Friday, September 22, 2006

Austin City Limits Music Festival -- Austin, Texas, September 15-17, 2006

It's been awhile, eh? Yes. I've been a busy 'Burgh gal these past few weeks. Managed to see a few shows in between posts that I can briefly comment on here including Kim Richey at Club Cafe July 26th and The Pretenders at the Benedum Theater August 9th. Also picked up autographed copies of Citizen Cope's newest CD Every Waking Moment (decent albeit not on an energy level of his previous two efforts) and Ray LaMontagne's Till the Sun Turns Black (a much more subdued effort but definitely worth a few listens).

Kim Richey, as always, was chatty and laid back and performed with a fellow songwriter, Jesse, from England whom she met at a songwriting camp. It was the beginning of their tour and somewhat chaotic at moments but overall, a nice collection of old and new. Kim seems to be trying to find her way in her musical career and it shows in her performance. I like that she sticks around after the show to talk and swap stories with long-time fans. She's personable and warm with a touch of that awkwardness you notice while she's on stage. Touring appears to be both a delight and a trial for shy Kim. I bought tickets at the last minute and dragged Theresa to see her. She did a few fan favs and two sing-alongs that left the audience wanting encores to which she obliged several times. Theresa's a new convert if that's any indication of her musical prowess. Always a must see.

Chrissie Hynde freaking rocks! She's 54 and still kicking out the post punk attitude. Note to self: Don't FUCK with Chrissie! She can still kick my ass. There are only two original band members, Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers. She shouted out requests for audience favs and bristled when the songs were screamed back. "Predictable," she sighed, and then launched into yet another Pretenders hit. They played nearly every hit they've ever had to a far from sold-out audience (the fools!). We had great seats in the third row. She's toned down the non-vegan bashing but still admonishes the meat-eaters in the crowd; only now it's with more of a velvet glove approach. Chrissie's still got an edge to her that only Pretenders fans can love. And, love her, we did through two standing ovations.

Have you ever been to Austin City Limits Music Festival in Austin, Texas? Do you like heat? I mean 92-degrees-in-the-shade heat? If you said "HELL YEAH" then this is the music festival for you. Theresa and I left Pittsburgh Thursday morning and the temp was 57 degrees farenheit. Friday morning at nine a.m., it was already 80. Blistering heat, I mean to tell you, although we lucked out on Saturday and Sunday with clouds that kept the heat tucked under 90. The bands all mentioned it (the heat) except for Texas-based bands. God Bless them!

Thanks to my fellow music blogger, Bruce, we learned early that drinking beer during the day would only mean disaster. We guzzled water bottles at $2 a pop and sweet tea touched with mint at $4 a pop like camels and enjoyed three days of bands for around $120. Can't beat that with a stick, I say, hotter than hell days or not.

When the sun sets at ACL, it's like a mystical trick of light and dark and cool and hot that meld together with some of the greatest bands in ways you can only experience at ACL. Talk about the gloaming hour. It was like Glenda, the good witch, took her magic wand and waved it over the 65,000+ crowd telling us it was all going to be just fiiiiiiiine ... ohhhh soooooo fine ... when that ball of fire hestitated over the horizon. And it was. Yesss it was. People began swaying and moving and talking ... when daytime activity consisted of inter-group beehives of lilting eyes on their chair castles and murmuring discussions of the next act to see, maybe, if the heat let up. It was like watching the sea of music lovers blossom as the sun set. If you missed the day acts though ... you missed a lot.

What we saw:

Friday: Guster, Stars, Gnarls Barkley, Gomez, Ray LaMontagne, and Van Morrison
Saturday: Ben Kweller, Los Lobos, Ghostland Observatory, Raconteurs, and Willie Nelson
Sunday: KT Tunstall, Buckwheat Zydeco, Matisyahu, Son Volt, Flaming Lips, G. Love and Special Sauce, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Our ACL Standout Performances:

Ghostland Observatory -- Is it man ... or is it woman? What a freaking voice and great thumping atmospheric band backing him/her ... we'll be buying that CD for sure -- man, they RAWKED!

Gnarls Barkley -- Under blood red sun, Gnarls came out with a cover of Thomas Dolby's "Blinded Me with Science" (white coats, chics, and nerd glasses included) and blew the crowd away -- didn't let up -- asked the women to show their tits -- performed "Crazy" to a frenzied crowd wanting more and more and more of him. Theresa almost passed out from heat exhaustion at this point and we headed for the ACL base of food/drink tents. We had become trapped near the front of the stage and remained on the fringes of the other acts -- close to the nearest clean (relatively) port-a-john or BAR.

Flaming Lips -- I really wanted to check these guys out and wasn't disappointed (much). Lead singer Wayne Coyne entered the show in a plastic bubble and rolled out onto the front row audience over soaring music. It was FREAKING amazing to see and the crowd went nuts! He did a stage ad-lib about Ben Kweller's unfortunate and unstoppable nosebleed the previous day (wherein Ben asked female audience members to throw tampons onstage so he could stem the flow of blood ... humorous and agonizing for Ben ... as he really wanted to play) and poured fake blood over his face and, of course, asked for tampons. They did an amazing show with a lot of audience participation but evidently, not as much as Wayne would have liked as he kept stopping what would have been an INCREDIBLE SHOW to ask for more audience singing. It became a real drag at points and a young college student behind us began shouting out "FREE BIRD" at one point just to shut him up. Obnoxious on both parts and disappointing in a way. If it ain't workin' Wayne, move on, dude. God, I hope he reads this.

Ray LaMontagne -- What can I say about Ray? He's got some fire under his belt with Trouble's success and a really heart-felt "I'm not anywhere else but right here at this moment" style of performing. Everyone loved him even though his show was somewhat Ray subdued. Ray's new CD may be getting panned but I think it's a great follow-up effort. It's not hard emotionally gritty get-down-in-the-dirt of the heart and bass raw like Trouble, but damn, it's fine overall. If you liked Trouble, it's still a worthwhile purchase.

Los Lobos -- Theresa and I took shelter under the trees by the port-a-potties for this one. We sat in the mulch chips layed out overnight to keep the dust bowl from happening again and faintly smelled potty disinfectant at times but this show really ROCKED from the opening notes! Some nearby festival fans took pity on us and gave us their chairs for an hour while they checked out another band. It rejuvenated us in a miraculous way. Or maybe it was the searing guitar and vocals of David Hidalgo that revived our spirits to the way of the wolf making its way across the sun-seared land. It's easy to see why Los Super Seven were such a great addition to the Tex-Mex collaboration with two Los Lobos members contributing.

G. Love and Special Sauce -- I cannot say enough about this band. Truly one of the most stand out of the stand out performances. The audience knew all of the lyrics to their famous hits and we just smiled and danced along with the swelling crowd. They are definitely one of my new favorites and a true find on this long trip south. Imagine the blues guitar mixed with Beastie Boys and you've got a feel for these guys. Garret Dutton as the front man is explosive on guitar and harmonica; working the crowd into a frenzy and then laying them back again to sing along. We danced, we sang, we fell in love.

Raconteurs (known as the Saboteurs in Australia)-- We had no idea what to expect with this band having no frame of reference musically or review-wise other than knowing Jack White of the White Stripes played in the band. What a fantastic beat and a great groove! Jack White can play gee-tar like very few. He was amazing and a true jewel in a day of mediocre performances. When he started playing, you could sense a "step-up" in the crowd emotion level -- and when front man, Brendan Benson, gave a nod to Jack -- the crowd went NUTS! Look no further for a rocking good time. Definitely a great find.

Son Volt (previously Uncle Tupelo) -- Another band we knew very little about. Many of the previous year's ACL festival fans murmured here and there about an unbelievable set the previous year so we stopped by for a listen. They're good. Especially front man Jay Farrar. I vaguely recall Uncle Tupelo but not enough to engage a life-long love for Son Volt -- still, though, awesome show and the audience loved, loved, loved them ... again. Glad we caught it.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers -- It was dark and slightly cool (I'd guess 80 degrees) when Tom hit the stage for the closing show. The crowd was unbelievably large and emotionally raw after three days of 90-degree days and a soft Saturday line-up. I had never seen Tom Petty but man, was I impressed! I had heard he's often showed up 'luded out and incoherent. His performance was far from that on this night. He was tight with his band and played all of his hits with enthusiasm. "American Girl" and "Free Fallin'" sounded just as fresh as the first time he played them. It poured down rain 40 minutes into the set but Tom came back with full band and finished up long past the 10 o'clock curfew for Ziler Park, God Bless him.

Van Morrison -- He was good but after a very exhausting day, almost too relaxing in a way. His backup singers kicked ass! We wanted just a glimpse of them on the big screen but the place was so packed, that was almost impossible. He sounded great albeit far, far away. He played Moondance which felt like home so many times in a life that we'd almost come full circle and had another two days to go. Maybe a premature climax? Maybe. He still sounded great and looked ... well, old. We're old. He's old. Most of the crowd is older. It fit and felt comforting like an old shoe.

ACL Hints and Tips:
As soon as the ACL dates are announced, pick up the phone and book a hotel/motel room. Don't linger a second to sip on your iced tea or coffee or beer. Call at that moment. Expect to pay $200+ in town and lower rates for surrounding areas. We stayed at the Days Inn University of Texas at Austin on 31st Street for $99/night and rode the public bus into town each day to catch the ACL shuttle for free. We caught a taxi each night back at $8 a fare. Not too shabby although the Days Inn there is subpar, it's liveable for $99.

The ACL food vendors were excellent! We munched on pulled pork sandwiches, fish tacos, plantain and coconut encrusted shrimp, and nachos. The prices were decent: we paid approximately $10 to eat each day.

There's a fabulous walking/bike trail you can take each night after the shows to avoid the shuttle lines (some said they were four hours long ... OUCH). You walk out of the main entrance to the park and make a left toward the bus shuttle lines and just keep walking until you come to the first bridge -- make a left down into the woods and enjoy a leisurely, beautiful, river walk back to town (about two miles but goes much faster and feels much shorter than two miles). You'll love it!!! We did all three nights although we never did find the Stevie Ray Vaughn statue that's supposed to be near the river. Bruce? Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

We carried backpacks each day filled with: sunscreen, tissues (you never know when the port-a-johns will run out, ladies), maps of the venue and town, snacks (well- hidden and not allowed although security didn't perform scrutinizing searches of anything because the lines to get in were long), bandanas for drenching with water during the day and draping around our northern necks, bottled water purchased at the show (beer after the sun set), a hat to shield our heads, hand-held fans purchased at Dick's Sporting Goods for $1.50, soft stadium seats that allowed you to inflate them with more air (great for sore behinds and lighter than chairs), and various sundries. The backpacks always felt so much heavier at the end of each day so pack light. What were we hauling? Bricks? It felt like it after nine hours in the Texas sun filled with swaying and singing along and, post-sunset beer drinking.

Austin, Texas, is exciting and full of life. The service we experienced there was way above par. Everyone is ready to go above and beyond what's required to make their travelers happy. We even had a waiter's roommate run out into the rainy last night to find a pack of cigarettes for us after a long day. It's a lot of walking and pretty architecture to gaze upon. Best place to catch a cab after a busy day is around Colorado and 5th or 4th. Walk toward the downtown hotels and you're sure to score a ride.

We both loved ACL and were extremely glad we went, despite the heat and obscene amounts of people there. I'd go again after I forget the pain -- like childbirth and getting pregnant again. Some pain is meant to be experienced again in all of its grandeur and greatness. Good show Austin! Thanks for having us.


Blogger bigshoulders said...

Awesome post, Stacey! i was in Austin last year for ACLF 2005. would have loved to have been there this year with the line-up they had. Bloody good line-up. Pun intended. :) That Wayne Coyne is a riot. I hope to see the Lips someday, but he's definitely into being a showman, that's for sure.

You captured my feelings exactly, concerning what it felt like to be out in the TX heat all day... standing in Zilker Park, where shade is more precious than water, almost. I left early a couple nights just so I could get a quick dip in my aunt and uncle's neighborhood pool before it closed at 10 PM. Found out later that many beat the heat during the day by taking a dip in nearby Barton Springs. I will remember that the next time--hopefully I'll be there next year!

Oh, one other thing, when Uncle Tupelo disbanded, two bands were borne out of the ashes: Jay Farrar founded Son Volt, and Jeff Tweedy and pretty mucht the rest of Uncle Tupelo, formed Wilco. I'm sure you've heard of them. ;)


5:09 PM  

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