Texas festival eyes Edinburgh music alliance

Prince performs at the South by South-west festival in Austin last year. Picture: Getty

Prince performs at the South by South-west festival in Austin last year. Picture: Getty

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ONE of the world’s leading concert cities has sounded out Edinburgh about an alliance to boost the Capital’s live music scene.

A city manager from Austin, Texas – which hosts the renowned South by Southwest music festival (SXSW) – has approached the culture department in Edinburgh about a ground-breaking 
collaboration.

Don Pitts, who runs the music and entertainment division at Austin City Council, said a “musical alliance” had already been signed with Toronto in Canada and the Texans were eager to “add another city” in the “next year or so”.

It is understood Edinburgh is keen to progress talks with officials instructed to “get in touch” with the Americans.

The unexpected approach comes days after the city revealed its intention to draw up a five-year masterplan to improve its live music offering by emulating concert meccas such as Austin and Sydney.

Renting out empty council buildings as performance and rehearsal space, altering licensing laws to make it easier to lay on gigs and introducing loans to support noise reduction are among proposals being examined by council chiefs in a bid to boost live music in the city.

SXSW is currently one of the biggest music festivals in the world – attracting headline acts such as Prince, Lady Gaga and Blondie – and sees more than 100,000 people flood into Austin each year.

It brings in about £117 million to the local economy and boasts more than 2000 bands over the nine-day festival.

In an e-mail, Mr Pitts said he had been following Edinburgh’s plight via the Evening News online and would “love to help in this conversation any way we can”.

He wrote: “We have done a lot of work over the last seven years and although we are looked upon often as a best practice city, we feel that by collaborating with other cities is where we learn the most.

“Recently we signed a Music City Alliance with Toronto, and they have plans to create a music office based on our model. We will also be looking at adding another city to the alliance in the next year or so.”

Toronto’s North by Northwest festival, modelled on South by Southwest, generates £27m annually for the city.

But the Capital may have to act quickly after a Glasgow councillor launched an ambitious bid to kick off its own version of the world’s biggest music festival.

Ken Andrew, councillor for Hillhead, tabled the motion for a Glaswegian version of SXSW at a council meeting last week.

Cllr Norma Austin-Hart, culture vice-convener at Edinburgh City Council, said she was “delighted” Austin had reached out to Edinburgh and said the city was “open to learning all we can from them”.

“It’s well known that Austin has a worldwide reputation as a centre of excellence in terms of live music and that the public sector supports the live music industry in the city,” she said.

Usher Hall general manager Karl Chapman said his arm is “stretching across the Atlantic already”. He said: “A possible alliance or collaboration would be fantastic. It’s very exciting.”

New acts given chance in spotlight

Austin’s SXSW festival began in 1987 with the aim of fostering new ideas and offering a place to bring creative types together. It now features more than 2000 acts including headliners such as Bruce Springsteen, Jay Z, Lady Gaga and Coldplay.

However, the festival’s popularity is built on the wide range of new acts offered exposure.

Official performances take place in various venues in downtown – concentrated on the Sixth Street area – while impromptu unofficial performances occur on makeshift stages on the city streets.

It is the highest revenue-producing event for the Austin economy.