AUSTIN (KXAN) — One of Austin’s biggest festivals is drawing near, along with more information on who’s on the roster.
On Tuesday, organizers of South by Southwest announced dozens of speakers coming to the conference, including Broadway star Sara Bareilles and Grammy award-winning artist Lizzo.
It’s a big change from two years ago, when the city canceled the entire festival because of concerns over COVID-19.
“We’re definitely looking forward to a little bit of that Austin energy coming back alive,” said Teghan Hahn, owner of several downtown businesses such as Wild About Music, Toy Joy and Austin Rocks.
She said they don’t expect South Bys of the past, when they’d keep stores open until midnight to accommodate extra crowds going to popup events around town.
“Historically, it’s been just insane,” Hahn said. “It felt like every square inch of Austin would be activated and something going.”
Hahn said they’d also prepare by buying more inventory.
“We bring in millions of dollars worth of merchandise that we are accustomed to selling the majority of during the festival,” she said.
She said SXSW sales are usually among the highest of the year.
“It’s definitely like a second Christmas,” she said. “Christmas season is like Thanksgiving, day after Thanksgiving, through Dec. 25. So basically a month, and so to have that happen in the span of one or two weeks is huge.”
This year, she’s scaling back. She’s not buying nearly as much stock, and while she may keep stores open for an hour or two later than normal, she doesn’t expect to be open until midnight.
“We’re being very cautious to not buy too many items in fear of it not being as busy as years past,” Hahn said.
There’s some indication Hahn may be right. Bob Woody said he has nine bookings for popup events at his venues during SXSW. Normally, he said that number is higher for this time of year — less than one month away from the event.
“It’s just the beginning, if you will. Everything’s hard in the beginning, got to get people used to it, again,” said Woody, who is also president of the East Sixth Street Community Association.
He said big companies may still decide to hold a popup at the last minute. He’s seen it with Pepsi and Chevrolet in the past. But he still doesn’t expect to get to event levels he saw before SXSW’s COVID-hiatus.
Either way, he and Hahn are back to get a boost.
“It is a long 10 days for us. No matter what,” Woody said.
“Not expecting a second Christmas,” Hahn said. “It’d be amazing if that happened, but … we’re just hopeful that it’s just like one step closer to re-experiencing the vibrancy that Austin has to offer.”
The event does come with new rules this year, like vaccination at least 14 days before picking up your credentials, or showing proof of a negative COVID-19 test 24 to 48 hours before credential pickup, along with retesting at intervals.
KXAN reached out the City of Austin to ask if there’s any chance of cancelation, downsizing or adding restrictions based on local COVID-19 cases or what indicators it may be watching to make changes to special events like SXSW.
A spokesperson said they couldn’t offer any of that information right now.
Austin Center for Events is made up of multiple departments, including Austin Public Health, and we work closely with event organizers to help them navigate the special events permitting process. We are working closely with spring festival season organizers on their COVID-19 Health & Safety plans. We hope to be in a position to share more information about your questions below in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, you can reach out to the event organizer for more details about this event.Sara Henry, Austin Center for Events spokesperson
KXAN also reached out to SXSW organizers but has not yet heard back.