Essentially, South by Southwest is a weeklong social experiment in FOMO.
No matter how carefully you curate your schedule, you’re going to miss out on something because there’s just too much happening. And that’s where the surprise element of SXSW plays its part: Hearsay rumors that could be true or false are passed from person to person in drink lines, toilet lines and entrance lines, until everyone in the city is anxiously awaiting a tweet that either confirms or denies their suspicion.
Sometimes those rumors become a reality, which was the case in 2011: Jack White performed an impromptu set in a parking lot, Death From Above 1979 performed a surprise show and Kanye West brought Jay Z out during his G.O.O.D. Music Showcase.
However, most of the time those rumors never come true: There was no surprise Daft Punk performance in 2013, no Outkast performance in 2014 and no Drake performance in 2015. Normally, gossip like that would be immediately dismissed, but that’s the allure of SXSW: the most outrageous rumors could be just as true as they are false.
“At my first SXSW in 2001, I got a ‘hot tip’ that the Beastie Boys were going to join Mix Master Mike at La Zona Rosa for a secret show,” Craig Hlavaty wrote for The Houston Press back in 2012. “So of course being the 17-year-old I was at the time, I walked from the UT campus all the way to the venue, only to be saddened to see that no one was there at all.”
“In 2008 word spread that Talib Kweli was going to perform a secret show at the Red Bull Moontower Party,” Mark Collins wrote for The Huffington Post. “So a buddy and me hung around ’til 4 a.m. swilling energy drinks and vodka but he never showed up.”
“As a result, we were so skeptical of Kanye West showing up at the Levi’s/Fader Fort in 2009 that we left the party a mere 30 minutes before he went onstage. I’m not terribly upset about missing Kanye, but from eyewitness accounts, when he brought Common, Kid Cudi and Erykah Badu on stage with him the entire Fader Fort was instant VIP.”
In 2012, there were rumors that the then-reunited At The Drive-In might perform during SXSW before their highly-anticipated headlining set at Coachella. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, the driving force behind the band, was in town for the premier of his film “Los Chidos,” so it was plausible.
Unfortunately it never happened and I was distraught. And sure, I saw them a month later at the now-defunct Red 7. But at that moment, all I knew was that At The Drive-In wasn’t putting on a surprise show and no amount of free Doritos Locos Tacos could make me feel better.
Who’s spinning the rumor mill in 2016? At The Drive-In (again), considering they’re embarking on another reunion tour, as well as writing new music; Guns N’ Roses, although the guys are asking seven figures a show nowadays; LCD Soundsystem because they’ll be performing at Coachella and touring shortly after; and Weezer, since “The White Album” will be coming out later this year, along with a summer tour in support of its release.
Regardless, always remember: Whenever SXSW happens, anything and everything is possible.