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SXSW Canceled as Austin Mayor Declares Local Disaster Over Coronavirus

SXSW
Hubert Vestil/Getty Images for SXSW

The 2019 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Auditorium Shores on March 16, 2019 in Austin, Texas.

This is the first time in the music conference’s 34-year history it has canceled the entire annual event.

South by Southwest has been canceled, following a press conference Friday (March 6) where Austin Mayor Steve Adler declared a local disaster due to concerns over the coronavirus.

The annual music conference was scheduled March 13-22. This is the first time SXSW's 34-year history it has canceled the entire annual event.

During Adler’s press conference Friday, he said, "I am proud that we are making decisions that are data driven.” But he also expressed regret about the action, adding, "It is really unfortunate to be cancelling SXSW. It is really important to our city."

Last year, city officials estimated that South by Southwest had a $356 million economic impact on the city of Austin.

Adler added that no confirmed cases of coronavirus had been detected in the Texas capital city and noted, “there is no emergency in our city today other than needing to plan and be prepared.”

“Based on the recommendation of our public health officer and our director of public health, and after consultation with the city manager, I have gone ahead and declared a local disaster in the city,” Adler said. “And associated with that, have issued an order that effectively cancels SXSW for this year.”

Austin emergency medicine director Dr. Mark Escott, who also spoke at the press conference, said the city would be evaluating unsanctioned non-SXSW events on a case-by-case basis.

Following the mayor's announcement, SXSW issued a statement on its website saying it would follow the City’s directions.

"We are devastated to share this news with you," the statement reads. "'The show must go on' is in our DNA, and this is the first time in 34 years that the March event will not take place. We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation.

"As recently as Wednesday, Austin Public Health stated that 'there's no evidence that closing SXSW or any other gatherings will make the community safer.' However, this situation evolved rapidly, and we honor and respect the City of Austin’s decision. We are committed to do our part to help protect our staff, attendees, and fellow Austinites."

The SXSW statement also said organizers are exploring options to reschedule the event and are working to provide a virtual SXSW online experience -- starting with its SXSW EDU education-based programming.

"We understand the gravity of the situation for all the creatives who utilize SXSW to accelerate their careers; for the global businesses; and for Austin and the hundreds of small businesses -- venues, theatres, vendors, production companies, service industry staff, and other partners that rely so heavily on the increased business that SXSW attracts," the statement continued. "We will continue to work hard to bring you the unique events you love. Though it’s true that our March 2020 event will no longer take place in the way that we intended, we continue to strive toward our purpose -- helping creative people achieve their goals."

The news came after another day of cancellations for the annual music conference that included news longtime presenter BMI was pulling out of the Austin, Texas, event.

A statement on the performing rights organization's website read, "Out of an abundance of caution, BMI has decided to cancel its planned events at this year’s SXSW Festival. The health and safety of our team members and our songwriters is of paramount importance, and we regret any inconvenience this may cause. We look forward to showcasing our songwriters’ incredible music next year at SXSW 2021. BMI hosts several different types of events throughout the year and we will continue to evaluate those on a case-by-case basis.”

Billboard learned Friday that Complex also canceled its Pigeons and Planes showcase event at the Empire Control Room, while Austin startup incubator Capital Factory announced it was canceling plans to sponsor its event during the Interactive portion of SXSW. Earlier this week, Facebook, Apple, Twitter and more than a dozen other companies announced they were pulling out of the event.

As of Friday, there have been more than 98,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 3,400 people have died from contracting the virus, which has spread to 88 countries since the outbreak began at the end of 2019.

Several major live music events have been canceled in the wake of the spreading virus including Tomorrowland Winter in France, Ultra Abu Dhabi and the 21st edition of Ultra’s flagship dance music festival in Miami. Concerts and tours have been canceled or postponed by Stormzy, Khalid, BTS, Green Day, Avril Lavigne, Yungblud, Maluma, Luis Tomlinson and more.