Alt-Weeklies’ Four-Letter Festivals: Movement Grows as Silicon Valley Launches C2SV

When the Austin Chronicle started South by Southwest in 1987 (attendance that year: 700), there was no way its founders could have foreseen that it would become the world’s largest multi-venue music festival, along with conferences that would help define the digital media and film industries.

In 2012, the festival contributed $190 million in economic impact to the Austin, Texas area, according to a Greyhill Advisors economic impact study commissioned by SXSW, and becoming the “single most profitable event for the City of Austin’s hospitality industry” by generating more than 50,000 booking nights for Austin-area hotels.

SXSW’s success has spawned a movement that is now helping alternative weekly publishers replace traditional revenue sources and become major economic forces in their communities.

NXNE, launched by Toronto’s Now Magazine in 1995, has become one of Canada’s largest festivals. In 2012 it showcased 810 musical performers and drew 330,000 attendees, according to organizers. The festival runs seven days and nights, with events encompassing music, film, interactive, comedy and art and an estimated annual economic impact of $50 million for the city of Toronto.

Willamette Week owners Mark Zusman and Richard Meeker started North by Northwest in 1995 as a joint venture with South by Southwest. In 2001, Willamette Week became the sole organizer and renamed it MusicfestNW. MFNW has become the United States’ third largest indoor music festival, with more than 150 bands across 18 Portland music venues and an outdoor concert in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square.

MFNW organizers say 34,000 attendees showed up for the 2012 festival, and the four-day TechFestNW now includes a hackfest and aerial drone competition in addition to the usual menu of panel discussions on digital media.

Metro Silicon Valley last year organized the Silicon Valley Sound Experience and converted it to Creative Convergence Silicon Valley (C2SV) this year with the addition of a three-day technology conference. Drawing on the local technology community, the conference will feature keynotes by video game pioneer Nolan Bushnell, digital journalist Robert Scoble and social media expert Brian Solis as well as executives from such companies as Ebay, Samsung, Amazon and dozens of newer companies involved in everything from drone crafts to fertility apps.

C2SV will take place Sept. 26 to 29 in San Jose, California. Iggy and the Stooges will headline a Saturday night concert with San Francisco’s Thee Oh Sees and the Bosnian Rainbows from El Paso, Texas.

In a uniquely Silicon Valley twist, the Stooges’ James Williamson will speak at the technology conference in a session moderated by former SF Weekly columnist Jack Boulware. The guitarist, a key influence on the Sex Pistols and Nirvana, traded his platform boots and eye shadow for a technology career in the 1980s, working as an executive at AMD and Sony. Williamson rejoined the band after 30 years when he was offered an early retirement package by Sony during its 2009 workforce reductions.

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