In a major first for South by Southwest Interactive, the festival will host its first sitting U.S. president. Barack Obama will be interviewed in a keynote conversation on Friday, March 11 with Texas Tribune editor in chief Evan Smith. The topic will be “civic engagement in the 21st Century before an audience of creators, early adopters and entrepreneurs who are defining the future of our connected lives,” the festival said in its announcement.
South by Southwest Music will also host a member of the first family, First Lady Michelle Obama, in a separate opening keynote taking place Wednesday, March 16. She’ll be talking about Let Girls Learn, a government initiative to help more than 62 million girls around the world who aren’t in school.
In the announcement, SXSW co-founder Roland Swenson said, “I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate our event’s 30th birthday than to welcome both the President and First Lady to SXSW. As each new generation comes up at SXSW they look for ways they can be of service, and it’s important to reflect and support that message. President and Mrs. Obama’s visit here will inspire attendees to that purpose.”
The Barack Obama presentation is open to SXSW Interactive, Gold and Platinum badgeholders. Michelle Obama’s keynote is open to SXSW Music, Film, Gold and Platinum badgeholders. No times or locations were announced for the presentations, though large-scale keynotes typically are held in Exhibit Hall 5 of the Austin Convention Center. An opening SXSW Interactive keynote is already schedule for 2 p.m. with MBAs Across America’s Casey Gerald, but that talk is set for Ballroom D of the Convention Center.
The POTUS keynote is in advance of a March 11 Democratic fundraiser previously announced for Austin Music hall. That event will include a musical performance by J. Cole and an appearance by Will.I.Am. That event is hosted by Austin entrepreneur Whurley, founder and CEO of Honest Dollar. Since that event was announced, there’d been speculation that the president might speak at SXSW as well.
Every year, SXSW hosts an increasing number of notable names in politics. In recent years, former vice president Al Gore, Chelsea Clinton and U.S. Senators Al Franken and Rand Paul have all been keynote or featured speakers at SXSW Interactive. This year, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and other White House staffers and cabinet members will be speaking at Interactive.