Whether you know what South by Southwest is or not, there’s more to the fest than you might think. SXSW wasn’t always the behemoth cultural event that you find today. In fact, SXSW has its roots in much humbler beginnings.
The first year was anything but huge
In 1986, Roland Swenson and Louis Jay Meyers hatched the idea to develop a music festival in Texas that would outdo those from the East and West Coasts. To make this possible, they spent much of that year collaborating with Nick Barbaro and Louis Black of the Austin Chronicle. Ultimately, the first ever SXSW was held over a three-day weekend in March 1987, and attendance for that year is said to have totaled roughly only 700 people, but the event was still a success.
Cash rules everything around me
SXSW is far from being about the money. Because SXSW is a respected cultural event, the image of the week is much more centered on providing togetherness and intellectual collaboration. In fact, the festival defines its original purpose on its website as being aimed almost strictly at bringing people together:
“SXSW’s original goal was to create an event that would act as a tool for creative people and the companies they work with to develop their careers, to bring together people from a wide area to meet and share ideas.”
Nonetheless, this doesn’t stop the event from being a serious cash cow. Although numbers aren’t yet available for the 2014 festival, multiple sources have reported SXSW’s 2013 impact on the local economy as $218.2 million.
The birthplace of Twitter?
Each year, SXSW has a component dedicated to showcasing emerging technologies and late developments in the world of information technology. Although many people fail to realize this, Twitter might not have become what it is today without SXSW. In 2007, SXSW Interactive featured the sprouting company and helped propel it into the stratosphere of microblog communication. To this day, the platform makes regular appearances at SXSW Interactive as a way of staying in touch with the market and developing new potential partners. Foursquare also premiered there in 2009.
It wasn’t always high tech
Although the festival has become synonymous with new technologies, you might be surprised at some of the now-obsolete products that were once showcased at SXSW. For many years, the event didn’t even have a proprietary email address, using a simple numbered CompuServe domain address to receive inquiries. In the mid-’90s, SXSW Interactive featured booths with the groundbreaking title “So you want to make a CD-ROM?”