Band Calls Out Austin’s SXSW Festival over Immigration Rules

SXSW Austin - Getty Andy Sheppard-redferns
File Photo: Andy Sheppard/Redferns/Getty

A New York band member called out Austin’s world-famous South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival over its contract that demands foreign musicians follow U.S. immigration law. The festival is scheduled to run from March 10-19 in Austin.

Felix Walworth, a drummer from Brooklyn, New York-based Told Slant, dragged the SXSW festival into the middle of the national immigration debate when he tweeted to his approximately 6,000 followers he is canceling the band’s appearance at the upcoming festival. The band’s Facebook page describes itself as a “bedroom punk band from New York, the music of Felix Walworth.”

Walworth’s complaint revolves around a provision in the festival’s participation contract that states the organization will contact U.S. immigration authorities if international artists violate the conditions of their immigration visas that prohibit working in the U.S.

According to Walworth, the agreement states, “International Artists entering the country through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP,) B visa, or any non-work visa may not perform at any public, or non-sanctioned SXSW Music Festival DAY OR NIGHT shows…” The photo of the alleged contract wording cuts off at this point. He claims the contract states that artists violating this provision of the agreement will be removed from their “official showcase,” and possibly replaced. It further claims SXSW will cancel the artist’s hotels booked through their housing service and cancel their credentials. Most notably, the agreement allegedly states SXSW “will notify the appropriate U.S. immigration authorities of the above actions.”

Shortly after his initial tweet, Walworth added, “Can our first step toward coalition as artists with radical politics be to cancel all our official showcases at sxsw? I’m serious just do it.”

SXSW officials responded in a statement published by that the wording in the contract has been in place for many years and is not a response to the current status of immigration issues that followed the election of President Donald Trump.

“In the post-Trump era, it looks different than how it was intended, and how it was received in the past,” SXSW managing director Roland Swenson told the local music news outlet. “But we’ve come out strongly against the travel ban, and we’ve really been going the extra mile to make sure these bands don’t get screwed over when they enter the country.”

“Most South by Southwest acts are able to perform here on the condition that they’re not getting paid and they’re not doing any other shows than ours, “Swenson explained. “That keeps them from having to go through getting a work visa and all that, which is time consuming and expensive.” He said the wording in the agreement is an attempt to warn international performers what could possibly happen to them if they violate the rules surrounding their visas.

“We have never reported international showcasing artists to immigration authorities,” SXSW officials stated in the press release.

The statement continues:

We were sorry to learn that one of our invited performers chose to cancel his performance at this year’s SXSW Music Festival due to a misunderstanding of our policies regarding international artists.

We understand that given the current political climate surrounding immigration, the language that was published seems strong. Violating U.S. immigration law has always carried potentially severe consequences, and we would be remiss not to warn our participating acts of the likely repercussions.

Language governing SXSW’s ability to protect a showcase has been in the artist Performance Agreement for many years. It is, and always was intended to be, a safeguard to provide SXSW with a means to respond to 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.

The organization provided with the text of the contract sections in question. The SXSW Performance Agreement states:

If SXSW determines, in its sole discretion, that Artist or its representatives have acted in ways that adversely affect the viability of Artist’s official SXSW showcase, the following actions are available to SXSW:

  • Artist will be removed from their official SXSW showcase and, at SXSW’s sole option, replaced.

  • Any hotels booked via SXSW Housing will be canceled.

  • Artist’s credentials will be canceled.

  • SXSW will notify the appropriate U.S. immigration authorities of the above actions.

Officials continued, saying, “We hope never to be put in the position to act on this. Indeed, we spend a great deal of time communicating with international artists concerning numerous issues, including how to avoid issues at U.S. ports of entry.”

In what officials described as an informational addition to the agreement made many years ago, SXSW added the following language to the agreement:

1.4. Foreign Artists entering the country through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), B visa or any non-work visa may not perform at any public or unofficial shows, DAY OR NIGHT, in Austin from March 10-19, 2017. Accepting and performing at unofficial events (including unofficial events aside from SXSW Music dates during their visit to the United States) may result in immediate deportation, revoked passport and denied entry by US Customs Border Patrol at US ports of entry. For more information, please visit these pages:

1.4.1.(B Visa / ESTA)

1.4.2.(Work Visas) 

1.4.3.SXSW general visa FAQ:

Initially, the organizers claimed Walworth pasted the two sections of the agreement together and took the intent out of context. Walworth responded in a tweeted video showing the consecutive sections of the agreement.

Swenson later updated his initial statement and said the language is in two different places in the agreement, but “those two sections did appear in sequence on SXSW’s invitation letter.”

Bob Price serves as associate editor and senior political news contributor for Breitbart Texas. He is a founding member of the Breitbart Texas team. Follow him on Twitter @BobPriceBBTX.


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