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SXSW Music: Tragic Deaths Darken Day 2

03/13/2014 03:49 EDT | Updated 05/13/2014 05:59 EDT




The SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas always teeters on the brink of chaos. A couple hundred thousand drunken revelers to see more than 2,000 musical acts will do that to a downtown.

But in 28 years there's been arrests, protests, and even small riots -- but never a tragedy like this.

Around 12:30 a.m. a car fleeing a drunk driving checkpoint rounded a corner, smashed through a barricade and plowed into a crowd, sending bodies flying and killing two festival-goers. Twenty-three more were injured, five critically.

I'd been at an Earl Sweatshirt show at the Red Bull Sound Select stage, where the Odd Future rapper had been joined by rising star Schoolboy Q as well as several of his own group-mates, including de facto leader Tyler the Creator.

Tyler left early, announcing he had to get to his own show at The Mohawk. A half-hour later, that was the show people were waiting to get into when the now-arrested driver sent bodies flying through the air and put the rest of us in shock.

It was tragic end to a strange day.

Earlier in the afternoon, I spoke to MP Tony Clement, president of the treasury, who was here on vacation and rocking out at the Canadian Blast BBQ (he really liked The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer) before heading over to see Blondie on a SXSW panel.

Debbie Harry was as effortlessly cool as ever as she reflected on the band's 40 year career -- then showed up later that night to sing with Dum Dum Girls -- while bandmate Chris Stein had the line of the day, remarking that "Coming here reminds me of World War Z of hipsters."

But it wasn't just hipster zombies -- over on 6th street, the city's primary party thoroughfare, a parade of gun rights activists with babies and AR-15s in tow, staged a march much to everyone's uncomfortableness.

Elsewhere, Diddy held court, promoting his "disruptive" business acumen, and then in the evening, hip-hop took center stage. Kendrick Lamar and his Top Dawg Entertainment crew, including Schoolboy Q and Isaiah Rashad, performed at the iTunes festival while a block away Kanye and Jay Z held a Watch The Throne reunion on Samsung's dime.

That show was somewhat hampered by a line of guaranteed-entrance wristband holders that stretched for blocks and hours, eventually proving fruitless for many after the fire marshall reduced the capacity of Austin Music Hall, leaving many angrily chanting "Samsung Sucks!"

But those complaints were quickly made moot when news of the tragedy outside The Mohawk slowly filtered through people's phones. The streets remained full of people well past 2 a.m., but while it didn't look much different than the previous nights of SXSW, this year's festival will never be the same.

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