Creatives talk redeeming 2020 SXSW cancellation, more

Morgan-Taylor Thomas

Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in The Daily Texan’s March 10 print edition.


There are 52 weeks in a year, but for rapper Mama Duke, only one really mattered: South by Southwest.


Bouncing from stage to stage, watching live performances and popping into greenrooms, Mama Duke said nothing compares to the rockstar feeling creatives experience at SXSW. But after months of preparation for the 2020 festival, COVID-19 shut the world down.


“I was drained when South by Southwest was canceled because it was my first time having four official showcases,” the Austin artist said. “I had been an official artist previously, but four official showcases? I was on my shit that year.”


For many musicians like Mama Duke, the 2020 cancellation of SXSW not only limited networking opportunities but marked the beginning of a year without live performances, tours or in-person connections with fans.


This year, 69 of SXSW’s 2021 musicians were invited to return after last year’s cancellation. Some said they are cautiously optimistic about the new virtual setting.


New York afrofusion R&B artist Demi Grace said one of her main concerns about a virtual venue is the lack of a crowd. As someone who enjoys meeting new people, especially in person, Grace said she craves interaction and connection with her fans.


“The way I go about pursuing my career is I just show up in cities,” Grace said. “I want to meet you in person, and I didn’t realize how much that fed me, to be in person with people and soak up that live energy. I didn’t even realize how much that meant to me until it was taken away from me.”


Grace is a first-time SXSW official artist, and she said this will be her first virtual performance.


“I really don’t know what’s going to happen (with COVID-19),” Grace said. “But if we do continue with virtual performances, I’m really hoping that this will give me a little bit more comfort in working on virtual performances.”


The Queendom, made up of AUDIADASOUND and Rocket Rhonnie who are from Georgia, said they’ve been fortunate enough to continue performing virtually over the last year, but the relationship with the audience is completely different.


“The reason why we gain a lot of our fan base is because of our performance,” Rhonnie said. “You know, call and response and just having a good time. So I think transitioning has been the hardest part.”


However, the duo, which creates an avant-garde, experimental hip-hop sound, is looking forward to this year’s festival. AUDIADASOUND said even though they were crushed about last year’s cancellation, they knew there would be another opportunity knocking on their door.


“(SXSW) actually requested us for the stage that we’re on (this year),” AUDIADASOUND said. “The fact that our 2019 performance still (made an impact) meant a lot to us. As far as (SXSW) being canceled, it was just postponed. That’s how I see it now.”


As for Mama Duke, she hopes SXSW 2021 helps her gain the respect she said she has earned. As a woman, especially a Black queer woman, she said she is often overlooked.


“I’m the only female on the bill,” Duke said. “As somebody queer, they put you in a box. As somebody (of) mixed race, you’re not Black enough, you’re not Mexican enough. I hope people see me as the only female on stage and think, ‘Huh, can’t be mad at that.’ That’s what I hope to get.”