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South by Southwest director Brent Grulke dies of heart attack at 52

August 15, 2012|By Randy Lewis
  • South by Southwest Music Festival and Conference creative director Brent Grulke, shown during a trip to England, has died of a heart attack at 52.
South by Southwest Music Festival and Conference creative director Brent… (SXSW.com )

Brent Grulke, creative director of the South by Southwest music festival, died Monday of a heart attack at the age of 52, according to the festival’s website.

Before taking the helm in 1994 of the annual Austin. Texas. festival that has become a magnet for musicians, managers, record and radio executives and other music industry personnel from around the world, Grulke had been a music critic for the Austin Chronicle as well as a record producer, tour manager, sound engineer and label executive.

SXSW transformed Austin’s vibrant homegrown music scene into an international nexus for musical talent.

PHOTOS: South by Southwest 2012

“It was Brent who put the music festival in overdrive,” SXSW managing director Roland Swenson said in a note posted on the SXSW website. “His relationships brought in so many of the artists that went on to greater success. And it was Brent who recruited the music staff that carried the work even farther than we dared hope. He was willing to let his staff take charge of their own efforts, and take on huge endeavors under his gentle leadership. He had a lot of faith in people and had the courage to let things happen.”

The festival’s director of technology, Scott Wilson, wrote, “When I think through the years, I was most impressed by Brent's fearless championship of artistry. I clearly remember a dinner in 1999 in Portland during North By Northwest where Brent stood up for every band playing the festival. It was a decisive moment -- one that defined us all and, although difficult, the right thing to do.”

Austin Chronicle writer Dan Wilson recalled that at the most recent SXSW in the spring, “I had the good fortune to win the Bruce Springsteen ticket lottery. I ran into Brent walking out of the Moody. I said I was heading over to the Lil' Wayne show at the Music Hall. He said he was too and said he would join me.

“During our walk over, Brent effused about how great the Springsteen show was ... with the excitement and wonderment of a junior high school kid who just attended his first concert,” Wilson wrote. “It was midnight and the Creative Director of one of the biggest music events in the world who had been in the business for more than 30 years wasn't grumpy and complaining, he was fired up about going to see a skateboard-riding dreadlocked rapper half his age. That's the kind of enthusiasm Brent had for music. It was genuine and it was pure, and it was an undeniable force behind the success of SXSW.”

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