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No badge required: Buskers bring SXSW vibe to the streets

Staff Writer
Austin 360

By Erin J. Walter

Editor’s note: This article was originally published March 12, 2014

“Do you need a badge to get in?” That’s always the question at South By Southwest. But as corporate sponsors have set higher bars to entry for many high-profile music shows this year, there has also been an added query: “Do I have to own a certain phone or use a special app or do anything weird to get on the list?”

The answer: it depends.

But there’s good news: If all you want to see this week is live music — any live music —you don’t need much. More importantly, you don’t actually have to get in anywhere. Live music is alive and well on the street corners and sidewalks of downtown Austin, with local and visiting performers showcasing themselves without officially participating in SXSW.

The intersection of Sixth and Trinity streets is a great place to start if you’re badgeless. On Tuesday night, solo drummer Rachel Jael had staked out one corner, banging away on white buckets and empty, upside down water cooler jugs. Jael, 24, is in town from Las Vegas for her second SXSW in a row. Why would she make the journey without even an unofficial showcase?

“The people!” Jael said, as masses of music fans rushed past her in all directions. “That’s why I came back. They’re crazy and they’re the best part. If it weren’t for the people, there’d be no music.”

Nonprofit advocacy organization Austin Music People (AMP) is working to ensure performers like Jael aren’t hassled when they’re in town.

“Though street performing, also known as busking, is not illegal in Austin, our artists continue to be cited for soliciting, panhandling, and loitering while performing in public spaces,” reads an AMP petition, currently being circulated in support of busking. “Austin Music People believes in a city where our public spaces remain open to grassroots culture and artistic expression.” (AMP plans to present the petition to city staff before the next City of Austin Music Commission meeting on April 7.)

Also this week, not far from Rachel Jael, Brooklyn band Moon Hooch has been performing, not in a Sixth Street club but on the street itself. The trio, two saxophonists and a drummer, have an official showcase at Holy Mountain on Friday but are in town for a whopping nine days and busking for much of that time.

While you’re strolling the streets of downtown, also keep an eye out for a violinist in a wolf mask and Mr. Bone Tangles, a lip-syncing skeleton marionette.

And of course, there’s always the many non-conference clubs vying for customers. The Lodge has been sending an employee into the street holding a large, plain, black-and-white sign that reads simply: “FREE LIVE MUSIC NO BADGE NEEDED.”