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SXSW Forever 27: The Community Responds & The City Reviews

by: Joe Deshotel

Tue Mar 25, 2014 at 02:18 PM CDT

The Events that took place during SXSW 2014 entered the festival into a dark but elite club known as "Forever 27." A group whose members saw untimely death come in their 27th year. For SXSW though, it is an opportunity to reflect on the events that transpired leaving at least 3 dead and how the iconic festival can continue to grow with the city without future incident.

Like the festival itself the news of the tragedy was international as well was the outpouring of community support for the victims and their families. Blood, money and fellowship were among the many ways Austin and the patrons of SXSW have shown their respects to the victims and their friends and families. City officials are also looking at public safety policies regarding large scale events of which Austin has many, and local music promoters and fans are organizing efforts that will keep the momentum of recovery going.

More below the jump...

One measure of that community support are the donations made to SXSWcares, a fund started through Austin Community Foundation that has so far reported $160,000 in donations. I spoke with Robin Bradford the Director of Communications for Austin Community Foundation who hosts the donation page with regular updates on its website. Bradford said the fund was started in response to communications with several entities closely involved including SXSW and the Mohawk.

There are many unaffiliated groups and organizations hosting and throwing their own benefits but ACF is raising money to help victims families with expenses not covered by the Crime Victims Compensation Program through the Texas Attorney General's office.

The American Red Cross set up an Emotional Support Center for victims, witnesses and SXSW staff and volunteers affected by the events. The ARC had licensed volunteer counselors working with those who requested help. They were also present at the vigil organized by Be Kind To Cyclists that included a short bike ride and the placing of a "ghost bike" near the site of the crash that killed a cyclist who was one of the three fatalities.

I spoke with Cindy Rowe, Public Relations Manager of The Blood and Tissue Center of Central Texas about the blood drive that also took place in the immediate aftermath of the incident. Many SXSW goers are used to standing in line, but not for the purposes of giving blood. She told me that at one point the wait was 2 hours and the Center responded to the demand by bringing in its mobile unit to help cut down on the wait time. In the two days following the accident the center saw 200 and 250 donations respectfully.

She said that because blood has a shelf life her main goal was to keep individuals donating regularly but that often people respond to news headlines that bring attention to high profile accidents. She said the Center was able to respond the the hospitals demand, but that it "depleted their supply" so they welcomed the rush of donations.

It seems like Austin is a city that won't let anything slow its growth and as such members of the live music community are looking for ways to move forward themselves while continuing to pay their respects to those immediately affected. The site where the incident occurred happens to be in front of the popular music venue Mohawk that sits as an anchor of the Red River Cultural District. Transmission Events who hosts many high profile shows at the Mohawk and others including Fun Fun Fun Fest have taken a lead role in making sure that the live music community is doing everything it can to raise money for victims and provide a united voice and home for those who want to show their support.

Transmission Events' General Manager Bobby Garza said they are responding to the tragedy that happened at their doorstep the only way they know how -- bringing folks together.

"Like many folks in town, Red River is home to us, and we have family all up and down the Red River Cultural District.  Transmission is playing a part helping coordinate the efforts where we can through these relationships.  In the coming days, we hope to announce a coordinated effort with everyone that's reached out to us wanting to help.  We think that getting everyone together and focusing our efforts will yield the most effective results.  In the end, our primary concern is raising as much money for the victims and their families as possible.  We're making great progress, we just need to keep the momentum alive now that activity in town has slowed down."

Councilman Mike Martinez has been a champion of the live music community and before the incident his office was already working on a special events ordinance that would include the permitting process for event and promotion companies. This Thursday the Council will vote on a resolution he sponsored that will direct the City Manager to do a post-event evaluation of SXSW that will serve as a guide for major festivals in general. It will work with stakeholders and look at the way SXSW impacts the lives of Austinites who may not be attending the festival. Martinez assured KVUE that SXSW had not "outgrown" Austin but that the city could always improve on how it handles major events. He also told me in a statement that,

"SXSW was bigger and more intense this year than it's ever been.  You won't find a bigger fan of the success that SXSW has had and the spotlight it brings to Austin, Texas.  While we celebrate those successes, we cannot let that success become our failure.  As a City co-sponsored event, we have a vested interest in coordinating the city services related to SXSW and we want to do everything we can to make the event a success in future years."

In context with the deadly events and the response by the community he said, "SXSW Cares is the ultimate representation of how this community rallies around each other." That seems to be the theme no matter who I talked to. From first responders, to event promoters and city officials, the only answer is to come together and make our city a better, safer, stronger community. I believe that sentiment was best summed up by Bristel Bradford from the American Red Cross when she said, "there is therapy in being together."

You can follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.

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