The city of Austin has put an end to this year’s South by Southwest music festival due to concern over the spread of Covid-19.
In a surprise press conference held on Friday afternoon, Austin’s mayor Steve Adler and interim health authority Dr. Mark Escott announced what many had been predicting: The two-week tech, music, and film festival was cancelled. Just three days earlier, city authorities had said the opposite: SXSW would go on as planned, despite the fact that the outbreak was spreading in the US and companies were pulling out of SXSW in droves.
“This is not a panic-based decision. This is based on expert medical opinion,” said Dr. Escott during Friday’s press conference. Austin currently has no confirmed cases of coronavirus, so the city is still relatively at low risk. Dr. Escott said on Friday that the city was still awaiting the results of some coronavirus tests that had been sent out—but that ultimately, the decision was made because of the risk posed by a sudden flood of travelers from all over the country and the world. Escott said there was evidence suggesting that allowing SXSW to go on would accelerate the spread of the virus.
The cancellation marks the first in SXSW’s 34-year history. It follows a string of other large music festivals shuttering this week, including the Ultra Music Festival in Miami and the Tomorrowland Winter festival in France.
The list of tech companies dropping out of SXSW continued to grow throughout the week, including Twitter, Facebook, Mashable, TikTok, Warner Media, Intel, SAP, Apple, IBM, and more. Sony, Universal, and Warner Music warned its employees not to attend the event, effectively grounding a sizable chunk of the music industry. Musicians including the Beastie Boys, Nine Inch Nails, and Ozzy Osbourne also cancelled appearances. While many film screenings were still scheduled to go on as intended, both Netflix and Amazon Studios dropped out, taking their panels and screenings with them.
The implications of cancelling the event will be devastating for Austin’s economy, impacting everyone from Uber drivers to restaurant workers to local event staff. Hundreds of area businesses benefit from the huge boost in tourism the annual event brings. The festival brought in a total of $355.9 million to the city last year.
In a statement published on its website, SXSW said it was exploring options to possibly reschedule the event. Festival coordinators would get to work on a virtual SXSW, which has been the standard protocol for many of the conferences and events cancelled this month. “We are devastated to share this news with you,” the statement read. “‘The show must go on’ is in our DNA, and this is the first time in 34 years that the March event will not take place. We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation.”