Let it be noted: This is the first time City Pages has mentioned coronavirus. (It was bound to happen eventually, right?)
Though as of now just two cases in Minnesota have been reported, concerns about the spread of COVID-19 have already affected the Twin Cities music scene. Last Friday local musicians who were planning on heading down to Austin later this week for South by Southwest learned that this year’s festival won’t go on.
The city of Austin cancelled SXSW for the first time in the festival’s 34-year history, in addition to declaring a local state of disaster, due to coronavirus concerns. The decision wasn’t a complete surprise: In the days leading up to the official cancellation, a number of sponsoring companies and presenters dropped out, citing “precautions” as their main reasoning.
When the news broke, Katie Bolin of the local indie-pop band Dennis was just finishing the poster design for Gully Boys’ festival appearances.
“I spent hours working on it, drawing everything on the poster by hand—but that pales in comparison to the months and months of booking and coordinating and email back-and-forths the artists went through,” Bolin says.
Then there’s the money put into festival preparation: the van checks, plane tickets, lodging, time off, merch. And many artists count on the festival as a networking opportunity.
“We’re so heartbroken. Words can’t even explain how excited we were to play an official showcase, a dream of ours that we were going to live out together. Damn bros,” tweeted Gully Boys’ Kathy Callahan from the band’s account. As official SXSW artists, Gully Boys had four shows set for Austin and a few others in neighboring cities.
Other local artists set to appear in the official festival shows included Student 1, Humbird, and the Har Mar Superstar/Sabrina Ellis project Heart Bones.
Heart Bones is still planning a replacement show or two in Austin next week, and several artists participating in non-official festival showcases, like Heart to Gold, are still planning on heading south as well. “We’re going because we have more shows in Texas than just our Austin showcase,” Heart to Gold says. “DIY doesn’t stop!”
"We found out the news just like everyone else, sitting in some graffiti bar in Puerto Rico," says the Bad Man's Peter Memorich. "But we are public entertainers, so for us the main concern is for the public to be remain safe. It is a devastating blow for the Austin community, and for all the musicians that are traveling, from home and on tour, but we believe canceling was the right move to make."
Student 1 knows the lifestyle of an unofficial South By artist: He went down there for the first time in 2018 on his own to network. As an official artist this year, he was determined to make it to Austin even after he started hearing whispers of cancellations. Then he changed his mind.
"I thought to myself, ‘If it didn't get canceled I probably woulda still gone despite the risk,’ and now that it's canceled I'm like, ‘Wow, I'm stupid as hell for even acting like this whole coronavirus thing isn't serious, especially at an event like SXSW,'” he says.
For now, at least here in Minnesota, we’ve still got local festivals like Soundset.