Phil Tripp, SXSW

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Phil Tripp has had a long and impressive career in the music biz, starting out in the USA and moving to Australia in the early ’80s. He has chosen to semi-retire to the beautiful Coffs Coast, while still heading back to the US here and there for SXSW, keeping Australia, NZ, and Hawaii connected to the world’s biggest and most prestigious tech, music and film conference and festival in Texas. 

Hey Phil. You’re originally from the US; can you tell us how you came to be on the Coffs Coast?

When Reagan was elected in 1980 over Jimmy Carter, I vowed to leave the US and decided Australia was the best new home for me. Avoiding jet lag and a month wait for belongings, I took 5,000 vinyl albums, four guitars, vintage stereo gear, a few clothes and became a boat person – a Reaganomics Refugee. That is, I spent a month sailing with my belongings on the Oriana cruise ship from Miami to Oz.

I noticed you spend a lot of time in a Hawaiian shirt. What is it you love about Hawaii, and what kicked off your interest in their culture?

I’ve been there 75 times on trans-Pacific jaunts, travel writing assignments and holidays. I love the outer islands – sun-drenched Maui, lush green Kauai and the volcanic Big Island – scuba diving especially. I’ve got about 500 Aloha shirts and wear nothing else but boardshorts, a Panama hat and patterned sneakers. Mostly I adore the Aloha spirit there and its Mana (magic healing powers) as well as its slack key guitar music. Working with many great Hawaiian artists over the years, the music’s richness fills my soul.

Where did your love of music start?  

My first album was Exotica by Martin Denny, with bird sounds set to Hawaiian vibraphone and percussion. The same year at seven, my first concert was Elvis Presley in his early days playing on a stage fronting a drive in theatre screen, with my older brother and his girlfriend making out in the back seat, having to babysit me.

Did you ever have dreams of being a professional musician yourself?

Dreams yes, but I saved the world from my mediocrity playing drums in a school band, and bass and guitar in a forgettable trio or two, before I decided that musicians generally get screwed and die poor or young, while those in the management live rich and die older.

You have had a very colourful career in the music industry, first working on a sound truck and then moving on to different roles such as stage and production manager, concert producer, and tour manager. What would you say were some of the highlights?

I was lucky to enter the biz at its peak in 1971. Working with Southern Rock and Jazz from my Atlanta and New Orleans bases, I got to work with, mix concert sound for and tour an amazing series of iconic acts, especially at JazzFest, Newport and other festivals. Allman Brothers, Muddy Waters, Al Green, Little Feat, Professor Longhair, Johnny Winter, Marvin Gaye, Stephane Grapelli, Earth Wind and Fire, and Richard Pryor. 

But, the top experience was when I limoed my parents, who did not understand what I did, to a venue 30 miles from their Carolina home. They then got to watch me work and MC a show with Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, take them backstage to meet the duo and get autographs plus photos. That was a high point of their life too.

After working in the music industry for many years, and moving to Australia, you moved into music media and journalism. What brought that on, and what have been some of the challenges and highlights of that career path?

I’d never had a “straight” career and I was road-tired, wanting a major about-face change. Having taken typing in high school (an all girl class, as well as Home Economics) I decided to enter media, living off freelance writing solely for four years. In 1983, I discovered email and Apple computers, two years later started a PR firm, IMMEDIA!, and produced a music industry directory which became a contacts Bible. I had clients like Midnight Oil, Jon English, The Church and Eurogliders, as well as major corporates and AUSTRADE. 

In the ’90s, I got in on the Internet early and became an online and print mini-mogul, as well as producing industry conferences. Luckily, I sold all my media interests to semi-retire in Coffs, just before paper and ink publishing plummeted off the media cliff.

Challenges? Defamation lawsuits and threats when I did investigative journalism, but I was never successfully sued. Highlight? Being able to exit Sydney and the music industry in 2010 at age 60 and moving to a house on a high hill overlooking the ocean and landscape of Coffs.

You are involved with SXSW (South by Southwest) in the USA. Can you tell us about what it is and how it got started?

The world’s largest and most prestigious tech, music and film conference and festival in Austin, Texas; it draws top global creative content talent, entrepreneurs and executives, about 80,000 attendees. It started 35 years ago to focus attention on Austin’s music industry; its motto is “Tomorrow Happens Here”, with a huge array of speakers, 2,000 global bands performing in 100+ venues and 150+ juried film screenings.

What is your role with SXSW? And how did you come to be involved?

Senior Business Development Manager for Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii – the Big Rocks of the Pacific – which translates to taking 800+ paid delegates and 60 showcasing bands over, selling stands like G’DAY AUSTRALIA and AUSTRADE, as well as keeping the event front of mind in this region through PR, publicity and relationships. 

I started in 2002, when there were only 20 Oz attendees and five bands, and grew it all out of Coffs when I moved here. Prior to that, I was the regional rep for MIDEM, then the dominant music confab held in Cannes, France each January. I can assure you, Austin and BBQs during spring break beats the Riviera and French suits in winter!

Thanks Phil.

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