The vast majority of the estimated 200,000 people who flocked to Austin for this year's South by Southwest festival played nice, patiently lining up to see buzz bands and keeping any drunken impulses under control. But a few people didn't -- including at least two of the performers -- which contributed to a more menacing air at the festival than in past years: The crowd broke down a fence at the free Strokes show at Auditorium Shores, and police arrested two and used pepper spray on unruly crowdmembers at a Death From Above 1979 show, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Speaking personally, this reporter experienced more street harassment on Thursday night (St. Patrick's Day) than in an entire year in Brooklyn, and was grabbed my a male audience member at an otherwise peaceful TV on the Radio show.
While the most well-publicized accident at the festival involved a boom crane falling into the crowd at OMD's Stubbs concert Friday night, injuring four people, there were several less-accidental incidents:
- The music festival got off to an inauspicious start Wednesday when Tyler the Creator of Odd Future tweeted that during rehearsals for the MTVu Woodie Awards, he bodyslammed a "dude in a chicken suit" and "f---ed his arm up. Really Bad."
- At the free Strokes show on Thursday night, crowdmembers pushed down a fence and stormed towards the stage. Though the riverfront park where they performed held 25,000 people, even more showed up for the concert, toppling the barricades and rushing past security.
- Saturday afternoon, Trash Talk's set at the Fader Fort led to a violent "circle pit," as bottles and trash cans were flung at the crowd and audience members scrambled to escape.
- in another incident of questionable performer behavior, Ben Weasel of Screeching Weasel allegedly assaulted two women during the band's show on Friday, after one woman reportedly sprayed him with liquid or ice and another, a club co-owner, attempted to break up the altercation.
- On Saturday night, a reunited Death From Above 1979 caused a riot during a show at Beauty Bar. Fans kept out the show climbed fences and fought with police, including throwing bottles at police horses; two people were arrested and police used pepper spray to disperse the crowd, according to the American-Statesman.
SXSW Managing Director Roland Swenson issued the following statement:
"SXSW has had an excellent safety record over the history of its 25 annual events, and it's unfortunate that a handful of unfortunate incidents have overshadowed the 400+ shows this year that did not have problems. There is a growing trend at large festivals for unruly groups to tear down the fence and stampede, and that happened for the first time at SXSW this year. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries at those two [Strokes and Death From Above] shows.
"There have been inaccurate reports in the press that SXSW is planning to work with the City of Austin to limit free events next year. SXSW has long offered a number of fun and exciting free-to-the-public events for the Austin community, and will continue to do so. Other groups will undoubtedly also present free events during SXSW.
"The confusion was caused by comments by SXSW regarding the fact that the City of Austin has recently amended the permitting process for all outdoor, temporary music events. This new ordinance will create more scrutiny in the planning stages and place a priority on public safety. That process began in February and was not fully in effect for SXSW 2011. Next year, the process will be more comprehensive and will create safer outdoor events.
SXSW has a constructive year round working relationship with the Austin Police Department and dozens of other City departments, and a dialogue has begun on ways to curb incidents next year."
Billboard's call to the Austin Police Department for comment was not returned at presstime, but Police Chief Art Acevdeo told the American Statesman, "People got out of hand -- it's not like 100 people got hurt, but we did a good job of responding. We want to be proactive, not reactive." Acevedo said he wants to create a SXSW security master plan next year that includes a site plan pre-approved by the department for each showcase and independent events.