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“I’ve definitely felt it over the years,” Clark said. “It’s pretty cool.”

It’s that cool stars and advertisers seek when they come to Austin, and their presence has changed things for both good and ill, longtime visitors say. Charles Aaron, SPIN’s editorial director, believes the new acts are getting lost in the busy shuffle that SXSW has become in recent years: “I think when the Internet happened it just went completely kaplooie, and then after that it was like you couldn’t move anywhere. It was just like a giant mob scene.”

He also thinks the conference is simply more interesting these days because of the diversity that evolution has brought with it.

R&B hitmaker The-Dream will appear at a showcase with pop legend Lionel Richie, whose upcoming album explores his country music roots. Juanes will speak and leads a contingent of Latin performers, while showcases will be held for African, Asian, Australian and British performers.

Even electronic dance music artists like Flux Pavilion are testing what have previously been tepid waters for the laptop crowd, showing just how much variety there is after a quarter century.

“I think the main thing about South By Southwest now is there’s so much variety,” said Aaron, who’s attended the conference off and on for 20 years. “It’s not like an indie rock festival or even a major label rock festival. It’s got every genre represented in large part, and that’s kind of more the experience now for me.”