Over its 33 year existence, the SXSW music festival (officially known as South by Southwest) has seen its share of memorable music and celebrity moments. Though the festival has grown to encompass a variety of artistic mediums such as film, television, and technology, it was born out of a passion for music and the coming together of music fans. Thanks to modern cell phone technology, audiences can instantly record and upload their experiences to social media. In fact, this practice has been actively encouraged by the festival’s organizers. Below are just a few of the classic moments from SXSW over the years:
1994 – Johnny Cash Speaks and Performs
Cash made his mark on the SXSW festival by becoming one of its most celebrated keynote speakers. Intertwining tales of his childhood with some of his greatest hits, Cash gave audience members a chance to jam and the opportunity to learn more about the man behind the music.
2006 – The Flaming Lips Give a Surprise Performance
Alternative-rock sensation The Flaming Lips gave a secret show at the festival in the early 2000s to one lucky audience. Their act consisted of covering hits from Queen and performing with female rapper Peaches. One fortunate couple even became engaged on stage, thanks to the encouragement of the band members!
2007 – Amy Winehouse Shakes Up America
While she had already been a big hit in her native home of England, Amy Winehouse had yet to make an impressionable splash in the states before her SXSW gig. A captive audience listened to the soulful singer’s set, mesmerized by her bluesy vocals and unique storytelling. They knew they were witnessing a part of history.
2010 – Bill Murray Tends Bar
Bill Murray, beloved performer and big music fan, became more than just an entertainer during his visit to SXSW in 2010. Murray took the opportunity to serve drinks to fans at one of Austin’s busiest bars, mingling with fans and reveling in the musical atmosphere.
2010 – An Alex Chilton Tribute
A week before Big Star frontman Alex Chilton was set to perform at SXSW, he sadly passed away from a heart attack. His fellow bandmates decided to celebrate his life by playing the band’s hits in his memory, showcasing one of the most emotional moments in the festival’s long history.
2013 – Prince Keeps Austin Up All Night
The stand out of 2013 was music legend Prince’s hours-long performance of his most famous songs on one of his many acoustic electric guitars. Audience members had no problems staying up until the early morning, jamming out to classics like “Purple Rain” and “1999.” The concert concluded at the record time of 3:00 a.m.
2014 – Kanye West & Jay-Z Team Up
Superstar hip-hop artists Kanye West and Jay-Z teamed up to wow 3,000 people at 2014’s event. West and Jay-Z stood atop their own personal 12-foot, lit-up cubes and sang their collaborated hits to a mesmerized crowd below. The event was praised for its visual appeal and high-energy, with the two hip-hop crowd-pleasers giving a set full of classics.
2016 – Craig Robinson Keeps the Party Going
The Office funnyman Craig Robinson delighted hotel patrons at The Four Seasons Hotel Austin when he brought a keyboard to the hotel bar. Robinson encouraged those around him to sing along, karaoke-style, and keep the dancing going well into the night.
2019 – Boyz II Men Conclude A Movie Premiere
Meshing together the best of SXSW’s music and film events, Boyz II Men gave a surprise performance of two of their greatest hits to the audience attending the Long Shot film premiere. Not only did viewers get to groove with the band, but they also got to witness stars Charlize Theron and Seth Rogan jamming along with them.
SXSW has an endless amount of musical history under its belt. Today, fans of the music and film industries can keep along with the adventures thanks to a significant social media presence. One of the most excellent ways to find out about these unmissable moments is by keeping an eye out for user-generated content online. 2020’s SXSW event may have been canceled due to the coronavirus. Still, fans can rest assured that many exciting moments are waiting for them in 2021.