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SXSW and Texas Governor Greg Abbott respond after bands pull out of festival

"Don't come back," the politician wrote to angry artists, while South by Southwest's organisers distanced themselves from him.

By Kory Grow

Greg Abbott

Organisers of the music festival South by Southwest, which takes place annually in Austin, sparred with Texas Governor Greg Abbott on social media Tuesday. After the governor criticised bands that had pulled out of the festival over objections to the U.S. Army sponsoring it, writing “Don’t come back,” the festival’s official X, formerly Twitter, account responded, “SXSW does not agree with Governor Abbott.” The music component of the festival started on Monday and will run through Saturday.

In the past week, several artists, including Kneecap, Scowl, Squirrel Flower, Eliza McLamb, Shalom, and Mamalarky, announced they would be pulling out of the festival. “I am pulling out specifically because of the fact that SXSW is platforming defense contractors including Raytheon subsidiaries as well as the US Army, a main sponsor of the festival,” Squirrel Flower’s Ella Williams wrote on Instagram. She also voiced support of the Palestinian people.

About 60 artists in total have pulled out of the festival, according to Austin for Palestine Coalition (APC), an organisation that supports boycotting the festival.

“Austin remains the HQ for the Army Futures Command,” Abbott wrote in his X post. “San Antonio is Military City USA. We are proud of the U.S. military in Texas. If you don’t like it, don’t come here.” He included a link to an article from The Hill that highlighted some of the artists who have broken ties with the festival.

In response, South by Southwest’s organisers wrote that they “fully respect the decision these artists made to exercise their right to free speech.” They also defended the Army’s sponsorship role in the festival. “The defense industry has historically been a proving ground for many of the systems we rely on today,” they wrote. “These institutions are often leaders in emerging technologies, and we believe it’s better to understand how their approach will impact our lives. The Army’s sponsorship is part of our commitment to bring forward ideas that shape our world. In regard to Collins Aerospace, they participated this year as a sponsor of two SXSW Pitch categories, giving entrepreneurs visibility and funding for potentially game-changing work.”

They also acknowledged the Israel-Hamas conflict without taking sides. “We have and will continue to support human rights for all,” they wrote. “The situation in the Middle East is tragic, and it illuminates the heightened importance of standing together against injustice.”

The APC formed last fall to protest South by Southwest’s associations with defense contractor RTX, also known as Raytheon, and its subsidiary, Collins Aerospace, and the associated BAE Systems. The organisation claims these companies have all manufactured implements of war used in Israel’s attacks on Palestinian territories.

“To our knowledge BAE Systems has no plans to participate in SxSW this year, however we respect everyone’s right to protest peacefully,” a spokesman for the company, Tim Paynter, tells Rolling Stone.

Reps for APC, RTX and Collins Aerospace did not respond to Rolling Stone’s requests for comment.

Last month, South by Southwest issued a cease and desist to APC for using its logo, according to The Austin Chronicle. “SXSW supports the constitutionally protected right of free speech and, as always, you are permitted to refer to our SXSW Marks in a factual or editorial manner,” it wrote. “However, as a trademark and copyright owner, we have an obligation to protect the goodwill and reputation associated with the SXSW Marks and copyright protected art by preventing their unauthorised use… In the event that you will not comply with our request, we reserve our rights to take appropriate steps to protect our marks and copyright.”

Full disclosure: In 2021, Rolling Stone’s parent company, P-MRC, acquired a 50 percent stake in the SXSW festival.

This article was updated at 6:45 p.m. on March 12 to include a statement from BAE Systems.

From Rolling Stone.