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SXSW may refer international artists to immigration for playing unofficial shows

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Today, Felix Walworth—of bands such as Told Slant, Eskimeaux, and Bellows—tweeted a picture of the contract they were sent regarding their appearance at South By Southwest. What Walworth uncovered is that, in the fest’s hopes of stopping non-sanctioned performances, if SXSW finds out an international artist is playing a show that’s not part of the festival proper it will “notify the appropriate U.S. Immigration authorities of the above actions,” going on to say that “accepting and performing at any non-sanctioned events may result in immediate deportation, revoked passport, and denied entry by US Customs Border Patrol at US points of entry.”


For perspective, these unofficial showcases and day parties are a fairly common practice, as official SXSW showcases don’t come cheap. In addition, many bands try to maximize their time in Austin by playing as many shows as possible, often playing multiple sets in a single day at showcases official and non-official. While the violations for artists from the United States are minor—including canceled hotels and revoked SXSW badges—this is an aggressive penalty. Not only could it potentially ruin an artist’s career, it could make it so they’d never be able to return to the United States.

As Stereogum points out, the clause isn’t a new addition to the contract, though obviously it’s taken on a new threat in the midst of the Trump administration‘s crackdown on illegal immigrants. And SXSW, for its part, has attempted to show support for artists targeted by that crackdown by staging Contrabanned: #MusicUnites, an official showcase featuring artists that were impacted by Trump’s recent ban on visitors from seven Muslim nations, along with panels on the topic.


Nevertheless, Slant is calling for other artists to cancel their official SXSW shows as well:

We’ve reached out to SXSW for comment and will update if and when it offers one.

UPDATE: South by Southwest managing director Roland Swenson has commented on Slant’s cancellation and call for boycott in an interview with Austin 360, saying the image posted to Twitter is an amalgamation of “two different parts of the artist agreement” that portray “a much worse impression than what is real.” Swenson says the section about non-work visa violations is just “telling the acts what immigration (authorities) would do” if terms of their visas are violated, while the upper part applies to performers or management who “have acted in ways that adversely affect the viability of their official SXSW showcase.” However, Swenson says all of the harshest penalties threatened in the contract—including notifying immigration authorities—would only be invoked “if somebody did something really horrific, like disobey rules about pyrotechnics, starting a brawl, or if they killed somebody.”



Here is an official statement from Swenson:

SXSW has been vocal in its opposition to President Trump’s Travel Ban and is working hard to build a coalition of attorneys to assist artists with issues at U.S. ports of entry during the event. We have artists from 62 countries from around the world performing and have always supported our international music community. We have never reported international showcasing artists to immigration authorities.

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 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.

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.

Moreover, there is language in the Performance Agreement which is included to inform foreign artists that the U.S. immigration authorities have mechanisms to create trouble for artists who ignore U.S. immigration laws. For example, those acts coming to SXSW to perform without a work visa are limited, by U.S. immigration law, to performing their showcase event only. If an artist wishes to perform elsewhere, they will require a work visa.

As such, both to protect SXSW and the interests of all the participating artists, we long ago added this language to our Performance 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) http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/business.html1.4.2.(Work Visas) http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/employment/temporary.html1.4.3.SXSW general visa FAQ: http://www.sxsw.com/travel/visa-faq


[This article and headline have been updated to clarify that SXSW is not itself threatening artists with deportation.]