SXSW crowd increase raises safety concerns

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South By Southwest witnessed a handful of small disasters that shook the machinery of the festival, which draws thousands of visitors to Austin every March. Problems at this year’s SXSW included concert-goers tearing down fences at both Auditorium Shores after the Strokes concert on Friday and at Beauty Bar during the reunion of Canadian band Death From Above 1979 on Saturday. “On the way out of Auditorium Shores, we tore down a fence trying to get out the same way we came in,” said advertising junior Tripp Jakovich. “When we arrived, they were letting people in and security was not crazy, but when we left it was as if there was a fence there that wasn’t there before. We took it down so everyone could be free.” When Death From Above 1979 reunited to play their first show in five years, the Beauty Bar’s backyard space reached capacity more than two hours before the band hit the stage. The concert, open only to SXSW badge-holders, drew a line that stretched down the alley, where an additional crowd of about 100 onlookers without badges gathered. When the band began playing, the number of onlookers increased. The SXSW organizers and venue staff attempted to handle the situation with the assistance of only one police officer, but when the crowd began tearing down the fence, the lone police officer threatened the crowd with her taser and SXSW staff used pepper spray on the masses. The Austin Police Department called in eight mounted police to repeatedly charge down the alley and clear a path. “SXSW is too big for its britches,” said freelance journalist Chris Weingarten, who has been visiting Austin for the festival for three years. “Even medium-level shows are packed, the restaurants are impossible, and Sixth Street is a mess. It’s just unfun.” Weingarten, who has written for Spin Magazine, said he will not be coming back next year because of the crowds and intensity of the festival. “People have been complaining that SXSW has gotten too big since 1991,” said SXSW Managing Director Roland Swenson. Swenson said he resents the festival’s name being dragged through the mud. Problems from fringe events put on by corporate brands reflect poorly on the festival although they are not officially sanctioned, he said. “SXSW badge-holders and wristband-wearers are generally well-behaved,” Swenson said. “The problems were caused by a small group of troublemakers.” APD Cpl. Anthony Hipolito said despite these incidents, the event was a success from a police perspective. “Planning for SXSW had been going on for a long while, and it paid off,” Hipolito said. “There were only 47 arrests Thursday through Saturday of SXSW, and the arrest rates for each day were less than those during Mardi Gras weekend.” The Department arrested 52 people during Mardi Gras weekend.