Bruce Springsteen will give what is probably the most-anticipated SXSW Music keynote speech of all-time. But there have been some other great ones, from both musical legends and a sitting governor. Here are ten of the most memorable speakers at SXSW since the festival began in 1987:
1. Huey Meaux, 1987
The legendary Gulf Coast producer, who died last year after living his life in infamy, was the first-ever keynote speaker, back when the event had just 177 performing artists and seven hundred registrants. In SXSW’s early days, most speakers were regional or local.
2. Ann Richards, 1993
Having delivered an “invocation” prior to Rosanne Cash’s keynote speech in 1990, the governor returned in 1993 for what was given the official title of “Welcome & Opening Remarks.” In the book SXSW Scrapbook, New Jersey music journalist Jim Testa recalls he and other music critics being introduced to Richards, who said to them, “and you people can actually make a living doing that?” (Full disclosure: SXSW Scrapbook was edited by the author of this post.)
3. Johnny Cash, 1994
The first of what would soon become a lengthy string of SXSW keynotes by true music legends, Cash was also the first person to perform during his speech, holding the audience rapt with his acoustic guitar, songs from his big comeback album American Recordings ,and some stories from his life. SXSW employees who were lucky enough to be behind the scenes with him couldn’t resist having the Man in Black autograph their badge.
4. Carl Perkins, 1997
According to his manager, who introduced him, the rock and roll and rockabilly legend had said “What’s a keynote? I’m no keynote,” when asked to come to Austin. But, like Cash, Perkins wowed the crowd with a combination of his words and music, including snippets of “Honey Don’t” and “Blue Suede Shoes.”
5. Steve Earle, 2000
As you would expect given his songwriting, the Texas singer-songwriter was political and blunt, with a big chunk of his speech devoted to the Texas death penalty. “While most of us were checking into our hotels yesterday and picking up our credentials, this state, my home state, was killing a man a couple of hundred miles to the northeast, and they were doing it with our money,” he said. ” A little piece of every dollar we spend here in Austin South by Southwest will kill someone somewhere down the line.”
6. Ray Davies, 2001
The Kinks frontman was as charming and literate as you’d expect. He created a truly memorable moment at La Zona Rosa, where he jumped onstage with the Canadian band the New Pornographers for what was apparently the first-ever full band performance of the 1968 Kinks song “Starstruck.”
7. Little Richard, 2004
Talk about a great back-up plan: one of the inventors of rock and roll filled in after a last-minute cancellation by producer and music industry executive Antonio “L.A.” Reid. SXSW director Roland Swenson said Little Richard “gave perhaps the best piece of advice ever given out by a keynote: ‘Always sign your own checks.'”
8. & 9. Robert Plant, 2005 and Neil Young, 2006
Taken together, they were the two biggest contemporary rock celebrities SXSW had ever seen. Plant, who now lives in Austin, was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Grammy he’d deliberately refused to receive at the televised awards a few weeks earlier (“there’s no going back,”), while Young, who was interviewed with filmmaker Jonathan Demme (who had just directed the concert documentary Heart of Gold), was a huge score, though his willingness to speak surprised organizers: “I don’t think we’d ever asked him before because we didn’t think we could get him,” said SXSW director Louis Black.
10. Pete Townshend, 2007
Like everybody else, the Who guitarist had the Internet on the brain, foreseeing the growth of SXSW Interactive. “An Austin music festival, SXSW, built on top of a really solid, healthy Internet is a very different music festival from one built just on the fact that people in Austin really like to drink beer and listen to live bands,” he said.