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Ever-larger music festival comes to an end on a cold day in Austin

Michael Corcoran

What a difference 40 degrees makes.

After three days of perfect spring weather, Saturday's rain, wind and cold temperatures, which dipped into the 30s, seemed to be nature's way of telling South by Southwest-goers they've been having too much fun. But although some outdoor events, such as Uchi's "East Meets Fest," were canceled and the free Auditorium Shores concert headlined by She & Him was shortened because of wet conditions, the party rolled on in the leather weather.

Actor Matthew McConaughey tried to put a bright spin on Saturday when, introducing Mishka at Rachael Ray's third annual Feedback party at Stubb's, he said, "The sun might be up there behind the clouds, but onstage, it's a warm 72 degrees and s-s-s-sunny."

But the wind chill was definitely a factor for the South Congress and East Austin day party scenes, which didn't resemble the madhouses of the previous three days.

For indoor venues, such as the Continental Club, the opposite was true, with a long line of freezing folks waiting to get inside for Mojo Nixon's Mayhem.

Although there were no surprise acts to quite match the superstar wattage of last year's performances by Metallica and Kanye West, Mos Def was scheduled to headline a Red Bull party Saturday in a big parking lot at Fourth and Colorado streets, and Snoop Dogg was scheduled to rap at the Perez Hilton shindig about 10 blocks away.

The toughest ticket of the fest was probably to see British band Muse, which brought its arena light show to the 2,100-capacity Stubb's on Friday. Just hours earlier on the same stage, Courtney Love unveiled her new Hole lineup at the Spin party.

With Sixth and Red River streets packed with revelers all day and night, SXSW could be called Fat Wednesday-through-Saturday.

But the reach of SXSW continues to expand beyond the downtown entertainment and warehouse districts to the east and far north. The block of Waller Street that separated the Levi's Fader Fort from the fourth annual Mess With Texas Party was overrun with thousands of fans. Even Williamson County got into the action this year, with the Armadillo Fest in Taylor providing a live music option that didn't include horrendous traffic and long waits in line.

"It's gotten out of control," said Austin attorney Mark McCrimmon, who has been to all 24 SXSW fests. "I think they need to ramp it down a little. It took me 20 minutes just to drive five blocks."

Today is the calm after the storm, when empty lots and barren buildings lose all the desirability they've had over the past four days.

Blocks that had lines around them Saturday go back to being nondescript. Best of all, the street barricades have been disassembled and carted away.

South by Southwest wore us out, in ways both good and bad, but the party of the year was not without sadness. Saturday night at Antone's, South by Southwest wrapped up the official portion with a memorial concert that had originally been planned as a triumphant return.

Before Smokey Robinson's keynote speech Thursday morning, SXSW creative director Brent Grulke announced that the festival of 1,900 official acts from 55 countries would be dedicated to Alex Chilton, formerly of the Boxtops and Big Star, who had died of an apparent heart attack in New Orleans the day before.

Although Chilton's fame was limited to a dedicated cult following, many of those aware of his influence in the world of indie rock were at SXSW.

In addition to Saturday night's tribute concert at Antone's in the slot that Big Star was slated to play, countless bands covered Chilton songs throughout the fest, and Cheap Trick dedicated "Sleep Forever," "Heaven Tonight" and "That '70s Song" (a reworking of Big Star's "In The Street") to his memory at Friday's free Auditorium Shores concert.

Can the party periphery still be called the fringe when it's grown bigger than the official event? While the number of badge-wearing registrants rose slightly to 13,022 from 11,687, the rise in the number of daytime parties was more pronounced.

Such corporations as Harley-Davidson, which threw a party at Club DeVille on Saturday, and Taco Bell, which co-sponsored daily parties at the Pure Volume House downtown, are discovering that having a presence at SXSW is a form of hip alignment.

With its slogan of "Tomorrow Happens Here," SXSW is a place where future stars make their name. Acts that built up their buzz this year included Local Natives, V.V. Brown, Free Energy, the Unthanks, Anita Tijoux and the xx .

The Austin band the Octopus Project certainly upped its national profile with its "Hexadecagon" sensual fiesta of eight speakers and eight video projections surrounding the band underneath a tent in the parking lot of Whole Foods on Friday night.

But such veteran performers as 70-year-old Smokey Robinson and Tejano legend Little Joe Hernandez set out to show the kids how it's done with wildly received sets.

Ranging from heavy metal and thrash punk to blues, folk singers and hip-hop, there's not a more diverse music festival in the world.

Not everyone was satisfied with the SXSW experience, however.

Sound problems were persistent, which is understandable considering the incredible breadth of production required to equip 89 official stages, but continued snafus during the BellRays' set Thursday night had singer Lisa Kekaula screaming to get the attention of the sound man.

"You just witnessed our last South by Southwest showcase," Kekaula announced at the end of the set.

We'll see.

(They all come back.)

mcorcoran@statesman.com

Additional material from staff writers Addie Broyles and Patrick Beach.