Remember when I started this blog and I would write about all the music I went to see and all the adventures I had? Yes, those days have sort of disappeared behind me as I barely have the energy to make it through a workday and pick up Sonic take-out on the way home. But I did go to a day of ACLFest, so I think I should report on it, right? And I will try to keep the snarky comments about how it was better in 2002 to a minimum.
I really didn’t know I was going to ACL until the last minute and wasn’t 100% sure until about 10 a.m. Friday morning. We had out-of-towners in at work from our branch offices and the schedules kept referring to ACLFest on the weekend and “doors open” at ACLFest on Friday, but I wasn’t really clear as to whether that meant I would be going. Turns out I was. As a group, we all walked from our offices over to Zilker Park that morning, arriving about noon.
It was an absolutely stunningly beautiful day. Truly. This is the kind of weather you almost hope DOESN’T happen on ACL weekend (or any big event that brings out-of-towners to Austin) because they’ll just start having that yearning to come back and stay. Give them a dust storm, a mud bowl, or a 112-degree day and they’ll learn to stay in Peoria or Richmond or Norman. But this year they got perfect.
Arriving at ACL and the excitement of the big gates and the cool motifs they come up with year is invigorating. You anticipate wide open fields of beautiful grass, lounging in front of a stage, possibly with a cool drink and a nice snack in your hand and enjoying music from your favorite bands. Granted, I wasn’t really familiar with a lot of the names on the list, but I was looking forward to hearing the Black Keys. They have been a favorite of mine this year.
Our group moved over to the Honda stage to hear The Givers first. I’d never heard of them, but the kids I work with all knew of them. They were a boy/girl group singing simple pop sounds. Likeable. I took my leave of the group to go see Asleep at the Wheel on the bigger stage. This was their 9th year at the festival and I believe they are always at noon on Friday (okay, not that first year when there wasn’t a Friday, but ever since). I had some sad flashbacks of introducing them on those stages and that made me miss radio and that glamour just a little. It also made me miss Mike Mercer, the Wheel’s tour manager who was always so good about directing me to the right place at the right time and giving me the right information I needed to know to introduce (yes, someone always told me to include that part like “Bismeaux Recording artist . . . Asleep at the Wheel!” Mike passed away about 3 years ago and so I took a minute to remember him Friday. I also texted the wife of the bass player to let her know I was there. She was in California visiting family.
I am no photographer, but I did take a few pictures of the festivities for this blog:
That’s Ray Benson, Dave Miller on bass, and Jason Roberts on fiddle.
One thing I’ve never seen at a concert is a person signing the song to the audience. Of course Austin has a very large deaf population because of the Texas School for the Deaf, but I haven’t ever seen this before. I don’t know that the signers were necessarily there for deaf festival goers, because as far as I could tell, there weren’t any there. But I assume the signers have learned at the school or teach at the school and were practicing their craft. And it was a very entertaining craft! I really enjoyed watching to see if I could determine what signs went with what lyric. But they didn’t just sign the lyric, I noted. They also signed when the band was playing, playing air guitar or piano, drums, bass, steel, fiddle. It was really interesting. The most entertaining of the signers (I saw three switching off) had a smile on her face and made facial expressions and body movements to match the song and danced along. It was exhausting!
While I was watching the Wheel, I noticed Chris Rhoades, the bass player of Two Tons of Steel, behind me in the crowd. I went back to see how he was doing. His band had played earlier in the day. He said he believed it was the first time they had ever said “Good Morning Austin!” at a gig. While visiting with him, I realized Chris Dodds, the band’s drummer was also there. He had grown a beard and had on shades and I didn’t recognize him. He was once on my show as the representative of Two Tons so I feel like I know him better than the others in the band and he has always been a favorite. So here is my obligatory blog picture of me with famous people:
After a great show by Asleep at the Wheel, I moseyed on around the festival grounds, still enjoying the beautiful weather. My co-worker Scott had found me at the Wheel so we traveled together, got something to drink, and heard the music of Those Darlin’s on the stage by the rock. All the stages had come a long way from their appearance the last time I was at ACLFest. They were really impressive.
We spent some time in the “gospel tent.” They don’t call it that at ACL and it isn’t all gospel, but they have a gospel tent at JazzFest in New Orleans and I equate it with that. And we were seeing a gospel group perform. They were very uplifting, but the most pleasant part was sitting on the grass in the shade for a bit. The sun was heating things up.
We wandered out to the art booths, but didn’t really go see what they had for sale. But the folks that put up the afghans on those blue things down on South Lamar and on concrete barriers on Cesar Chavez apparently had been at work again.
I can’t tell you how much I love this artwork! I want these people to come make a public installation of crocheted art around my house!
We finally caught up with the rest of our group and all had some lunch at the picnic tables. The Austin foods are really nice to sample. I wish I could have those cheap(er) samples more often! I had a great chicken in a cone thing (that sounds a lot better than my description there).
The band Miike Snow was playing next so we all headed toward that stage and were met with a wall of people. Wow. Things had certainly changed from a few hours earlier when you could lounge around, get up right by the stage, feel like you were out and about and free. This was A CROWD. No, A CROWD. I’d write that in bigger font if this program let me. It doesn’t.
As I told Mark, I like Miike Snow in a I’ll-never-listen-to-this-album-a-second-time-but-it’s-good kind of way. Unlike most of the bands at ACL, I know they are from Denmark or Norway or something and I know Miike Snow is a band, not a person. That may be the extent of my knowledge. No, I know they have a song called “Animal.” I liked their album enough at work that I set it aside for a time. So I was kind of looking forward to seeing them, but then it was not a performance that impressed me. They all wore weird light blue half masks on their faces (for what purpose? mystery I suppose) and it all sounded the same.
My co-worker Janica and I decided we would beat the crowd (haha) over to the stage with the Black Keys. I really do like the music these two guys put out and it amazes me that that much music can be made on just guitar and drums (and vocals). We didn’t work our way into the crowd, we didn’t need to be on the front row. We just got past the section designated for people with lawn chairs and found a nice grassy place to sit. Then, more and more people began to come make their way into our space to hear this band. People kept stepping around us and then were literally stepping OVER us (not just over outstretched legs, Â mind you, stepping over our legs while we are sitting there cross-legged). Uncomfortable and sure someone was going to step on us, we stood up. The crowd was getting tighter and tighter and tighter.
Pipes of pot were being smoked on all sides of us, too. Janica was unhappy because she had planned on going to her church that evening for an event and now she felt like she needed to go home and shower and change before she could be around church members. We are now crowded, on our feet, breathing in second-hand smoke of all kinds and waiting for the band. They hit the stage right on time at 4 p.m. and the crowd went crazy. They were great, I enjoyed them. I heard exactly 9 minute worth of really good music when I decided my claustrophobia was getting the best of me. I was looking at all sides to figure out how one could possibly even get OUT of this crowd. No picture can show you the mass of people assembled, but I did take this picture looking toward the stage.
Notice how clearly we could see the performers on the stage. Right. In that bright sun, I could barely see them, so I was mostly watching them on the video screens. The sound was excellent though. Now you see how many people were in front of us. When we settled in, we were at the back of the crowd, but as people gathered in, now there were just as many behind us as in front.
As I was figuring out how to either make my getaway or get a Xanax out of my bag, a guy came along, trying to get out, too. I told Janica I was following him and she got on my backdraft and we followed. It was slow going, though, as we eventually joined a stream of people moving out, but there was also a stream of people moving in. Where they thought they were going, I have no idea. There was no a place to stand behind us anymore as the crowd continued to push into our spots and all open spots. It took over 15 minutes just to get out of the worst of the crowd. Not all of it, by any means, but out of it enough that we could move sideways instead of only toward the back. We made our way toward the nearest exit sign, which, of course, was on the opposite end of the park from the one we came in through hours earlier.
We walked and walked, circling back around behind the Black Keys stage and continued to hear the show as clearly as could be and I got to hear the hit Tighten Up that I like so much. We walked back to our building. How can a walk that seemed so easy and fun suddenly be so long and all uphill and take forever? Thank goodness some boys were selling water and Gatorade. They could have charged $10 and I would have happily paid at that point.
We went back to the office and got water and cooled off and sat out on the balcony that overlooks Zilker and marveled at the crowd we could see, thankful we were not in it anymore.
I enjoyed the day, it was nice of our company to spring for tickets for us, but it did make me remember the things I had filed away in my head in 2002, 2003, and 2004 when I was there broadcasting from the event and I can contentedly say I don’t want to go back again. It is worth it to pay the cover charge or ticket price at a club or venue to see the artists I really want to see and I’ll have a greater feeling of having seen them than I did from standing among 50,000 people.