The 28th edition of the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival is now underway, drawing tech, music and film innovators and fans from around the world to Texas. Edward Snowden and Neil Young are set to be event highlights.
What began as a small music festival for a few hundred people in 1987 has grown into a major international event. From March 7 to 16, Texas' capital Austin will become a mecca for nerds, pop culture lovers, investors and creative minds. The organizers describe it as an unparalleled melting pot of various industries.
The centerpiece of the South by Southwest Festival is now its interactive trade fair focusing on future technologies, which has recorded significant growth over the last five years. So-called digital creatives present their latest ideas. In 2007, for example, social media platform Twitter kicked off its massive success story. During podium discussions, politicians, scholars and IT CEOs from the internet's avant garde network and sign contracts.
Famous faces from Hollywood are also on hand to promote their new films. Among the 400 showings, there are numerous premieres, and no shortage of blackbusters have been unveiled here.
And SXSW is just as big when it comes to music. Around 2,200 bands, including many well-known acts, will perform at more than 100 stages. Music legends like Quincy Jones, Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed and Bob Geldof have held keynotes here in the past, and artists like Norah Jones, The Darkness, The White Stripes and The Strokes had their breakthroughs in Austin.
This year, Apple is presenting its first parallel concert series in which Coldplay, Soundgarden and Pitbull will take the stage.
Rare video address
There's particular excitement over a speech by whistleblower Edward Snowden, to be shown on Monday via video from Russia, where he has been granted asylum. With so many representatives from the tech industry in Austin, revelations about the NSA's massive surveillance will be a key topic, organizers say. As a result, a number of events take up the theme of how technology can also protect people from mass surveillance.
In 2014, SXSW expects to welcome over 40,000 registered participants. The German delegation is also significant - there's even a "German Haus," with over 100 exhibitors. Music fans can catch 16 German bands on stage.
Some veteran guests criticize the event for having gotten too big, however, saying that overcrowded halls have replaced discussions of innovative ideas. Furthermore, they say many come to Austin just for the nightly parties rather than substantive discussion.
That may not trouble the city itself, which rakes in massive earnings from the event. Around 146 million euros ($222.3 million) flow into Austin's coffers during SXSW.