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Roland Swenson On World Cafe

Roland Swenson.
Rob Patterson
Courtesy of the artist
Roland Swenson.

Roland Swenson is a co-founder and the managing director of the South By Southwest Music Festival. The idea for the festival came in 1986, when organizers of the NYC New Music Seminar contacted Swenson, then a staffer at the alt-weekly paper The Austin Chronicle, about organizing an extension to their festival in Austin. After that fell through, Swenson and others went ahead planning an event themselves and the first SXSW Festival was held 1987. He says they only expected 150 people.

Today it is the largest music festival of its type in the world, with more than 2,200 performers in more than 100 venues. It has also become the biggest revenue-producing event for the Austin economy. The festival has been at the cutting edge of using technology and multimedia to expand its outreach and to attract more guests from outside Austin. In many ways it put Austin on the map worldwide for music, even though the city was once considered not to be in the top 20 music markets. We'll talk with Swenson about the event's history.

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