South By So What Has Become Dallas' High-Brow Alternative to the Warped Tour

While SXSW rages on to the south of us in Austin, another festival has set up shop in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area to cater to a niche of it own. Imagine the Warped Tour crowd: your 15-year-old mall metal kid; your aspiring 19-year-old Instagram model; your "bandana wrapped around the boot, bandana in the back pocket, and bandana wrapped around the neck" deathcore kid. This festival in Dallas is designed for the likes of them. It is Warped Tour come early. But what sets South By So What apart from an average metalcore fest is the amount of work they put into capturing the older audience's sense of nostalgia.

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Case in point: I'm almost 30, and looking at this lineup definitely struck a chord with me and my salad days. Seeing the likes of the Ataris, Hawthorne Heights and Cartel (all bands I admittedly jammed in my high school days) performing their most seminal albums in their entirety (a practice commonly used by the All Tomorrow's Parties festival to draw people) made me want to attend.

Festival promoter Mike Ziemer has been working toward this for years now. After eight years of building the festival up from a teenage Woodstock at the Plano Center, South By So What continues to grow into its own entity. Ziemer built a festival constituency out of a demographic shunned by SXSW. Where every function worth a damn in Austin is 21-plus, Ziemer has turned South By So What into a bit of an Ellis Island for the underage. Here the kids can go enjoy a music festival in a bright and youthful environment now set against the backdrop of Quiktrip Park in Grand Prairie.

The way Ziemer has designed the lineup speaks to two audiences: The young, who are there to see the up-and-coming acts of the day, and the less young, who are there to see the more established acts. In doing so, Ziemer has bridged the audiences and ensured a pipeline of constituents for the future. The young eventually become the less young, and there will always be more of them to come.

In the world of promoting shows, the hardest part of the game is talking kids back into the building. The objective is to keep them coming back in perpetuity. Mike Ziemer and his company, Third String Productions, have developed a booking model that has had kids hanging from the rafters every gig for almost a decade. This is thanks in large part to the perceptiveness of Ziemer and his ability to appeal to a core demographic.

If you look at the line up for South By So What, you will see all of the bases covered. You see the who's who of pop rock artists circa 2003 in Cartel, the Ataris and Atreyu. You see the names of today in Title Fight, La Dispute and Motionless In White. You also see, at least on the last day, more aggressive bands including 2014 Dallas Observer Music Awards Best Hardcore Act winners Power Trip, Connecticut hardcore legends Hatebreed and leading metalcore acts like Emmure and Suicide Silence. There's so much diversity that a kid going for Chiodos could stumble upon Power Trip. Someone going for La Dispute could really take a shine to the Ataris.

Being a teenager sucks and finding your identity is a bitch. A lot of us spend a lot of our developmental years attaching ourselves to music to help define ourselves. South By So What is an annual opportunity to help kids figure themselves out through music. What started as a bit of a joke in terms of being an alternative for SXSW has evolved into a reality. The most important thing is that it is a jumping off point, a place where kids can figure it out. Nobody is born with an Agnostic Front shirt on. They have to start somewhere. South By So What is that place.

SOUTH BY SO WHAT takes place Friday, March 20 to Sunday, March 22, at QuikTrip Park, 1600 Lone Star Pkwy., Grand Prairie,, $60 per day pass


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James Khubiar
Contact: James Khubiar