What you see is the wristband that gets me in the gate of the biggest music festival I’ve ever seen. In its third year, the Austin City Limits Music Festival has a lineup of bands I’ve wanted to see for some time, most notably The Pixies (touring after a decade split). After much procrastination, I finally got a 3-day pass (at a daunting but well-spent $89). Just in the nick of time too: they sold out later that day.
Friday had me at work most of the day. I managed to duck out early, went home, and prepped myself for the festival. Decided to drive down to the state parking garages downtown where I could park for $5 and catch the CapMet shuttles from Waterloo park down to the festival. There was a long line at the park, but it moved surprisingly fast because the busses never stopped coming; they would stop long enough to fill up, then be off while another bus took its place. A 15-minute ride got us to the festival in style. I was impressed.
After putting on my wristband and having my satchel searched, I walked through the gate to the busiest sight I’ve ever seen. Eight stages and a ton of people were all over Zilker park, which is something like 15 acres. Looked to be more people there than in most large towns. Amazing.
Several bands were doing their thing. To my left (the west), on a major stage was a rasta band named Toots and the Maytals. I dug their sound. Walked on, grabbed something to eat from the Stubbs BBQ booth, and walked around to hear other bands like Ryan Adams. Not bad, not bad.
An acquaintance of mine was the drummer for a local band named Gomez. They were fine, from what I hear. However, they found out about another band, from England, with the same name. They filed lawsuit and won; the English band had to change their name to Gomez UK. Well, the local Gomez is defunct, apparently, because the English Gomez is doing ACL. Knowing this, I had to hear this band for myself. Truth be told, they’re good. Like a mix of Ours and Vast with a ton of I Mother Earth (with pop sensibilities) thrown in. I was rather impressed.
The main act I wanted to see Friday night was Sheryl Crow. I missed the chance to see her when I went to the first Lilith Fair tour in ’96; she didn’t play the show in Raleigh, NC. Her set started kinda early, while I was watching Gomez, but it was a relatively short walk after the Gomez set to see her set. In a nutshell, she’s a consumate showman. A little self-agrandizing, but consumate. She pulled out a good amount of her popular songs and threw some unknowns into the mix. Had several singer-songwriter blues guitarists from other bands sit in with her and her band on several songs. Kinda cool. Something that can only be done during festivals. Her show was the last of the day, and she and her band came out for an encore of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Pride and Joy”, which was pretty good for a cover.
The venture home was frustrating, at best. After wandering around for forever, I discovered that the line for the shuttles back to the downtown garages stretched for what seemed to be a quarter mile. I decided to walk to my friend BC3’s house to take him up on his offer to host me and carry me back to my car. After spending 10 minutes walking, mostly uphill, I got to his house and discovered nobody was home, so I took my tired, aching, thirsty, having-to-pee self back downhill in the hopes that the shuttle busses were still running. 10 minutes later, I finally get there and caught the last bus of the night. Phew. Got to my car, raised my hands with the rocker signs, got in, and headed home.
Today will be superbusy and superhot. Looking forward to seeing The Pixies, Modest Mouse, The Wailers, and Big Head Todd and the Monsters.
Saturday was a test of mettle. Most of the afternoon found me sitting down in the nearest shady, breezy spot trying to stay hydrated and fed, so until around 5pm I really didn’t go to see any band in particular. I was just kinda in between stages, so I got to see and hear several bands at a time.
I got to the festival around 3:30, during Big Head Todd and the Monsters‘ set. I got to hear a few songs, some of which I knew, but overall I missed this set. Sad, because I wanted to see them. They’re good. After BHT, I wanted to see The Gourds, but I was dealing a mild case of heat exhaustion, so I felt it more important to sit down than deal with the crowd in front of the stage. Got to hear them, but still.
I joined in to watch the Modest Mouse set. I was impressed. These guys are good live. Still fighting the exhaustion and not able to stand at a decent spot, I couldn’t hang much past their playing of “Float On”, so I went to float on and get more water and some food and sit down again.
It was during this time that I managed to listen to Abra Moore‘s set. Haven’t seen her in years, and her folk-country style was just kinda cool.
I didn’t know what to expect of Dashboard Confessional. I had heard a few of their songs, and was kind of iffy on the sound, so I decided to check them out. I’ll be damned if the audience area was jam-packed with all the people Fratonia could dredge up. I overheard someone near where I was sitting that they are this generation’s Deep Blue Something. I kinda agree. As happy and as weak and acoustic this band is, I could sense something dark and depressing in their lyrics. Not that I could hear the band over all the talking, but I could hear lots of other people singing and mouthing the words.
I had a slight choice problem: should I go to see The Neville Brothers because of what they were, or should I go see The Wailers because of who they used to play for? Well, the problem was solved when The Wailers exchanged slots and stages with G. Love and Special Sauce. I checked out a little bit of The Wailers (and their nice, fat bass) before Modest Mouse, and some of The Neville Brothers while I was pushing through the crowd on my way to see The Pixies. Which brings me to:
THE PIXIES. Oh my god. It was good to see them. I never thought I’d ever see them, and here I am standing in this crowd, sweating my ass off after sunset, watching them. Photons travelled from the lights, bounced off of them, and landed in my eyes. :vibrating:
They pulled out a lot of stuff from “Surfer Rosa” and “Doolittle” (both of the albums I own) and played a good bit of stuff I didn’t know, which may have been from “Trompe Le Monde” or “Bossanova”, neither of which I own. So I don’t know if they’ve written new stuff. Not sure about that, but it’s all just as good. Frank Black can still scream. Every time Kim Deal did a solo, the crowd went nuts. My hope is that the rumor of The Pixies getting back into the studio is true. We can all hope.
They finished their set with “Vamos!”, but didn’t come out for an encore. Makes sense, really. Heh.
The trip home was a bit easier and filled with less heartache than the night before. My friend BC3 let me park in front of his house where it’s a short walk to the festival. He watched his curbside to make sure there was space for me and some other friends, which is highly commendable (and gave him a few good stories). After my walk back to his place, I found that someone was at home (thankfully), so I was invited in to rest, cool my heels, and take a load off, which I did with much aplomb. Chatted about the festival with them, and we watched some Firefly, then I headed on my way home around 11:40 to go shower, have a snack, treat my mild sunburn, take some pseudoephedrine, and go to sleep. The day was a wandering success.
Today, my bands of note are: Elvis Costello and the Imposters, Spoon or Drive-By Truckers, Wilco, and Cake. I don’t need to be to the festival until 4, which is good, because I’m feeling pretty rough after yesterday. Heh. More later.
Sunday was much better on me heatwise and restwise. I managed to get some rest and take my time getting ready since the first band I wanted to see was Elvis Costello at 4pm.
During that time in the early afternoon before I had to prepare for the day, I went to check out the live stream provided by Launch and Yahoo. It was there that I got to see newcomer Rachael Yamagata on stage. She’s a singer-songwriter in the alt-rock, alt-folk style; she has a warm, smoky, rounded voice and a charming, easygoing demeanor. Very sexy. Lyrical style ranges from relationships gone bad, naturally, to lighter, sentimental stuff. Accompanying her are bass, lead guitar, drums (by her cousin), piano, violin, and cello. Definitely KGSR material. I should probably keep my eye out for her work in the future.
So. After preparations, I got to my friend’s house and parked with no trouble. Taking in the lessons from Saturday, I adopted the policy of constantly sipping water once I left my apartment; the bottle was empty by the time I reached the gates, and I had zero dehydration and exhaustion. Time to rock.
I was a little late, as is my idiom, in getting to the festival, so I missed half of Elvis Costello’s set. When I got inside, it was straight to the food stands with me to get some nutrients going, so I was able to at least hear Costello’s set, which was good stuff. Honestly, I wish I knew more of his material; he’s as prolific as he is varied, if not more. Respected as a trailblazer; now he’s blazing into concert composition. From what I heard of his set, he still has respect.
I was unsure what to expect from Spoon. I had a notion that they were one of the successful local bands, but I couldn’t remember their sound, so they were on my list of must-sees. I’m glad I saw them. Solid work, solid sound. Mellow, and melodramatic. It’s what Ben Folds Five should’ve sounded like; almost like a mix between local band Zykos and Radiohead. I intend on picking up one of their 3 discs soon.
I had heard of Wilco for years, but never paid attention or learned of their sound. These guys are old pros, and they put the rocking back into rock. Pretty avant-garde stuff, and I so like it. There are so many albums in their discography, I’m not sure where to start. But their solid riffs, their experiments with onstage noise, their use of piano and, occasionally, horns is pretty refreshing.
And, finally, the last band I wanted to see: Cake. They followed Pat Green on the smaller stage next to his, but the audience was much, much bigger. After dealing with crowds all weekend, I had no intention on pushing through to get a closer spot; I instead decided that standing higher up on the hill was a much better place due to the breeze and the spectacular view of the scene. Cake is a good band; their five or so radio songs have anchored them to the timeline, and stands as a small testament to their quality. The lead singer’s chatter was sharp, witty, and humorously pessimistic as he waxed about the music industry, the hopefulness of the nation, public transport, phone calls, and so on. They played some songs from their upcoming album; they sound good, a little more electronic than in the past. They finished their set with a new song, “No Phone”, left the stage, and then came back for an encore to play “Never There”. They thanked us, walked off, but the crowd didn’t leave, so they did a double-encore by playing “Going the Distance”. The crowd that hadn’t left already went nuts.
After the Cake set, I wandered off to join the throngs leaving the festival. Kind of somber, as expected, but kind of relieved that my ceaseless walking, standing, and sweating could come to a pause. As I reached my friends’ house, I collapsed on their huge ottoman and just laid there for a few as we had a laugh. ACLFest 2004 was over, and I played an active part in it by going. With this year’s lineup, I knew I couldn’t let myself down; I’ve had enough with not taking opportunities for a lifetime. I owed it to myself.
The unofficial rumor I’m hearing from the radio stations is that on all three days of the sold-out festival Zilker Park was at peak capacity of 75,000 people. Wow. That is three quarters the population of my home town. Seriously, I love this town. Rock!
Since personal-use cameras were allowed, I took mine and took plenty of photos and snapshots. I’ll get these rolls developed soon, and then I’ll post select shots here. So, yes, pictures are forthcoming.