SXSW artist cancels appearance over contract details on immigration

A tweet from a Brooklyn-based musician put the South by Southwest music festival in the middle of the immigration debate on Thursday.

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"After looking through this contract sent to me by sxsw I have decided to cancel Told Slant's performance at the festival," said the tweet, accompanied by a photo reportedly of a portion of the standard contract sent to showcasing artists.

The tweet was shared more than 600 times in two hours. Told Slant followed it with a call for artists to boycott the event, which long has had a large contingent of international showcasing artists.

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South by Southwest managing director Roland Swenson said Thursday afternoon that the language posted to Twitter comes from "two different parts of the artist agreement" that were pasted together to portray what he called "a much worse impression than what is real." He later clarified that although the language appears in two different places on SXSW's official artist agreement, those two sections did appear in sequence on SXSW's invitation letter.

Regarding the lower section that cites rules for international artists entering the country through various non-work visa programs, Swenson said this is simply SXSW "telling the acts what immigration (authorities) would do" if terms of the visa were violated.

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"Most South by Southwest acts are able to perform here on the condition that they're not getting paid and they're not doing any other shows than ours," Swenson said. "That keeps them from having to go through getting a work visa and all that, which is time consuming and expensive."

The upper part of the tweeted image came from a different section of the contract that applies to performers or their representatives who "have acted in ways that adversely affect the viability of their official SXSW showcase."

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Swenson says the potential SXSW actions that follow — including revocation of credentials and hotel reservations, or potentially notifying immigration authorities — might be invoked only "if somebody did something really horrific, like disobey rules about pyrotechnics, starting a brawl, or if they killed somebody." He claimed that SXSW has never had to take the actions cited in the contract, and added that those details have been in the contract for years.

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"In the post-Trump era, it looks different than how it was intended, and how it was received in the past," he continued. "But we've come out strongly against the travel ban, and we've really been going the extra mile to make sure these bands don't get screwed over when they enter the country."

UPDATE: SXSW Official Statement, attributable to Roland Swenson, SXSW CEO and Co-Founder:

SXSW has been vocal in its opposition to President Trump's Travel Ban and is working hard to build a coalition of attorneys to assist artists with issues at U.S. ports of entry during the event. We have artists from 62 countries from around the world performing and have always supported our international music community. We have never reported international showcasing artists to immigration authorities.

We were sorry to learn that one of our invited performers chose to cancel his performance at this year's SXSW Music Festival due to a misunderstanding of our policies regarding international artists.

We understand that given the current political climate surrounding immigration, the language that was published seems strong. Violating U.S. immigration law has always carried potentially severe consequences, and we would be remiss not to warn our participating acts of the likely repercussions.

Language governing SXSW's ability to protect a showcase has been in the artist Performance Agreement for many years. It is, and always was intended to be, a safeguard to provide SXSW with a means to respond to an act that does something truly egregious, such as disobeying our rules about pyrotechnics on stage, starting a brawl in a club, or causing serious safety issues.

The SXSW Performance Agreement states:

If SXSW determines, in its sole discretion, that Artist or its representatives have acted in ways that adversely affect the viability of Artist's official SXSW showcase, the following actions are available to SXSW:

○      Artist will be removed from their official SXSW showcase and, at SXSW's sole option, replaced.

○      Any hotels booked via SXSW Housing will be canceled.

○      Artist's credentials will be canceled.

○      SXSW will notify the appropriate U.S. immigration authorities of the above actions.

We hope never to be put in the position to act on this. Indeed, we spend a great deal of time communicating with international artists concerning numerous issues, including how to avoid issues at U.S. ports of entry.

Moreover, there is language in the Performance Agreement which is included to inform foreign artists that the U.S. immigration authorities have mechanisms to create trouble for artists who ignore U.S. immigration laws. For example, those acts coming to SXSW to perform without a work visa are limited, by U.S. immigration law, to performing their showcase event only. If an artist wishes to perform elsewhere, they will require a work visa.

As such, both to protect SXSW and the interests of all the participating artists, we long ago added this language to our Performance Agreement:

1.4. Foreign Artists entering the country through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), B visa or any non-work visa may not perform at any public or unofficial shows, DAY OR NIGHT, in Austin from March 10-19, 2017. Accepting and performing at unofficial events (including unofficial events aside from SXSW Music dates during their visit to the United States) may result in immediate deportation, revoked passport and denied entry by US Customs Border Patrol at US ports of entry. For more information, please visit these pages:

1.4.1.(B Visa / ESTA)

1.4.2.(Work Visas) 

1.4.3.SXSW general visa FAQ:

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