonio (a thought as ridiculous as the Chronicle spoof about housing it in a Bastrop dome), it would have come here for all the wrong reasons: those involved in the effort (including Clamp) never once mentioned how good it would be for the city in artistic terms — all they cared and talked about was the money SXSW would bring to San Antonio. When you start an artistic project with zero artistic concern, you're doomed for failure.
But since this debate has sparked so much passion, I’ll throw some fuel to the fire: forget about SXSW, and bring the Latin Alternative Music Conference instead. It’s a much smaller event, but big enough for New York (its home for the last 10 years), and Los Angeles (where the first two editions took place). The 12th edition is in NYC on July 6-9. How about SA in 2012? It makes perfect sense: since SA is a jinx city, let’s have the 13th edition here.
As with all music conventions, the LAMC has the music side and the panel side. It offers a mix of some of the best, well-established music acts and the up-and-coming, in an eclectic bag of electronica, hip-hop, rock, fusion, and singer-songwriter components. In NYC, besides the usual showcases, the highlights are the acoustic night and the free shows at Prospect Park in Brooklyn and the Summerstage at Central Park. Manu Chao, for example, drew a crowd of more than 9,000 at Central Park a few years ago (a record at the time). Needless to say, the LAMC in San Antonio would offer local Latin alternative bands (even the English-speaking ones) great networking opportunities and chances to play in front of an international audience without leaving town. They could appear at a special SA showcase, but also share the bill with bands from all over the Spanish-speaking world. That wouldn't hurt, would it?
San Antonio is a logical, natural venue for the LAMC, and the reasons are obvious: this is a Latin city. Period. Geographically, it is right in the middle: perfect for New Yorkers and Angelenos, and even the Mexicans, especially those in Tijuana and Monterrey, two key rocanrol markets. The St. Mary's strip could hold several simultaneous showcases at walking distance from each other (the GIG would be ideal for the acoustic night), and for the big free concerts you have several options: Travis Park, Rosedale Park, Sunken Gardens, Sunset Station, you name it. Hell, we could have a show at the Current’s parking lot if we have to (and if they let me organize one).
You can bitch all you want, but the locals will attend, and people from other places (the rest of the US, Latin America, and Spain) will come as well. How many, I don’t know. In its first few years, the LAMC had a steady average of 1,000 registered attendees, and all the showcases (the small ones and the big ones) were packed.
Will the numbers add up in SA? Is it worth all the trouble? Is there enough of a Latin alternative market here? I don’t know, and I don’t care. What I do know is that any city anywhere benefits from any serious artistic event, and Latin alternative music is as good (and as bad) as any other genre. And, I insist, San Antonio is the perfect match for something like the LAMC. At least once in our lifetime.
So please, let us stop trying to be Austin. Look around, listen, and let us dream of a new event that looks and sounds a lot closer to what San Antonio really is.
If you want to know more, go to latinalternative.com and check out these videos: