AUSTIN, Texas – In the wake of the SXSW cancellation due to fears of COVID-19, many local musicians are saying, “the show must go on,” regardless of losing their show’s “official” status.

  • SXSW 2020 canceled on Friday
  • Annual conference was scheduled for March 13-22
  • Businesses, artists, and service industry workers are now evaluating lost income, opportunities

Artists are still playing at several venues around town to keep the music alive during what would have been SXSW. One of those musicians is Austin-based hip-hop artist Ray Villarreal, known by his stage name “Tone Royal.”

“I feel like the community in Austin, it's gonna be a good thing and we’re all stepping up and that's what I'm excited for. So SXSW— the name might not still be on it but I still feel like it’s happening,” Villarreal said.

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Getting the golden ticket to perform an official showcase was a dream of Villarreal’s— one he never imagined would get stripped away like this, but he understands the city’s concern.

“I was definitely fearful when the rumors were coming out about it possibly being canceled. But SXSW has been around for 34 years and in the history of the festival, it’s never been canceled. And once it was announced that it would be, I just— I felt really defeated,” Villarreal said.

Villarreal said this cancellation is another bout of bad luck having just came off of a tough year in 2019 when he was dealing with vocal nodules that put him out of work for months.

“It was just a very difficult time because not being able to do the music and not being able to work and do anything in entertainment, it was just very depressing. It was a very hard place to be in because my passion is in music, and that's my livelihood as well.”

SXSW is a platform for many musicians who are trying to make a name for themselves. Just last year, Lizzo performed at the festival, and a year later she was nominated for a Grammy. That’s just one of several artists who have used the SXSW as a career launching point.

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“It’s something that helps a lot of artists blossom in their careers and a lot of big names now have grown from that, grown from this festival. Chance the Rapper, he really got his momentum going through South-by playing a lot of these shows,” Villarreal said. “South by Southwest is such a big thing for artists is because it puts you into connections with bookers, with agents, with tour managers, with publishers, with record labels. So that's the part that's like, ‘Oh man, I'm missing out on that,’ because it was a good networking opportunity and that's what it needs to be utilized from the artist’s standpoint. So that's what you're kind of missing out on. So it's not so much the money, it's about the opportunities that it enables you to have.”

But Villarreal has seen positivity come out of this situation, as several venues are banding together to ensure musicians are still able to get the exposure a festival like SXSW brings to the table.

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“What I was really disheartened by is I was losing my official showcase but in this, like I've gotten messages from bigger venues who have reached out. So like, I'm opening up for Questlove from the Roots at Empire, which is something that might not have happened before. Houston rapper legend Paul Wall, he's playing on a Friday and they messaged me to open up for him. So it's like venues are asking us to step up and giving us bigger opportunities.”

Villarreal encourages locals to get out and support not only the artists, but the restaurants, rideshare drivers, and everyone affected by the cancellation.

“The big fear was, is like ‘Oh no I'm losing my South by Southwest shows,’ and it's like, ‘Oh no, we got all this stuff lined up and we need you to come through. We need people to come out and shop and go to these restaurants and help out waiters, waitresses, take Ubers, take Lyfts.’ It's the whole community is really coming together and it's cool.”

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According to the city, events larger than 2,500 people are prohibited unless organizers can assure Austin Public Health that mitigation plans for infectious diseases are in place.

To support the artists and venues who may have lost gigs or business because of the SXSW cancellation, you can donate to the “Banding Together” GoFundMe.

For the latest information from the CDC go here