Friday, October 2nd, 2009.
Jim the taxi-man comes and gets us at 12:30. I’m waiting excitedly in the dining room, looking at the street, like a little kid waiting for a birthday party to start! The traffic is crazy – we have to turn around and go the back way to the drop-off by Austin High School. But all is well when we get into the park. Gorgeous weather – the best they’ve ever had for ACL. Highs in the 70’s, sunny, puffy clouds.
First up Blitzen Trapper, a Grateful Deadish sounding band. This is our first introduction to the biggest problem of the day. The sound is loud, and the bass is overwhelming. And if you sit far enough back to not go deaf sound bleeds through from other bands. This is the first year we’ve ever noticed this. One of the great things about ACL has always been that there are so many choices and the stages are constructed so that sound-bleed has never been an issue. I don’t know if it’s the bands or the sound-systems or our ages but this year it’s noticeable.
We listen to about ½ of the Blitzen Trapper set, and unimpressed, walk over to hear Mishka instead. He’s a rockin’ reggae performer that is very enjoyable. After that we walk over to hear Jonell Mosser, a lovely Bonnie Rait-like singer. She’s got a really nice voice; sings creative covers. I wouldn’t mind hearing more of her.
Then it’s over to another stage to listen to Todd Snyder. He’s a hoot – clever lyrics, talking blues. I wouldn’t buy him though I’d go to hear him again in a second.
From there we go over to our old spot under the trees near the AMD stage. We plan on just hanging out, but we happen to be there for Phoenix, a French pop band. At first I’m only half listening but as their set goes on I realize I really like them. They’re good, and it seems like all 65,000 people at ACL agree. It gets crowded, REALLY crowded. Since we never stay to hear the headliners this is by far the most crowded I’ve ever seen ACL. I think this band might be on the verge of becoming the next Coldplay or something. Well if so I can say we saw them “when”!
Then it’s over to Xbox360 stage to listen to Raphael Saadiq. R&B with a beat. He’s fun but this is another thing about ACL. At some point I go into musical overload and really can’t process what I’m hearing anymore. That point comes sometime during Saadiq’s set. I know he’s good but I really don’t care. I decide I need a glass of wine.
Lee goes over to hear the Greencards (bluegrass); I stay on the west side of the park to listen to John Legend. He’s beautiful and his band and backup singers are polished and professional, but I’m too far back again and the bleed from the other end of the park is bad and distracting. I wouldn’t mind hearing more of him though.
After John Legend Lee and I meet at the Hudson Cone stand for dinner. Oh those shrimp and avocado cones….one of the best features of ACL is the food. It’s not just corndogs and fries at this festival. Local restaurants put on as good a show as the bands. Earlier in the day Lee and I split a small Amy’s Ice Cream…wow how we’ve changed….we’re just not used to all that butter cream and sugar anymore.
I’m ready to listen to Andrew Bird, except for the whistling he’s one of the best performers on Friday. He’s very good, violin, voice, everything. I’m going to buy more of him at some point.
Then Lee leaves and I stay. I listen to Kings of Leon for awhile but they don’t really hold my interest. I turn around and listen to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs instead. They’re more my style – I like Karen O’s kimono at any rate!
At the end Mel and Stan and I meet as planned. We walk into the Stafford Road neighborhood and Lee comes and picks us up. A good day…but I’m really tired and we all sleep soundly. I don’t know what today is going to be like. Rain, heavy at times is the prediction. We don’t plan on leaving for the park until around 2 pm, and we don’t plan on staying late either. Will we be okay with parkas and umbrellas? I sure hope so! I really want to see Bon Iver and the Decembrists, rain or no rain!
Saturday, October 2nd, 2009
Well the rains came just like expected. We wait until later to go to the festival this day. We went to Shoal Creek with Mel, Stan and their children Brett and Lindsay for lunch first. I didn’t vary from my favorite thing on the menu this time – Cajun Gumbo with their wonderful roux, smoked duck and andoille sausage. From there Mel and Stan drop Lee and I off by the Mo-Pac bridge because I want to hear Grizzly Bear and they don’t want to go until later.
Grizzly Bear is good, but I don’t take notes so my memories aren’t quite as detailed as what I had on Friday. I remember that I liked them, but not a clue what they sounded like! But in the back of my mind I know they’re a group I want to listen to again. We placed our chairs in a circle somewhat equidistant between the Dell and Livestrong stages. It started raining harder and harder. I had brought my Shanghai Tang umbrella. I worked well to keep most of the rain off. Lee just had a water resistant jacket with a hood and he got pretty wet. Vickie and Michele showed up at one point and donated a VIP rain poncho to him, and he was grateful. Even with an umbrella I got fairly damp at times. Water would accumulate in the seams and eventually drip through, on my nose usually.
The most problematic part of the weather ended up being at our feet. I had decided on flip flops, thinking that wet tennis shoes would end up feeling pretty unpleasant. At first this wasn’t too bad. Yes my feet were wet, and covered in grass, but it wasn’t cold so it was tolerable. Later on, however, was another story.
We stayed in our circle of chairs through a band called Mute Math and another called Citizen Cope. I enjoyed Citizen Cope, enough to want to listen to more of him at some point. When he was almost finished with his show I decided I wanted to try to get up closer for Bon Iver and bid farewell to the chair circle. We agreed that I was on my own at this point, since the rest of the group wasn’t sure they would stay in the rain for much longer.
I edged my way closer, keeping my umbrella up and trying not to get in anyone’s way. I made it close enough to hear the show well, but not close enough to see much more than the video screen.
Bon Iver was surprising in concert. I’d read an article about him (Justin Vernon) in the New Yorker and on his albums he doesn’t have a band, he plays all the instruments and does all the harmonies himself. But of course on stage he had to have a band. He also changed his arrangements a little, adding some electronic flourishes and even rocking out upon occasion.
His songs are beautiful and his lyrics complicated and mysterious. He’s got a limited repertoire though. His last album came out in 2007 and it doesn’t seem like he has much if any new material yet. I wonder if he is working on things that aren’t ready yet or has just written what he has got to write and that’s all there is?
After Bon Iver I decided to get something to eat. I would have liked to have heard The Levon Helm Band, but I wanted to hear The Decembrists (and stand up close) more so I knew I would have to get a place to stand early.
I wanted a P.Terry’s veggie burger for dinner, and so did a lot of other people. The line, although long, moved quickly. The biggest problem was at our feet. The beautiful grass which had held up so nicely on Friday didn’t handle the rain and those thousands of feet so well on Saturday. In many places it was quickly returning to mud. This was a problem with flip flops. At first I thought people were stepping on my heels but then I realized that the mud was sucking at them and almost tearing them off my feet with every step. I tried taking them off and walking barefoot, but then I had the muddy, nasty things in my hands, so I just put them back on my feet and walked carefully.
Back to the Dell Stage I went veggie burger in hand. I inched my way up as close as I reasonably could. I had a really decent look at the stage, if I managed to avoid the tall people that inevitably decide they need to step to the front. There was also a hue and cry against umbrellas up close and I complied once the show started. I got out my trusty white running hat with the flap to cover my neck and a bill. This kept my head reasonably dry.
The Decembrists put on an AWESOME show! He has a new album out and he has incorporated two women vocalists into his act. One of them has a beautiful low voice and on her solo just stole the show. The other had a high, pure voice, an angelic face, and a shimmery white gown! I’ve heard some of his new songs and they are great. Once again, after hearing him live I know that’s one album I’m going to buy for sure. Lee makes fun of me for liking him. He finds him pretentious and yes, his lyrics are over the top sometimes, but I love the stories he tells. They excite my imagination and I often find myself daydreaming about them after I have had him playing on my IPod.
I enjoyed day two very much, in spite of the rain. Today (Sunday) we’re heading to the park early. We want to catch Black Joe Louis and the Honey bears at 12:30 and the B-52’s at 2 pm. After that it’s the Heartless Bastards and then home. Pearl Jam plays tonight at 8 pm. They have a new album that is currently the number one album in the country. I’d really like to hear them, but right now, even after 3 cups of coffee I’m pretty tired. I’m a little apprehensive about the mud too. It could just be a quagmire by tonight. And Lee has a 7AM flight to catch tomorrow morning. All that probably adds up to me not going. I hope it doesn’t end up being like Coldplay four years ago, where we left and I spent the next year regretting it.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Sunday dawns without rain. Yay! It appears that the rain has moved away from Austin. It’s cloudy, not too hot and we’re ready for the B-52’s! We decide that we don’t need chairs today. It’s going to be muddy, so we go for old tennis shoes and clothes that will wash easily.
We head for Zilker earlier than we have on the other days. There’s a soul band called Black Joe Lewis and the HoneyBears at 12:30 that we want to hear on the AMD Stage. We get right up in the “no chairs” area and figure out that if we stand against the edge of the sound booth there is a small metal walkway all around the booth. We can stand on this walkway and don’t have to stand directly in the mud. We can put our bags down without getting them muddy and we can lean against the booth too. This is a good deal. The mud is viscous, gooey and a bit smelly too. It’s just nicer to not have to stand directly in it.
The Honeybears are lots of fun, but I’m restless, so I volunteer to go get our lunch. I want barbeque from the Saltlick and Lee gets a steak frites sandwich from Aquarelle. Mine is good (I get it with cole slaw right on the barbeque) but Lee’s is REALLY good. Steak thinly sliced, some kind of creamy sauce and spicy French fries right on the sandwich. He has a little trouble getting his sandwich back from me after he offers me a bite!
Then we have an hour in-between the Honeybears and the B-52’s but we don’t want to lose our spot so we decide to just hang out. I entertain myself taking pictures of all the darling Wellies trouping by. I used to see these colorful rain boots in Hong Kong sometimes and I would think people were crazy because when it rains in Hong Kong it’s usually hot and muggy as well. Rubber boots in those conditions would be extremely uncomfortable I would think, but today at ACL they’re a must-have fashion item it would seem.
Finally, the B-52’s begin their show. First thing – hey, they’re old! They’re at least as old as I am, and I’m charmed by the sight of wildly dressed women grooving onstage in their signature beehive hairdos! I just feel kind of proud of my cohort there for a moment – their arms aren’t flabby, their gowns are cool and their makeup is out of this world…and they can still really, really sing. Roam Around the World, Love Shack and other songs that sound vaguely familiar are a treat. I bounce around and clap and sing along with the best of them.
After the B-52’s we bid farewell to Mel and Stan. This was their first ACL; I hope they had fun. We want to hear the Heartless Bastards, so we head gamely over to the Dell stage. Oh my…on the higher ground the mud isn’t too bad, but as we come down the hill by the big tree there’s a river of mud at the bottom. We walk through it and attempt to find a place to stand that isn’t too disgusting. The Heartless Bastards are good, but as we stand there I start to realize just how tired I am. I look over at the Livestrong stage, where Pearl Jam will play tonight. I think about how much farther I would need to go into the sea of mud before me in order to hear or see anything. Three days of walking, standing, and dancing, in sunshine, rain, and mud have taken their toll. I’m ready to go home and Lee is agreeable so we leave, and I know then that I’m not coming back tonight.
As always ACL is just fun, fun, fun. This was an unusual year. Held later because of a bye week for UT football, it was cooler, but going later into the fall in Austin always means there is a higher risk of rain. It was nice to not have to deal with 100 degree temps though. And the music was good, very good. I have a huge list of performers to listen to in more detail and like most years I would imagine that I’ll end up with several groups that become my favorites that before this weekend I had never heard of before.
Going to something like ACL keeps me young and at the same time makes me feel old. I was really tired after the festival this year. The bands seemed louder too, loud enough that we employed the use of ear plugs, which we haven’t done before.
I hope the grass recovers, and I hope it doesn’t rain next year. And I hope this isn’t the last ACL for us.