03/07/2014 03:11 EST | Updated 05/07/2014 05:59 EDT

Privacy, surveillance gain top billing at Austin's South By Southwest Interactive festival

AUSTIN, Texas - To get a feel for the pulse of the tech industry, it's a good idea to head to Austin, Texas, rather than Silicon Valley this time of the year.

More than 30,000 people descend on the Texas city for the South By Southwest Interactive Festival each March. This year, NSA leaker Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (ah-SAHNJ') are topping the bill.

Snowden and Assange won't be making the trip to Texas, however. They'll appear on live video, since both are living as fugitives, in Moscow and the Ecuadorian embassy in London, respectively. Their inclusion illustrates how the festival is trying to balance holding on to its independent roots even as it's flooded by a barrage of corporate sponsors and threatens to grow too big for its hometown.