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Lines and some sad news on day one of SXSW

Michael Corcoran
Nathan Singleton, left, Roger Greenawalt, center, and the Eggmen play SXSW. Greenawalt is trying to play every Beatles song on ukulele during two days of day parties for the music festival.

With the growing film and interactive components of South by Southwest serving as opening acts, the music portion of SXSW took over as headliner Wednesday, with live music pumping all over town before noon and barricaded downtown streets overflowing with music lovers. It was a party that couldn't wait to get started, especially because it coincided with St. Patrick's Day.

But the mood took a somber turn by evening when the news hit that Alex Chilton, whose show with Big Star on Saturday was expected to be a SXSW highlight, died Wednesday of an apparent heart attack at 59.

That SXSW keeps getting crazier earlier was apparent in various neighborhoods, especially in East and South Austin, which don't have many official SXSW showcases but hosted day parties attracting thousands.

The rock 'n' roll caste system still lives, however. For the Paste magazine party at the Galaxy Room on Sixth Street, there were long lines all day of people with no music business affiliation but who had sent an RSVP, while badgeholders were waved in within minutes. Lines also were lengthy at another of the fest's big parties, the Levi's Fader Fort on the east side. And in both locations, the party got started Tuesday night, which has become the unofficial kickoff to the music fest.

For the first time, the Austin Music Awards will be Saturday, the last day of the festival, instead of Wednesday. The winners, including musician of the year Bob Schneider, are listed in this week's Austin Chronicle.

Officials confirmed the swell in crowds hitting town, even though paid registration for interactive surpassed music for the first time. Hugh Forrest, director of interactive, said the fest doesn't have an official head-count yet, but the previously reported 40 percent increase for the tech conference apparently will stand. Organizers had estimated the film fest's growth at about 25 percent over 2009. Music registration is expected to remain flat, but Forrest says that doesn't include the many bands in town who don't register. Including those, music is still a bigger draw, Forrest said.

Staff writer Omar Gallaga contributed to this report.