Brent Grulke, the creative director behind Austin's annual South By Southwest music festival since 1994, died from a heart attack yesterday after oral surgery in Austin. He was 52.
"The SXSW family and friends are stunned and grief stricken by this loss," a statement on the festival's site reads. "In 1994 Brent became the Creative Director of SXSW Music and was responsible for booking the music festival. Under Brent's leadership, SXSW Music became one of the most respected and well known events in the world."
According to Variety the native of Grand Platte, Nebraska joined SXSW back in 1987 originally as a stage manger in its first year. The 1987 edition featured 200 bands performing while the latest version featured nearly twelve times that number (2,300). The sheer size of the festival resulted in some detractors saying the annual Austin bonanza of music had simply grown too large and perhaps too corporate.
"In my time at the paper (Austin Chronicle), I heard numerous people talk shit about SXSW; as it grew in numbers and sponsorships," the Dallas Observer's Audra Schroeder wrote today. "About how it wasn't fair that certain bands got picked to play, while others had to languish in obscurity. That it was a popularity contest. That they didn't really care about music, just money.
"I suppose that could be said of any large-scale festival, but what Grulke and his partners did with SXSW over 25 years cannot be dismissed as a glad-handing popularity contest. They set the bar for festivals, and people are still trying to catch up to their model."
"A lot of Brent's personality was in SXSW," SXSW director and co-founder Roland Swenson said Monday to Austin360.
"He was adventurous and knowledgeable and excited about creative people and endeavors. He didn't like the usual and mundane. He was open-minded enough to know that his taste wasn't always the most important thing, so he was open to new things."
Before joining SXSW, Grulke had a journalism career, first as the Daily Texan's arts editor and later as the Austin Chronicle's music editor. He also dipped his toes into the music side as a record producer, tour manager and label executive. And he worked with many Austin acts like Doctors Mob, Bad Mutha Goose and Wild Seeds, co-writing the Wild Seeds tune "I'm Sorry I Can't Rock You All Night Long" with vocalist Michael Hall.
He is survived by his wife, Kristen and son Graham as well as brothers Brad and Brian. Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.