SXSW co-founder Louis Meyers, the “most hated man in Austin music,” dies at age 60

SXSW co-founder Louis Meyers was a “musician’s musician.”
SXSW co-founder Louis Meyers was a “musician’s musician.”
Image: AP Photo/Harry Cabluck
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This post has been corrected.

Louis Meyers, who co-founded the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin, Texas, died March 11 at age 60, on the opening day of this year’s festival. The cause of death was a heart attack, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

Meyers, who grew up in Austin, played banjo, guitar, and steel guitar early in his music career, and began producing shows and managing bands in the 1980s. A trip to the New Music Seminar festival in New York in 1986 provided inspiration for the showcase that Meyers helped organize in Austin the following year.

Today SXSW is one of the US’s most widely known cultural festivals, incorporating film and technology along with the music. In 2015, more than 100 venues affiliated with the event hosted 2,200 performances, drawing in more than 30,000 musicians and music industry professionals from 62 countries, according to the festival’s website. Sponsors of the 10-day event include major corporations like McDonald’s and Capital One. Celebrities regularly attend, and this year, US president Barack Obama spoke at the festival, delivering a message about the importance of technology in solving some of the country’s biggest problems.

But the festival began as a much more modest affair. Organized by a group of co-workers from the Austin Chronicle along with Meyers, who had an office nearby, the first installation of SXSW was held in March 1987. That year, only 700 people signed up. The film and interactive components were added in 1994, the same year that Meyers sold his stake, citing “burnout,” according to Variety.

SXSW co-founder Nick Barbaro, in a tribute posted on the festival’s website, recalled the split this way:

He left in 1994 – memorably explaining that he was “tired of being the most hated man in Austin music” because of all the acts he had to turn down – and went on to a successful series of other musical gigs, living in Amsterdam for a while, settling in Kansas City to run the Folk Art Alliance for over a decade, and, always, playing his beloved banjo and pedal steel guitar.

But according to Barbaro, Meyers “never stopped coming back to SXSW every year.”

The Austin American-States reports that Meyers had planned to attend the Obama keynote on March 11, but was admitted to the hospital the day before.

Correction: An earlier version of this post reported that Meyers died on March 10. He was admitted to a hospital on March 10 and died on March 11.