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The musical foundation of SXSW: Has it changed for better or for worse?

While SXSW used to be a festival devoted to music, it has grown into something much more.

AUSTIN, Texas — All you have to do is walk down a block in most parts of central Austin Saturday night to find some new, live music coming from a window or a front lawn with rooms packed with people. But the music scene used to be what South by Southwest (SXSW) was solely about. Some wonder if the new look of Austin's festival is a good one.

The second weekend of SXSW highlights some of the top musical performers in town for the festival. From rock to rap to electronic, there's every type of genre.

Brother and sister Jack and Lily Wolter created their band, Penelope Isles, along with friends Becky Redford and Jack Sowton. They traveled all the way from Brighton, England just to play at this festival.

"It's kind of like the ultimate festival for up-and-coming bands," Jack Wolter said. "It was always on our list of things to do ever since we started."

Lily Wolter said she couldn't believe how far they've come, thinking back to when they first started.

"We've done a lot of sleeping on floors and playing for no people," Lily Wolter said. "It's the most rewarding thing we could ever ask for."

Rob Cook is a local musician that is trying to get noticed as well. He regularly plays on a certain street corner on the south side of Congress.

"I'm just glad to be out here and glad to be representing Austin," Cook said.

Cook said he is always so surprised to find out just how many people come into Austin for SXSW from so many different places.

"We pull so many people in from across the country that say, 'Hey, this is Austin,'" Cook said. "'This is what it's about. It's about independent music. It's about having a street corner to play on.'"

Conner Buchanan is also a local musician, just a little younger than Cook -- he's seven years old. He asked his dad, John Buchanan, if he could play his ukulele at SXSW to raise money for his first guitar.

"He's made friends from New Zealand to Germany, all over the world," John Buchanan said. "There was a family from Italy that stopped by that hung out with him for about an hour the other night."

Even though SXSW has a huge musical component on the second weekend of the festival, there is still a lot more going on that used to not even be a part of the festival. Donald Mason has lived in Austin for 28 years and been to almost every SXSW since moving to town. He remembers what it was like when it first began.

"It was just cheap wristbands and a few clubs," Mason said. "I remember going over to the old Rudania Coffee House and sitting on the floor."

Mason worries that we're getting to the point where too many elements have been added to SXSW.

"Before, there was a good mix of people and it wasn't as crowded as it's become," Mason said. "It's become very crowded, and there's so many acts. There's also so many places to be. It's very hard to get from one end of town to the other, so even though there are acts you want to see, it's sometimes hard to get there. I don't like seeing all this expansion into totally ancillary things."

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Mason isn't the only Austinite that is trying to figure out exactly what SXSW is when it comes to the music element. Elizabeth Hastings has lived in Austin about the same amount of time and been to many SXSW festivals as well.

"It's a conundrum because there are some really good acts," Hastings said. "Every front has a back. Yes, I think it has diluted it to some extent. But because of the growth, there is still a huge audience for the music. There are more eyes on the acts."

John Buchanan has noticed these changes as well but thinks the festival still has the foundation as it did in the beginning.

"Certainly, there's always tech and there's interaction and movies and stuff like that," Buchanan said. "The core, though, is music. I think it always will be."

For Lily Wolter, though, there's a core part of Austin she said she won't forget once she goes back to England.

"Tacos, tacos and more tacos," Lily Wolter said. To be honest, I'll be happy if I never see another again. Although, they are delicious."

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