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Powell St. John, Joe Black and the Blacks, Space City Gamelan and the Marked Men

Stray notes from SXSW III: Ticketmaster's trickery

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As I continued mulling over what really bothered me most about Friday's interview with Ticketmaster CEO Sean Moriarty, it finally struck me: the slight of hand comparing Ticketmaster fees to cable TV and ATM fees, which hits at the heart of the lie behind the company's PR efforts.

Four down, one to go, and the ratio of great showcase performances to disappointments so far has to be at least 3 to 1 — as good as any SXSW I’ve ever attended.

AUSTIN, Texas —Truer words have never been spoken at a SXSW panel than when Wall Street Journal reporter Ethan Smith introduced Ticketmaster CEO and president Sean Moriarty on Friday afternoon as the head of a company that more than any other “makes music fans’ blood boil.”

Moriarty sat down for this rare public session at a time when his company — the dominant (some would say monopolistic) force in concert ticking for the last 32 years — is on the ropes, as Live Nation, the dominant (some would say monopolistic) force in concert promotion, ends its relationship with Ticketmaster and not only directly begins selling tickets to its own events, but to those of other promoters seeking an alternative to Ticketmaster. (Live Nation is 15 percent of Ticketmaster's business, Moriarty said.)

Even as Moriarty claimed that Ticketmaster is trying to enter a new era of transparency in its business practices, the embattled executive dodged direct questions such as “Why do Ticketmaster service fees cost so much?” by hiding behind an obfuscatory cloud of friendly but Orwellian corporate doublespeak.

SXSW Dispatch #5: Night three in the clubs

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The highlights: Jay Reatard, Dark Meat and Syd Straw

SXSW Dispatch #4: R.E.M. is back (well, sort of)

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Mike Mills, Michael Stipe and Peter Buck of R.E.M. perform on "Austin City Limits" on Thursday Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman

Once upon a time, up-and-coming bands came to SXSW in the hopes of leaving with a record deal. Since the industry as it once was is essentially in its death throes, bands on the rise now come with the hope of building regional success and Internet buzz into broader success by playing for booking agents, managers, the people who place songs in movies and TV shows and of course the dwindling number of professional DJs and critics.

Established bands and superstars come for the same reason they’ve always come: To try to relaunch their careers. And the major act with that goal at SXSW XXII has been R.E.M., which played a highly anticipated showcase at Stubb’s on Wednesday.

As I noted yesterday — or very early this morning, actually — the friendly interviewer-and-revered rock legend format of many recent sessions at SXSW has been one of the worst things to ever happen to the conference, sapping much of the fire and soul of the daytime discussions. And Thursday morning’s keynote with Lou Reed did not get off to a promising start as he sat down with his friend, producer Hal Willner.

“Lou Reed is to rock ’n’ roll sort of like Miles Davis is to jazz,” Willner said in introducing the artist. “Basically, with what he does, more than half a dozen times, he’s changed the direction of rock ’n’ roll -- with what he’s done with the Velvet Underground and ‘Transformer,’ which was recognized in its day, and then other things from ‘Berlin’ to ‘Street Hassle’ to ‘Metal Machine Music.’”

It was a fitting synopsis of Reed’s career, but even Wilner seemed intimidated to be interviewing such an accomplished artist, especially one who loves to play the role of the Prince of Darkness. “If my parents knew I’d grow up to work with Lou Reed, they’d have suffocated me then,” Wilner confessed.

“Instead they moved to Florida,” Reed quipped.

SXSW Dispatch #2: On parties, panels and Yeasayer

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AUSTIN, Texas — Residents of the capital and one of the greatest music cities in America have been doing an unusual amount of griping this year about the proliferation of elitist industry parties and special daytime and afterhours events: With more than 10,000 record biz insiders, DJs and journalists from around the world registered for the conference, it’s hard enough for non-badge-holding locals to see a lot of the incredible music that happens here during the five nights of showcase performances without the added insult of being excluded from snooty guest-list-only VIP shindigs on the one hand and SXSW stamping down on unauthorized soirees on the other.

Stray notes from SXSW II: Chicago in Austin

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The Cool Kids' Mickey Rocks (left) and Chuck Inglish, perform Thursday during a day party at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. Jack Plunkett/AP

Given the unofficial Austin/Chicago sister-city bond, there is always a sizable contingent of Chicago artists performing in Texas over the course of the festival.

Stray notes from SXSW: They want YOU!

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Back in the days before the long-awaited death of the major label system forced the music business to return to its roots as the ultimate cottage industry, the giant bag of promotional crap given to each of the 10,000 registrants at SXSW used to be a lot heavier.

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