11 Fun Facts about SXSW

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Tomorrow, the 2013 South by Southwest (SXSW) festival kicks off—and mental_floss will be there! Here are a few fun facts you might want to know about the Austin, Texas-based celebration of all things music, film, and interactive. 

1. SXSW started in 1987 as a music festival. There were 172 acts, and 700 people showed up. The keynote speaker was record producer Huey P. Meaux.

2. One rejected name for the festival was “Third Coast.” According to Roland Swenson, an employee at The Austin Chronicle—which created SXSW—it was editor and co-founder Louis Black who came up with the name. “After many hours of everyone trying out different names," Swenson recalled in 2001, "Louis Black, lying on his back on the floor, spoke the South by Southwest name for the first time, and we all seized upon it.”

3. The festival expanded into multimedia and film in 1994. In 1995, film and multimedia (it would be come interactive in 1999) split into their own separate conferences. Today, approximately 32,000 people attend film and interactive.

4. The original Alamo Drafthouse, on Colorado Street, opened in 1997, and screened Neil LaBute's In the Company of Men at SXSW that year. Since then, the Drafthouse has expanded to four locations in Austin (and other cities in the U.S.), where they inobtrusively serve food, booze, and delicious milkshakes while you enjoy a movie. They also have a strict no-talking, no-texting policy that sometimes results in customers being ejected from the theater. One customer left an angry voicemail that the Drafthouse then turned into a pre-movie "Don't Talk" bumper:

5. The first three years of SXSW Multimedia had panels called “The Web Is Dead?” and "So You Want to Make a CD-Rom?" The official festival email address was 72662.465@compuserve.com.

6. During SXSW Interactive 2012, festival attendees generated 4.7 profane tweets per minute, for a grand total of 33,860 profane tweets over the course of the 5-day conference.

7. From Iron Works to Stubbs, Austin is full of BBQ establishments, and during SXSW, they are hopping. To get a slab of brisket at Franklin BBQ—which opens at 11am—people usually line up before 9am; it’s not unusual for the restaurant to sell out of meat in under three hours. It takes around 18 hours to make Franklin’s brisket, by the way.

8. Twitter was introduced at SXSW in 2007, Foursquare in 2009.

9. Musicians that have been discovered or broken into the mainstream while playing at SXSW:  Hanson, John Mayer, James Blunt, Janelle Monae, Best Coast, The White Stripes, Veruca Salt, Polyphonic Spree—and many, many more.

10. Since 2008, actor Jeffrey Tambor—you might know him as Arrested Development’s George Bluth and the Larry Sanders Show’s Hank Kingsley—has run an acting workshop at SXSW. The session is described on the SXSW website as “Part one-man show, part seminar, part question and answer and endlessly entertaining.” Here’s some video from last year’s workshop:

11. These days, approximately 48,000 registrants come to Austin for SXSW. Not bad for a festival started by four guys in a newsroom.