Businessman Pete Turner will spend $20,000 on a two-night live-music showcase at the South by Southwest festival this weekend in Austin, Texas — even though Illegal Pete's, his Colorado-grown chain of burrito shops, is a long way out from plans to open a location in that state.
"We're a couple years away from growing out of state, 18 months at least, but Austin is one of the markets we're looking at," Turner said as he prepped for the second annual Illegal Pete's Starving Artist Showcase on Friday and Saturday. "It's not as measurable as some of the other marketing things we could be doing. But it seems like the right thing to do. It fits well with our key demographic. And I'm passionate about it."
The music portion of the annual South by Southwest festival, which starts today in the Texas capital, has grown into an unruly, multiheaded beast — and Colorado's presence in the international gathering is bigger than ever. More than 30 Colorado bands are making the trip, and three Colorado-organized parties — including the Denver Post-sponsored Reverb Party on Saturday — will represent the 303 at the live-music mecca.
Being a part of the always trendy, always crowded SXSW is far from easy. Everything is at a premium, from venues and gear to flights and hotels. For businesses and bands, it takes a leap of faith to make the trip. Will people see your showcase? Will they hear your music? There are no guarantees.
Will the gamble be worth $20,000?
"That's what we keep asking ourselves," said Turner, whose showcase is filled with nearly 20 bands, all of which are from Colorado. "But I'm happy to do it. It shows our commitment to the local music and arts community."
For George O'Neill and his crew at Breckenridge Brewery, their investment — as a sponsor of the Reverb Party — is a logical one, he said.
"Texas is our second-biggest market after Colorado," said O'Neill, the brewery's director of sales. "In Colorado, we've made a conscious effort to carve out strategic partnerships with Live Nation and AEG and, on a smaller lever, the Gothic and Hi-Dive and Sputnik. The crossover between craft beer and the live music scene is real. And it's good for us to hit the demographic that we need to hit.
"When an opportunity came up in Texas to sign onto an event that was a live music event but also had a Colorado slant, it was an easy decision to make."
These weighty decisions aren't limited to Colorado businesspeople. The bands, too, must weigh the pros and cons before wading into the saturated festival, which each March hosts thousands of bands — those that are official showcase artists as well as unofficial, here-to-party musicians.
Denver rock act the Epilogues will be in Austin this week for their fifth SXSW, and this year they're running a smarter festival than in the past. They're sharing a bus down to Texas with friends and other bands, splitting the estimated $800 in gas. They're sharing a house, too, divvying up the $1,200 rental fee. Instead of playing five or six shows, they're playing two carefully selected gigs — including the first night of the Starving Artist Showcase.
"Last year was the first year it actually made sense for us to be down there from a business perspective," said drummer Jason Hoke. "It's great to go down there and play and see the Denver scene down there — the presence of the Denver scene is just huge. But from a business perspective, it made no sense for us to be down there before last year."
The band should be better rested this time around — having a house is often a luxury for bands at SXSW.
"In the past, we've also tried to avoid expenses by sleeping in the van and not eating," Hoke said. "It can quickly turn into a very miserable trip that way."
Ricardo Baca: 303-954-1394, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/bruvs