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Some sour notes as SXSW 2011 closes

Ricardo Gandara

Like a beast unleashed, South by Southwest took over downtown Austin the past 10 days, and the music portion ended Saturday night with thousands of furious fans "uninvited" to a Kanye West concert at Seaholm rumored to have some high-profile guests.

But first there was a mishap before OMD's 1 a.m. Saturday show at Stubb's when a falling camera boom sent four audience members to the hospital.

"We did not know about this video shoot," said SXSW executive director Roland Swenson. About 400 crews do video shoots at venues throughout the conference, but the one at Stubb's "didn't come through our process."

EMS officials said four people, whose injuries were not considered life-threatening, were taken by ambulance to University Medical Center Brackenridge for treatment.

"This is our 25th year, and we've never had anyone permanently injured," Swenson said. He called the accident "disheartening."

Steve Madden, a shoe company from New York, sponsored the show at Stubb's, and Madden hired On Slot to do the video shoot. The company did not return a call Saturday seeking comment.

Also creating a public relations blunder at this fest where attention is divine was music video company Vevo, which made a public apology Saturday after several thousand fans who'd been confirmed as invitees to Vevo's Kanye West party at Seaholm were sent texts that said they were no longer on the list.

One of those jilted was Austin hip-hop artist M.C. Overlord, who said, "It's pretty poor to come to our city and disrespect fans like that," a sentiment echoed thousands of times on Twitter.

A statement from Vevo said the party organizers were "asked by the Austin Police Department" to limit the number of confirmations.

People started lining up at midnight Friday for the event, which drew speculation all week about whether stars such as Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Rihanna would also perform.

The conference, which follows the interactive and film segments of SXSW, started off Tuesday in a more conscientious mood, coming just days after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and a tsunami rocked Japan.

That country led the international influx to SXSW more than 20 years ago with the wildly popular Japan Nite showcases.

In a booth on the fourth floor of the Austin Convention Center, a small TV showed a live streaming news program from Tokyo, so attendees from Japan could keep up with the devastation back home. A basket on the table was filled with five-, 10- and 20-dollar bills.

In flashy contrast, the first floor of the convention center housed hundreds of big-screen TVs showing bands performing or commercials for new soft drinks or the newest social media technologies.

Concern for Japan's woes was often overshadowed by a glitzy sea of visiting celebrities, including Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Jodie Foster, Michael Stipe, Yoko Ono, Kid Rock, P. Diddy and the Foo Fighters, who played a surprise show at Stubb's on Tuesday.

The party started earlier than usual this year with the interactive segment, which attracted 19,000 registrants vs. 14,000 for music and which brought in major acts such as Big Boi, Yeasayer, and Matt and Kim to play parties.

This year's SXSW "was largely successful, but it's been a bumpy ride," Swenson said.

Before the injuries at Stubb's early Saturday, Swenson and his crew had to contend with a throng of barricade-crashing fans who stormed the stage when the Strokes started playing a free set Thursday night at Auditorium Shores.

Michael Mansfield, 44, and his 22-year-old daughter had waited in line at 6 a.m. to get front and center for the Strokes, but when the crowd surged forward during the opening number, Mansfield said, "I though we were going to get trampled to death."

Mansfield said he saw people being pulled out of the crush.

Swenson agreed that the crowds are getting out of hand but said, "It's really out of our control."

Although SXSW runs 92 stages during the fest, many more unofficial venues have popped up in recent years. Corporate-funded parties such as the Fader Fort by Fiat in East Austin and Rachael Ray's Feedback party at Stubb's on Saturday allow the public to RSVP, which had made SXSW a spring-break destination for college kids and young adults looking for the party.

"We're in the minority," Swenson said of official SXSW registrants and wristband-wearers. "We've become way outnumbered by everyone else. There's this mentality to come to Austin and get as much free food and free beer and free music as possible. It's been growing every year."

Swenson said the Strokes show, where thousands were turned away after Auditorium Shores reached capacity (20,000), was put on, in part, as a special 25th anniversary show for locals. Levi's paid the Strokes to play.

"The band wanted to play a big outdoor show, but I think it was a combination of St. Patrick's Day, perfect weather and a hot band" that drew such a large crowd, Swenson said.

As SXSW lurched toward its conclusion Saturday night, packed clubs and long lines were reported all over town, even before 8 p.m. At most music festivals there's a capacity, but because SXSW happens at 200 venues all over town, there isn't one. But has SXSW reached it?

Automobile and human gridlock attest to a once-humble music industry event turning into the party of the year.