TBT: SXSW ’94 featured Johnny Cash, Charles Manson arguments, an abundance of ‘schmoozing’

Marisa Charpentier

The eighth annual South by Southwest conference featured Johnny Cash, a Charles Manson controversy and plenty of “schmoozing,” according to a March 1994 article in The Daily Texan,  

In the article, staff writer Chris Riemenschneider gave a review of the 1994 SXSW convention. He called SXSW a place for record executives, journalists, musicians and public relations workers to “find avenues to sell their products or themselves; and, most importantly, kiss each others’ asses.” 

Cash kicked off the event with a keynote address. According to the article, Cash said he was interested in coming to SXSW since the first one took place in 1987. 

“It’s very stimulating for a songwriter to come to Austin for [SXSW],” Cash said in his speech. 

According to the article, Austin City council member Max Nofziger later gave Cash the key to the city and declared March 17, 1994, “Johnny Cash Day.” 

Riemenschneider wrote that panel discussions took place throughout the week, including “Alternatives to MTV,” “Why is My Record Not in the Stores?” and — most contentiously — “Helter Skelter.” 

The “Helter Skelter” panel focused on Charles Manson, a musician and a criminal found guilty for the murders of seven people in the ’60s. The panel discussed the newfound popularity of Manson that was occurring in the music industry at the time. 

Marilyn Manson, a singer whose stage name is based on the imprisoned Manson, attended the panel and offered an explanation for the increased popularity.

“[Charles Manson’s] anti-authority messages are things which kids can identify with today,” Marilyn Manson told the panel. 

Riemenschneider noted that the audience did not receive the discussion well. He wrote that panel members experienced hostility from audience members who believed the people involved in the panel “were cashing in on an evil man.”

One audience member asked, “How can stabbing someone in the back 65 times be looked up to?”

Aside from the panels, the article said over 500 bands performed SXSW shows that year. The 1994 event was the first to incorporate an additional component called the “SXSW Film and Multimedia Conference.”

Now in its 29th year, the SXSW music event includes about 28,000 conference participants, according to the festival’s website. The Film and Multimedia Conference has since evolved into two separate parts — film and interactive.

One aspect of SXSW has remained constant — the Austin Music Awards. The event takes place during SXSW and gives artists awards based on votes from Austin Chronicle readers. 

According to the article, the 1994 results “showed the rich diversity in Austin’s tastes.” Singer-songwriter Ian Moore tied with Jimmie Dale Gilmore for musician of the year. The Ugly Americans won best new band.

Although SXSW expanded to include film and multimedia events in 1994, the article stated most people were still there for the music. 

“It was obvious how important music really is in Austin,” Riemenschneider wrote in the article. “And no event demonstrates this more than the South By Southwest Music and Media Conference.”