Day after tragic accident, SXSW marches on (mostly) as planned

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Image Credit: Austin American-Statesman, Rodolfo Gonzalez/AP Pho

The second night of Austin’s South By Southwest music conference was marred early Thursday morning by a tragic accident that left two dead and 23 more people injured, but for most people, the rest of the festival carried on as business as usual.

The car accident that occurred around 12:30 a.m. early this morning outside of the Mohawk — a venue located on Red River Street, in a part of downtown that’s high on traffic even without a sprawling multi-faceted festival on its hands — cast a gloomy shadow on the city as word of the incident spread on social media.

“I checked into the Mohawk on Facebook last night but left before the accident,” said Leyla Lacheri, a festival attendee who was visiting from New York but originally hails from Austin, where she was a member of the city’s tight-knit music community. “When I woke up, I had like 200 messages from people wondering if I was okay.”

“It’s crazy,” said Elise Lindstrand, another longtime Austinite. “I was there with a bunch of friends right before it happened, and all these people started calling and texting me right after it happened. Everyone I know here was freaking out, making sure everyone they know is okay.” (One of the two fatalities has been identified as an Austin resident; the other was visiting from the Netherlands. Among the injured were people from a variety of cities.)

Despite the accident’s initial shock, however, the festival has largely soldiered on as planned. Events that had been scheduled during the day at Mohawk and the connected venue next door Cheer Up Charlie’s were canceled, but SXSW officials confirmed that the rest of the festivities would continue at the venues in time for Thursday night’s showcases. (Both Mohawk and Cheer Up have started a fund for the victims.) Aside from a smattering of confused festival-goers waiting outside of the Mohawk, most badge- and wristband-holders spent their day on curbs waiting in line at scores of other SXSW venues, where music and beer was in plentiful supply.

As for the Austin Police Department, Senior Police Officer Veneza Bremmer told EW, “We continue to work with SXSW and other City of Austin Departments [to ensure safety].”

The statement from SXSW officials echoed the sentiment. “After talking with the Austin Police Department, we have determined that the most prudent course of action is to move forward with the SXSW shows scheduled at the Mohawk and Cheer Up Charlie’s tonight,” said festival founder Roland Swenson. “If we were to turn away potentially thousands of people who will arrive to see the shows, it would create a serious safety issue.”

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