Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, this question does not have a one size fits all answer. The answer has to be your own decision, and it should be based on understanding the requirements that relate to your nationality, the COVID conditions in your home country, the different kinds of activities that you could choose to undertake while in the U.S., and the risks of not following the law. With that said, below is more information about showcasing in the U.S.
If the only performances you’ll do in the U.S. are official SXSW Showcases: The U.S. government has previously acknowledged that if an artist is coming to the U.S., and the only performances they will do are official SXSW music showcases, then the B-1 visa should be the appropriate visa classification. If an artist is eligible to travel under the Visa Waiver Program (“ESTA”) that should also be sufficient as long as the artist is only performing at official SXSW showcases. In the past, many artists who are eligible for ESTA have chosen to obtain a B-1 visa because it has the potential to help the artist avoid logistical concerns associated with ESTA. However, given ongoing issues at many U.S. embassies and consulates around the world related to Covid-19 and other issues, obtaining a B-1 visa may not be possible in time for SXSW, in which case the U.S. government has previously indicated that ESTA is legally sufficient for official showcase performances at SXSW. Since there could be risks with either approach, it’s important that you obtain independent legal advice as you make your travel plans.
A Note for Canadians: Although Canadians typically are not required to have visas to enter the U.S., Canadians are subject to similar rules: if they are only performing at official SXSW showcases, they probably do not need to seek a special employment status prior to entering the U.S.
If you will be doing performances in the U.S. in addition to the official SXSW Showcases: If you plan to perform at other events in the U.S. in addition to your official SXSW Showcases, you will likely need an O or P type work visa.
A Note for Canadians: Although Canadians typically are not required to have visas to enter the U.S., Canadians are subject to similar rules: if they are performing anything other than official SXSW showcases, they probably need to seek a special employment status prior to entering the U.S.