Bad news, Little Monsters: You’re not going to be able to crash down onto a parking lot on 5th Street in Austin to catch Lady Gaga perform a free show from within the confines of a 56-foot-tall Doritos vending machine.
The makeshift Doritos stage that pops up in a parking lot on 5th St. between Red River and Trinity for a week every March is one of SXSW’s more curious spectacles, where free performances from people who normally pack amphitheaters, arenas, or bigger occur. Snoop Dogg inaugurated the stage in 2012, while last year, the “Kings Of The Mic” tour, featuring LL Cool J, Ice Cube, and Public Enemy were the marquee act.
This year, Doritos had hoped to nab Gaga—but, alas, the city of Austin denied the snack food empire the permit required for her to perform. As Austin360.com reports:
[T]he city determined that the venue could not sustain Gaga’s level of talent and the crowds that she might draw.
“Our conclusion was based primarily on public safety concerns,” [manager of the City of Austin Music & Entertainment division Don] Pitts said via email. “As part of the review process the applicant provides a talent list to the city team (AFD, APD, ATCEMS and Office of Special Events) to review and we can adjust public resources as needed. We look at the size and capacity of the location covered by the permit being sought and how it fits with the anticipated attendance, based on event capacity and promotion. At the end of the day, it’s a parking lot.”
“We informed the applicant that we would support relocation to an established venue with the necessary permanent infrastructure,” Pitts added.
Of course, the report that Lady Gaga is just too popular these days to allow her to play a free show inside of an absurdly-sized vending machine is probably the best news that Gaga and her record label have heard in a few months. The epic Lady Gaga vs. Katy Perry vs. Miley Cyrus pop star war of last summer ended poorly for the Mother Monster, and her label, Universal—which had been banking on another smash album, rather than one whose sales dropped 77 percent from the previous one—suffered as a result.
Still, it’s probably accurate that an outdoor pop-up venue whose boundaries are defined by only some chain link fence (which SXSW audiences are keen to rip down in moments of stress) isn’t the right place to host a free performance by an artist whose cult of personality is as significant as Gaga’s. Her star may have fallen over the past several years, but even if there’s a 77 percent drop-off in attendance from her last appearance in Texas (last summer, at Houston’s 18,000-capacity Toyota Center), that’s still 4,000 Little Monsters who could create a public safety hazard.
So, if Gaga’s interested in coming to Austin for SXSW, and the big Doritos machine is off-limits, where should she play? Here are a few suggestions:
The Moody Theater at ACL Live: This would be the logical place—the iTunes Festival is occurring at the theater over five days during SXSW, and only three of those days had been announced as of the day that Gaga’s permit was denied. Each of those nights, though, features an arena- or stadium-sized headliner with a major artist (Coldplay and Imagine Dragons; Pitbull and Zedd; Keith Urban and Willie Nelson), which would make her a fine choice. Alas, that’s probably not particularly likely, though: she played the iTunes Festival in London last year, which would be a doubling-up the media giant would probably shy away from. Additionally, it was announced this morning that at least one of the as-yet-undisclosed headliners would be Soundgarden. That leaves one slot, and Neil Young in town without a gig…
Chance of this happening: five percent.
Austin Music Hall: If the marquee venue for SXSW isn’t the right spot for Gaga this year, she might consider revisiting the spot of one of her first Austin shows, back when she was not yet a megastar and found herself an undercard act at radio station festivals. Back in 2009, Gaga played the Austin Music Hall with rock band the Veronicas, and shortly thereafter she became one of the biggest acts in the world. We’re not saying there’s a correlation between those two events, but Gaga seems like the superstitious type, doesn’t she? In any case, whatever performances are happening at the Music Hall are as-yet unannounced, so there’s a chance.
Chance of this happening: ten percent.
Outdoor Stage at Butler Park: So, part of the point of an artist playing the Doritos stage is that Doritos pays for the performance, and they’re fond of dropping a bunch of money at SXSW. The numbers aren’t readily available, but it’s reasonable to assume that playing the Outdoor Stage at Butler Park—an official SXSW event that is free and open to the public—does not pay as well. Still, if Gaga wants to show her loyal fans that she cares, she might talk with SXSW organizers about signing on to play the thus-far sparsely-booked free showcase at the park. It would allow her to still play a free show for her fans, whether or not they have SXSW wristbands or badges, while taking place in a venue that has the necessary security for her performance to go off smoothly.
Chance of this happening: forty percent.
Nowhere: I mean, she could just stay home.
Chance of this happening: Even.