Written by Robert Garza, SXSW SVC Staff
The SXSW staff is grieving over the tragic loss of SXSW Special Venues staff member and crew chief, Clayton Keller. Clayton was the victim of a wrong-way drunk driver on Interstate 35 in Austin on August 19, 2015, while driving from Dallas to his home in San Antonio.
Clayton was “drafted” by the Special Venues Crew in 2010 and was made a crew chief in 2012 to help manage crowd safety on the streets of Austin during SXSW. Festival fan and long time concert aficionado, over the past few years Clayton worked some of the largest and most beloved multi-day festivals on the planet. He leaves behind a SVC staff that is stronger and closer because of his big heart and unmistakable smile.
He was a husband to Sarah, a father to Anthony, and a dear family member to so many of us. In the world of crowds and safety, sometimes we work off-script and close to the vest. Clayton was one of the best.
He is survived by his wife Sarah Keller and their son Anthony. A GoFundMe has been started for those who wish to donate in support of Clayton's family.
The Special Venues Crew Remembers Clayton
I only knew Clayton for a short while. I only interacted with him personally for a few days. During those days, he left a lasting impression on me. I've Crew Chiefed at SXSW for 4 years, and volunteered for 7. During the brief time I worked with Clayton on SVC, I saw just how much more I could learn. On my second night of working with SVC as a Jr Crew Chief, I asked to be assigned to the venue that would be the biggest mess. Oh boy did I get it. Upon getting to my venue and seeing a 1,000 person line that had been waiting since 7am, I knew I was in over my head. I also knew that this single line was going to have to be split in to three separate lines for each entry type. I sat there trying to imagine how to possibly do this without causing a riot from all the people who had been waiting 12 hours in the sun. Eventually, I conceded my ability and radioed for help. I said we would need a handful of Sr. Crew Chiefs to handle this. Only one showed up. His name was Clayton. Within 5 minutes he assessed the situation and had his plan. Within 10 minutes, we had split a line of 1,000 people into three separate lines, including re-wrapping one line around the other side of the building. After that, he asked if I was okay, and went on his way.
Fast forward much later that evening, I've been assigned to a new venue which I was told was also a big mess (my favorite). I arrived to find a crowd of a few hundred or more people, spread out into a busy street that was not closed down, all in front of a club. I once again tried to figure out how to handle such a crowd and found myself radioing for help a second time. Only one man showed up. Once again within 5 minutes he had split the crowd, wrapped them against both halves of the building, and calmed everything down. He checked with the club management, checked with me, and went on his way again.
I thought I knew what it meant to be a Senior Crew Chief and how to be in charge. Within one night I was humbled not once, but twice. I've retold this story a dozen times to people, and will continue doing so. Clayton my friend, you are an inspiration and a force to be reckoned with. Thank you for your lessons and your leadership.
I will do my best to pass it on.
I have had the pleasure of working with Clayton Keller since 2010. In those few years, Clayton had become like a little brother to me. And when I say little brother, I mean it in the way that I imagine (actually being an only child myself) most everyone thinks about having a little brother… with the good and the bad.
Oh my, there were times that Clayton absolutely drove me crazy! Always joking, even when it wasn’t necessarily the best time to be joking. Always with that smile… everyone who knew Clayton knows that smile. Half-cocked and sheepish, like he knew a secret he was waiting for the rest of the world to learn. His love for life was contagious. And his willingness to help others was never-ending.
Clayton was one of my staff members and crew chiefs at SXSW on the Special Venues Crew (SVC). And SVC is my family – my little dysfunctional family where I have sometimes earned the title “Momma Bear.” We have “gone to battle” together working crowd control and line management at SXSW - an event that takes on a life of its own each March in downtown Austin.
And Clayton was always up to ANY challenge we put in front of him. What?... We are going to have a huge hip-hop artist play in a tiny venue where there’ll be a line all the way around the block? Clayton would simply say, “Bring it on!” What?... Clayton broke his foot just days before the start of SXSW? No matter… he worked the entire event, hoofing it all over town from one venue to the next night after night while wearing a boot/cast. That’s the kind of guy Clayton was. He’d never let anyone down, and he would be in full “go mode” until the job was done. Period.
I miss Clayton more than words can express. I have a very hard time right now trying to imagine working events without him. Clayton had impressed me so much by his work at SXSW that I hired him to work other festivals with me, including Bonnaroo and Austin City Limits Music Festival. And it was at Bonnaroo the past two years, camping in the middle of a music festival of 100,000 people in Tennessee and working the overnight shift (8pm-8am each night), where I really got to know Clayton. It was there where we would sit around our camping area for hours, trying to get sleepy enough to actually get some sleep during the daylight hours. He’d talk to me about Sarah and Anthony and about how much he loved them. It’s also where I learned about his obsession with cars, especially Scions. It’s where he told me how much he loved being a part of our SX family. And where I would sit and listen to him tell story after silly story of his shenanigans with Bob, Diamond, and Jamar and my other “SA boys.”
Clayton, you will forever be in my heart. I know you’ll be our SVC guardian angel, along with Tope who taught us both so much.
I love you, Little Brother, more than you’ll ever know.