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ACL report

See 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006, for previous ACL reports.

It's taken a little time, but I'm ready to give the Austin City Limits Festival report for 2007. This year was a little different than all other years in that I actually stayed IN Austin for the duration of the music festival. Every other year, I've driven the 60 miles back and forth from the ranch every night after seeing music. You'd think that this would mean I'd have seen more of the festival this year than previous years due to proximity. You'd be wrong.

Friday: Traffic

I left here at around twelve thirty, but due to a variety of delays (read: lunch) I didn't actually hit the highway until 2:00. I didn't really think much of it, because I knew that I'd be missing Bela Flek's 2:30 set no matter what. I figured that I had plenty of time to drive to hit M.I.A.'s 5:30 set though. Hell, I figured I'd get the last half of Crowded House's 4:30 set.

I hit traffic the second I got on 290. I have no idea who those people were or where they were going, but getting from the Loop to the Beltway was insane. And frustrating. It took me forty five minutes to get out of Houston, but it cleared up as soon as I got out of town. I didn't hit Giddings until about 4:00, but I didn't really think much of that, though, since I knew it'd be way less than an hour to get to Zilker Park.

It took me an hour and forty five minutes, and by the time I navigated I35, got the hell through downtown, parked right off Lamar, walked further than I've ever walked before at ACL (compare to last year), M.I.A. was gone.

I texted a variety of people to let them know I was there when I walked in the gate, and then I walked around to get my bearings. My choices were Spoon and Queens of the Stone Age. I'm not the biggest Spoon fan in the world, and I like some of Queens of the Stone Age, so I headed in that direction. I was happy to see that the lawn chairs that I've been bitching about for years finally have been relegated to far, far away from the stages, so I could actually navigate through the crowds fairly easily.

As I walked past a beer line, I saw my friends Candyman and T at the front of the line buying beer. 60,000 people wandering around Zilker Park, and I instantly run into my friends. They escorted me back to where they'd left everyone else in front of the sound stage at Queens of the Stone Age. T.'s wife M, our friend MM and two of T's school roommates and their girlfriends were in attendance. K was flying in later that night from San Francisco. The set was actually quite good. I'd heard some of their music on the radio, and I like them. At first, the singer's voice was a little not great, but he improved considerably as the set went on, and the instrumentation was just flat out good. It was definitely a great way to start off the show.

Afterwards, we all stopped for beer and discussed our options. I really wanted to see the Gotan Project. A friend had given me a CD of theirs a few years ago, and I wanted to check them out. Since no one else had a preference, we headed over in that direction, and I think no one regretted that decision. The Gotan Project is out of Paris and Buenos Aires, and the base of their music is Tango. But it's more than Tango. It's electronica, rap, and visual performance. My friend Juan, who seems to know everything about all music made anywhere, later asked me if it was any good live given how produced their albums are, and I could only emphatically say Hell yes. It was sex music. Long, many hour sex music with great tempo changes and a few surprises and a feeling of never ever wanting it to stop. It was also visually beautiful. The dozen or so people on stage were wearing all white, and looking much more formal than the crowd. The stage sort of had a 1920s big band feel to it, and they projected black and white images over the performers. At one point, Spanish speaking rappers were projected, and they melded beautifully with the electric tango. It was great fun to watch the people trying to wander early to Bjork stop and become transfixed. Their albums were sold out entirely when I walked into the Waterloo tent on Sunday.

After that, we sort of split up. Some people went to see the Killers, and I and others went to see Bjork. Some went back to the house to wait for K. Bjork was adorable. I have a soft spot for her and have for years. She was wearing a gold lame tiger striped muumuu, and her hair was down and her feet were bare and her forehead was painted with triangles. She had a full horn section, complete with tuba, French horns and other assorted brasses that looked like they came from one of those Star Trek girl planets: flowing tunic jumpsuits and painted foreheads. They were beautiful. I thought of the Flaming Lips on that same stage a year before, and I smiled as I thought that absurdity will never have limits. It was a fun, whimsical show with a bunch of darkness in there to throw people off.

I mentioned something about driving to the ranch, and M insisted that I come home with everyone else and stay at her house. I got directions, got lost a few times, but eventually, I made it to their house and pizza and beer and tequila and a (relatively) early night to bed.

Saturday: Indulgence

At some point I woke up. There were donuts and a cute nine month old puppy named Biscuit and Candyman's bloody marys. We hung around the kitchen for awhile and let inertia sort of dominate until someone had the brilliant idea of going down to the pool. All of my bathing suits are on the container, but I did have the laundry that I was intending on doing at the ranch in the car, so I changed into compression shorts and a jog bra and joined in the pool for a few hours. I can't tell you how many hours. It was a lot. The bloody marys were followed by some beer and a mixed grill with steak and salmon and potatoes and corn and all sorts of great veggies then a nap by the side of the pool and a chat with graham14 about the demise of Ferdinand.

At some point, I woke up and M. and I decided to hit the festival. Everyone else couldn't be moved from the pool, but we persevered. Saturday's schedule had been the one that I'd been most torn over, with the White Stripes/Arctic Fire decision to be made, but it also had the least amount of stuff I really, really wanted to see. We rolled in around 5:00 and heard the last part of the Blue October set. Those guys are from Houston, and I'm really glad for their success, but they're not anyone I'm head over heels about.

M. bought a few Gotan Project CDs at the Waterloo tent around the time that I got a call from daojones's sister who was at the Zap Mama set. M. and I wandered over there, and H found me, hugged me and dragged me back to where she and her friend were standing. We spent the hour chatting and listening to the music. One thing I'll say about this ACL that differs from previous shows I've been to is that it felt much more international than the past. It may have been just what I've chosen to see in the past, but it was cool to see so many people from other countries and cultures.

Right around the time that Zap Mama ended was when I started feeling rotten. I'm not sure if it was heat, alcohol or the mixed grill--probably a combination of the three--but I had a headache beyond belief, started chugging water like it was going out of style, and just generally was feeling icky. M. and I went to see the first part of the Arctic Monkeys, but my heart wasn't really in it, and the thought of waiting another two hours for the Arcade Fire was downright unappealing. We bailed around 7:00 and found everyone else still in the pool when we got home.

I will say, if the White Stripes hadn't cancelled, I would have suffered through to stay for them. I guess my White Stripes/Arcade Fire dilemma wasn't really that profound.

There was an attempt to rally the troops out for margaritas at around nine, but only five of us ended up going to Guerros on South Congress for Mexican food and margaritas. For probably the first time in my life, I couldn't drink a margarita. Apparently, I was just looking green for a good part of the time there, but after a few hours and throwing up, I began to feel better. By the time we got to Amy's Ice Cream around midnight, I could eat again.

When we got home, we arrived to Karaoke in full swing. I blame my sister. I realize that she wasn't even there, but it's her fault that the karaoke existed in the first place. A few years ago, there was a fateful trip to Puerto Vallarta for New Years, and Claudia brought her Leadsinger karaoke machine with her. My understanding is that the residents of the neighborhood could hear the ruckus from three blocks away that year. And of course, everyone had to go out and get one of the machines after the trip for their own use. The same model is on the Vroom Vroom Room now, as Buttery was also on that trip to Mexico.

Anyhow, I tried, lord knows I tried, to stay away from the microphone. But it was forced, Forced I say! into my hands, and the next thing I knew, I was singing from Jesus Christ Superstar and Madonna. As I say, it wasn't pretty. Nothing, nothing, in the world is worse than a drunk person telling me that I'm a FANTASTIC singer. That sort of thing makes me want to sing more. I shouldn't be encouraged.

I think it was four in the morning when we finally stopped. On the plus side, my illness mysteriously disappeared when the karaoke started. I felt fine when I went to bed. I think, though, that the cure was much worse for the observers than the illness.

Sunday: Redemption

Sunday morning was slower moving than Saturday, due to late bedtimes. Some people were put on airplanes with considerably higher blood alcohol levels than usual, and by two o'clock, it was just the Texas people left.

We spent a lazy morning/afternoon by the pool and I managed to knit quite a bit on my baby blanket while we talked about music, friends, everything. It was the hour and a half discussion of Uncle Tupelo/Wilco/Son Volt (complete with guitar accompaniment) that drew me out of my stupor and made me get organized to get moving around 4:30. As far as I know, I was the only one that made it out that day.

I parked, walked, and set myself in place by 5:00 by the stage that would eventually hold Wilco and I listened to the Regina Spector set while I waited for my favorite band to hit the stage. She was good, but I was chomping at the bit for Wilco.

They gave Wilco an hour and 15 minutes when they usually give an hour. It was awesome. I know I say that every time I hear them, but dammit...I'm not the only one. Look at This blog report of the taping of their Austin City Limits television show set the night before. It's the little things with them. Like Tweedy going acoustic for "I am going to break your heart." And the big things, like the amazing guitar solos that seemed to just take over the world. And the craziness around him with drums and guitar and other noise while Jeff sings softly and calmly to the lyrics of "Via Chicago." The set was pretty heavy with Sky Blue Sky, but as always, they played a lot from various albums. I've heard "Walken" so many times live now, it surprises me it's only been released on Sky Blue Sky. I actually was sort of surprised that "The Late Greats" wasn't played because I've heard it so many times live now... I don't really know how to express how much I love hearing this band, especially with Nels Cline at guitar now. It's possibly my perfect band. I was standing there, singing along with thousands of other die hard Wilco fan and I was perfectly happy. I could have just gone to this show and I would have been fine with my ACL experience.

But there was more! After Wilco, I hightailed it for the last forty five minutes of the Decemberists set. The Decemberists are my favorite new band. Though, they're not really new. New to me, I guess, but that's not really true, either, since I saw them in 2005 at ACL and had and loved Her Majesty the Decemberists. I guess I mean that they are newly one of my favorite bands. I've had The Crane Wife, their most recent album, on repeat now for a few months, and I'm always finding new and interesting things in it. I guess it's sort of like how I always liked Green Day, but I didn't love them until American Idiot came out. Anyhow, the Decemberists are a smart band, if that makes sense. There are literary references in their lyrics and big words that seem to just beautifully go together. And they're fun. And it was a great live show. Charismatic, energetic performers who looked sharp and different. It's always great to see someone pounding the shit out of a xylophone like she means business. (Though I suppose that probably happened at the Arcade Fire set too...) They were perfect to follow Wilco, in part because they're so different, but also because I wasn't going to lose my music loving high seeing them.

I stuck around for the obligatory "Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35" that started Dylan's set. It was a good way to show the kids who may have never heard him that he's been around and knows what's going on. Certainly the song was appreciated by the crowd. As expected, his band was top notch, and he played a few songs from the new album as I was leaving the park.

I got home around midnight, which wasn't too too bad, though my phone died right as I was leaving Austin and my cigarette lighter seems to not be working anymore. I listened to a Gotan Project CD that I'd bought at the Waterloo tent all the way home.

One thing that did bum me out was that I wasn't able ever to hook up with bn'b despite a few text messages and phone calls. She was there, it seemed, the exact times that I wasn't there, and vice versa. Obviously, this means we'll have to hook up sometime soon.

Though I didn't see as many sets as I usually do, I can't say that I was too upset with this year's ACL. I would have preferred to have felt a little better on Saturday, but I suspect it was my own damned fault for over indulging in pretty much everything earlier that day. I noticed that my observations about Virgin Fest's relative uncleanliness stood to further scrutiny when I was leaving on Sunday. There were a few cups and bottles on the ground, but Zilker park wasn't filthy after 65,000 people had been there for three days straight.

I did feel the absence of the White Stripes and Rodrigo y Gabriela. I would have gotten there earlier on Sunday for the latter and stayed later on Saturday for the former. It's the first time that three major acts cancelled (Amy Winehouse also didn't make it, but that's no surprise to anyone), and with 130 bands it's not like there was a musical void, but those two groups were definitely on my "must see" list for this year's festival and it bummed me out that both cancelled.



( 1 comment — Say something )
Sep. 19th, 2007 12:23 am (UTC)
It bummed me out too, darling. Perhaps a weekend sojourn is in order.

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