SXSW sees performance contract go south

Heather Reid


Event contracts were in the news last week when New York musician Felix Walworth publicly denounced sections of his performance contract.

Walworth performs under the stage name Told Slant and was slated to perform at this year's South by South West (SXSW) music festival in Austin, Texas. But he took issue with sections of the performance contract that pertained to notifying immigration authorities in cases of adverse situations involving international showcase artists.

The photos Walworth tweeted of his contract have since been shared nearly 4,000 times.

According to the Rolling Stone article that broke March 2, 2017 - SXSW has had language included in their performance contracts since 2013, that stipulates that should an artist or its representatives act in ways that negatively affect the artist's official SXSW showcase, repercussions could include notifying U.S. immigration authorities of the artist's actions.

South by Southwest CEO and Founder Roland Swenson's statement in response to Walworth's cancellation of Told Slant's performance indicated that the language spoke to SXSW's ability to protect a showcase against "an act that does something truly egregious, such as disobeying our rules about pyrotechnics on stage, starting a brawl in a club, or causing serious safety issues".

Response to this situation has been swift and a group of artists signed an open letter to SXSW dated March 3rd.  In support of their international colleagues (this year's festival features 62 international acts), the letter demanded a public apology, as well as affirmation that the festival is a welcoming space for all artists and is committed to protecting the rights of all performers.

On March 7th, SXSW addressed the concerns by agreeing to change the language of their artist invitation letter and performance agreements for 2018 and beyond, as well as remove the option of notifying immigration authorities in situations where a foreign artist might "adversely affect the viability of the artist's official showcase. It stated that it is not SXSW's duty or authority to escalate a matter beyond local authorities.

Huffington Post contributed article, along with Told Slant's tweet about the "victory", celebrated the collective effort's victory in pressuring the festival to make changes, while stating that much work still needs to be done.

My thoughts?

Following this developing story this week has caused me to pause and consider my own practices of reviewing event contracts - for speakers, entertainers, caterers, venues and audiovisual.  With both time constraints and an urge to gloss over the legalese, this story has been a great reminder that I must thoroughly understand ALL contract language, the context in which each clause plays out, and the implications to my client - a I am engaged to act in their best interests.

As an event and meeting planner, I believe working with event contracts is our utmost professional responsibility - individually and collectively as an industry.

It is my and our obligation to:

  • seek industry-specific, in-depth education
  • collaboratively share - and create - industry best practices
  • engage in negotiations with those suppliers that respect a relationship between both parties and create win-win outcomes.


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