Colorado Musicians on SXSW's Deportation Threats to International Acts

Muscle Beach
Muscle Beach Jay Vollmar
Colorado bands performing at South by Southwest did not sign a petition that convinced the festival's leadership to strike anti-immigrant language from its contract with artists. But many Mile High acts performing at SXSW find the contractual language objectionable and celebrate their fellow musicians for convincing the festival to ditch a clause in the contract that threatened foreign artists with deportation.

The controversy over the contract erupted after Felix Walworth of Brooklyn's indie-pop act Told Slant tweeted that he would be canceling the band's performance at SXSW after reading the following clause:
While many jumped to the conclusion that the contractual language was a response to President Donald Trump's anti-immigrant policies, the festival's managing director told the Austin Chronicle that the clause had been in the contract for five years and had never been enforced.

More than eighty artists signed an open letter demanding that the festival change its policy. On Tuesday, the festival apologized and wrote the following on its blog:

With the announcement of President Trump’s latest Travel Ban, SXSW would like to reaffirm its public opposition to these executive orders and provide ongoing support to the artists traveling from foreign countries to our event.

To reinforce that stance, we would like to address the concerns regarding the language in our artist invitation letter and performance agreement for the SXSW Music Festival.

SXSW will do the following:

We will change the language in our artist invitation letter and performance agreement for 2018 and beyond.

We will remove the option of notifying immigration authorities in situations where a foreign artist might “adversely affect the viability of Artist’s official showcase.”

*Safety is a primary concern for SXSW, and we report any safety issues to local authorities. It is not SXSW’s duty or authority to escalate a matter beyond local authorities.

In this political climate, especially as it relates to immigration, we recognize the heightened importance of standing together against injustice.

While SXSW works to be in compliance with U.S. immigration law, it is important to know that:

SXSW has not, does not, and will not, disclose an artist’s immigration status, except when required by law.

SXSW does not have the power to deport anyone.

There are no “deportation clauses” in our current performance agreements. There will be no “deportation clauses” in our future participant agreements.

SXSW does not “collude with” any immigration agencies including ICE, CBP or USCIS to deport anyone.

Each year SXSW coordinates with hundreds of international acts coming to SXSW to try and mitigate issues at U.S. ports of entry. This year we are working to build a coalition of attorneys to assist any who face problems upon arrival in the States.

In the 31 years of SXSW’s existence, we have never reported any artist or participant to any immigration agency.

We would like to again apologize for the language in our agreements. We care deeply about the community we serve, and our event is a welcome and safe space for all people.
Colorado bands performing at the festival offered statements to Westword criticizing the policy and praising the musicians who petitioned the festival.

Justin Hackl of Native Daughters decried the deportation threat and told Westword, "The whole thing is gross to me. I was happy to see that they were taking that wording out, and they’re not going to be cracking down as hard as they said would."

Edison issued the following statement to Westword:

Art has no borders, and SXSW is the ultimate Mecca of global performers uniting for a week of celebrating music. We stand behind those who opposed the immigration clause and any potential collusion between SXSW and immigration officials. That being said, we appreciate SX rescinding the clause in response to the outcry. We also acknowledge the clause has been in their contract for years and they've never reported anyone. We support its removal and look forward to playing alongside artists of all races, genders and national origins. We need to be united now more than ever.
In a statement to Westword, Muscle Beach wrote, "First of all, we felt that the clause was worded very poorly and incredibly aggressive towards our foreign artists/friends, so we were not stoked on that part."

The group is happy the festival is dropping the clause in 2018, but wishes international artists and bands playing this year could be exempt from the contractual language.

"Let them play their heart out without consequence, wherever they please," Muscle Beach wrote.

David Castillo of Pizza Time said that his band didn't make a statement because he has been largely offline. The group considered dropping out, but ultimately decided the best way to show its stance against the contractual language would be to play the five shows it had agreed to.

Castillo says his friend AJ Davila, who is from Puerto Rico and lives in Mexico City, had bandmates who could not join him on tour in the United States because of Trump's travel ban. Davila signed the petition against SXSW and plans to join Pizza Time on the main outdoor stage on March 18 at Hotel Vegas.

"The recent victory goes to show that even if we are burned out so-called artists, we ALL have voices and we should use them," Castillo wrote to Westword.

The Yawpers and Plastic Daggers have not responded to Westword's requests for comment. If they do, we will update this story.
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris