“Thanks for skipping out on dinner to come see us,” Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore said during the band’s showcase at the 12th annual South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, earlier this month.

Moore’s loaded comment was one of several that musicians made concerning the feast that the SXSW festival has become--literally, with thousands of record-company professionals, music critics and industry schmoozers visiting for four days to, it seems, consume as many free barbecue ribs, enchiladas and margaritas as humanly possible.

Once heralded as a place for discovering and signing new talent, the conference has become more of a tool to promote it, with labels picking up the tabs for the parties. Grand Royal pushed Sean Lennon, who is about to release his first album, via a nightly showcase and an afternoon barbecue, while DreamWorks showcased another would-be heir, Rufus Wainwright.

If the show by Rufus’ father, Loudon Wainwright III, was any indication, “new” isn’t even a requirement for the talent playing the festival anymore. Following the cue of past participants Tony Bennett and Johnny Cash, veteran performers such as Nick Lowe, Sam Moore, Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter, Ray Price and Nils Lofgren all used the conference to plug new projects.


SXSW music director Brent Grulke agreed the focus of the conference has shifted to acts already buoyed by a record deal or lengthy careers, but he said the element of discovery still plays an essential part.

“We still get plenty of A&R; people, and plenty of people who stumble upon acts they’ve never seen and are amazed,” Grulke says. “It just seems like every band has a record deal these days, or a management deal or some kind of deal.”