2011 Austin City Limits Music Festival
Brings the Beat (and Rain) to Texas Capitol
By Stacy Alexander Evans
Concert Photos by Christopher Durst
All Other Photos Courtesy of 2011 Austin City Limits Music Festival
Some will argue that Texas has only two seasons. I don't know about the rest of the state, but in Austin we definitely have four: Winter, SXSW, Summer, ACL. Nothing remains now but the vestiges of a well-rocked party: a field of crushed aluminum & a stream of celebratory Facebook updates vis a vis "we came...and we conquered." Although Brooklyn singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur tried to sing the rain away with his best-known song "In the Sun," and Alison Krauss apologized, saying "Sorry you guys have to stand in the rain!"—audience members at the 2011 Austin City Limits Music Festival were more than happy to get wet. One fan answered back to Krauss: "We don't mind! We'd stand in the rain even if you weren't here!"
Not only was the cover of rain clouds a welcome reprieve from several weeks of brutal Texas heat, the rain itself was a gift in the wake of devastating wildfires just east of Austin. Indeed, Texas' dry spell from October 2010 to October 2011 was of such epic proportions that one would have to go back over 100 years, to the dawn of rainfall recordkeeping, to find a drought as severe.
The music festival is as much theatre, ritual and anthropology as it is music. Festival-goers are bound together by common triumphs and failures: the rarified spot in front of your favorite band, the long lines endured for the privilege of relieving yourself in a smelly portable toilet. Flirtations are foiled in the same field where love takes root. After three days of this, as the headliner takes the stage (in this case, Canada's Grammy award-winning Arcade Fire)...many are near tears, though it is uncertain if they are tears of respite or joy.
Although the Austin City Limits brand was once almost exclusively associated with the roots/Americana genres, the lineups have become increasingly diverse over the years. As dubstep hearththrob Skrillex took the stage, someone squealed "The kids are comin' out! Skriiiiillex!" The speaker was a man in his 30s, but he clearly meant to mock the teen and preteen girls whose Beatles-come-to-America enthusiasm was off the hook. Yet they became hypnotized robots when the bass dropped. During his energetic set, there were signs of cross-generational simpatico. A 24 year-old man asks his 14 year-old companion, perhaps his girlfriend's little brother, "You like house music?" The younger nods in acquiescence. "Yeah," says the elder, "I think your generation is really going to embrace it."
At least one teen girl in the audience had an assignment beyond swooning. Miranda Waldron-Curry is a teen fashion blogger who'd been working the Austin Kiddie Limits tent as a rep for 77kids. 77kids, a clothing line launched by American Eagle in 2008, attempts a direct-hit to the hearts of fashion conscious parents who want to pass along their rocked-out aesthetic to their kids. "It's all about expressing yourself fully," says Waldron-Curry, "every kid has that rock star inside, and it's not too commercialized...it's the real deal."
The horizon at ACL gives clues that you are not at a regular "concert": totems top poles meant to stake out a base-camp so friends can find their way back to comrades with ease. Hence, the opportunity to "keep it weird" is seized, and the sky is awash with homemade flags, stuffed animals, feather boas, and (my personal favorite): a blow-up sex doll.
The obligatory kowtow to the host city comes courtesy of Social Distortion's Mike Ness. "You know, we came in town a day early, fucked around in South Austin (cheers), and I gotta tell ya, the people in California are assholes, man!" Apparently he appreciates the women who know how to turn on the Southern charm, "and they don't even know what band I'm in, they don't care. Fuck them Californian bitches...and the ladies too."
Even local performers seem not to tire of the festival's mammoth presence in Austin. Texas State Musician Sara Hickman, sweaty from having just joined fellow-songstress Patrice Pike on stage for a duet, was giddy in her praise of autumn's first big party, "Everybody really cares about the festival," she says, "it's like one big family." The event features unique perks for performers, including an interior party-within-a-party dubbed the "Artist's Village."
The talk of the festival, for many, was Stevie Wonder. Now 61, the iconic Wonder's touring has been sporadic in recent years. Although many singers' voices falter in their later years, Stevie's pipes appeared to be in tip-top shape and once some technical sound difficulties were corrected, he came through loud and clear—at the top of his game. He took advantage of the still-fresh posthumous Michael Jackson fervor by covering "The Way You Make Me Feel". From Wonder's promise to put his "best love forward" to the spiraling retro-70s excesses of My Morning Jacket next door, joy was abundant on ACL stages this year. The physical demands of a rock festival pale in comparison to those of a long, sweltering Texas summer—and for good or ill, both have now passed into myth.
Young The Giant live at the 2011 ACL Festival.
The 2012 ACL Festival
October 12 - 14.
Visit the official ACL website for details.