Pittsburgh was all set for the big stage. Local bands, startups and nonprofits were ready to strut their stuff in front of founders, funders, and fans from around the world at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) conference, Austin’s prominent annual tech, music and film festival, before the city pulled the plug on the event in early March.
Though it’s been criticized in recent years for becoming less of a showcase for up-and-comers and more of a playground for established bands and artists, SXSW remains “a quick snapshot of the leading/bleeding edge,” says Kit Mueller, longtime startup community builder and head of the “Pittsburgh startups going to SXSW” Facebook group.
For creatives and entrepreneurs, the festival remains an opportunity to get in front of new, well-connected faces and potentially make a leap. Here’s a closer look at some of the Pittsburgh musicians and organizations who were scheduled to attend the festival:
Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh/MuseumLab
MuseumLab, an extension of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, was one of five finalists for SXSW EDU’s Learn by Design competition. “We had plans for folks to attend, but of course, following the wishes of the city, we cancelled our plans,” said Bill Schlageter, communications director at the Children’s Museum. The new space, opened last April and located in the adjacent former Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny County, serves as a youth makerspace and also houses Manchester Academic Charter Middle School on its second and third floors. Schlageter said they have not heard anything from event organizers, and he’s hopeful an alternative can be arranged. “If not,” he said, “ we understand that too and look forward toward the future.”
Pittsburgh record label Crafted Sounds and two of their bands, The Zells and Flower Crown, were ready to head to Austin for a “Family Vacation” showcase in spite of the official event cancellation. “It’s probably not the smartest thing to do,” said label manager, Connor Murray, “but we’re doing it.” A few days later and after much consideration, the showcase has since been cancelled, which is a shame because Murray was asked to stretch the showcase into a two-day event that was scheduled to include two additional Pittsburgh bands: Short Fictions and Rave Ami.
Feralcat and the Wild
Saxophonist, Roger Romero, was looking forward to playing Austin for the first time and seeing how new audiences would respond to performances by some of his Pittsburgh friends. Feralcat and the Wild had arranged a tour that included stops in Ohio and Tennessee before Texas, to offset the cost of the trip to Texas, and now they’ll have to eat the cost of hotels and van rental. Romero, who recorded his latest EP at home, said the goal of attending SXSW wasn’t necessarily to be discovered and signed to a record label, but to “meet people who could take what I’m doing to the next level.” Learn more about Roger and his sweet sax in our profile from May.
Nollapelli CEO and founder, Allison Howard, was ready to travel to Austin pitch her high-end, patent-pending bedsheets at the 12th annual SXSW Pitch competition before the event was canceled. For now, she is still awaiting word from event organizers about next steps. “It’s super disappointing it’s not happening, but also, this is a very serious situation we’re all experiencing right now, and I also applaud the city of Austin for making the very tough decision to cancel.” She’s hopeful the event will be rescheduled at some point; for now, she’s taking it in stride and treating it no differently than any other obstacle a startup must face. “Shock and disappointment, you know, this is just part of the ride.” You can learn more about their bedsheets in our profile of Nollapelli from last year.
Nox Boys lead singer Zack Keim answers his phone outside the Offbeat Bar in LA’s Highland Park neighborhood, in the midst of a West Coast with Corpus Christi rock band, The Blind Owls. “We’re going to keep playing as long as the venues keep the shows on,” said Keim. Two days later, the tour was off. Not only is the band’s first-ever west coast tour cancelled, so is the European leg of their tour, which was scheduled to begin in late April and included stops in COVID-19 hotbed Italy. The garage rockers have since launched a GoFundMe to help recoup some of their losses.
Education network Remake Learning had a delegation of about 70 people scheduled to travel to Austin for SXSW EDU before the event was canceled. “We have historically been supporters of SXSW EDU, and they to us,” said Remake Learning’s field director, Ani Martinez. The organization was slated to hold a joint reception with Cincinnati’s KnowledgeWorks, as well as a “full-day VR experience” to show what hiring will look like in 2040. They, like others, aren’t sure if any of the events will be reconvened online later this year. They also experienced a modest financial loss: “We did support a few people with stipends to attend, so we will have to absorb the cost of those expenses,” said Martinez.