Louis Jay Meyers, one of the co-founders of the South by Southwest Festival, has died, according to media in Austin, Texas, the home of the widely-attended conference, and Roland Swenson, a fellow co-founder, who this afternoon confirmed Meyers’ passing. He was 60.
Initial reports from Austin say Meyers died of a heart attack; a tweet from Playback Austin, a local music-information resource, said he died overnight at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center.
A promoter, manager and talent agent, Meyers was an early booker for the festival when it began in 1987. He continued with the event, known popularly from the beginning by the acronym SXSW, from then until 1994. The news of his death was confirmed today, the first day of the annual music, film and interactive event, which continues through March 20.
Austin 360, the music blog of the Austin American Statesman, reported that Meyers lived abroad for many years after his time directing SXSW, before returning to the U.S. to direct Folk Alliance International, an annual convention in Kansas City. He left that position in 2014 and returned to Austin, where he managed Sam Baker, a local singer-songwriter. Also that year, Meyers had the audacious idea of reimagining The Who’s classic rock opera, “Tommy,” as a “bluegrass opry,” one he recorded with numerous creative co-conspirators.
Born and raised in Austin, Meyers ran EZ Money Productions, a company that promoted local reggae shows. Swenson, writing in The Austin Chronicle in 2001, recalled the origins of the first SXSW, built after the New Music Seminar, a New York-based music convention, dropped out of plans for an Austin event in 1987:
“Louis Jay began spending more and more time hanging out at the Chronicle, dropping by often for the after-hours bull sessions that would run late into the evening. A few months after announcing their Austin event, the [New Music] Seminar announced they were backing out of the deal for 1987, with a possible future date to be announced. Louis Jay and I began talking about swiping the idea of putting on a conference and festival from the New Yorkers.”
The seed was planted for SXSW, an event that grows in scope and influence with every passing year. The 2016 edition is no different; President Barack Obama made the keynote speech hours ago.
And Meyers’ role in what he started won’t soon be forgotten. Steve Adler, mayor of Austin, tweeted: “RIP, Louis Meyers. Your legacy changed Austin for the better.”