AUSTIN — Each day of ACL offers more insight on the event, and its differentiations from other festivals. Does ACL have a tent dedicated to viewing football? Yes. Does ACL have at least one Medical Team member sporting flip-flops? Yes. Does ACL offer many different versions of the barbecue beef sandwich? Yes.
On ACL’s third day, another observation set-in: This festival is exceptionally civilized. Examples: Were there any fights, or near-fights, needing broken-up by security staff? No. Did you see any security staff? Hardly. How long did it take to spot a couple in a fight, in what will later become a memorable break-up given its setting? Not until the very last night. Did Oasis play. No. See how civilized? Quite. I credit this phenomenon (especially given approximately 70,000 people in an enclosed space drinking alcohol) to the dragonflies. Zilker Park seems to have a breeding ground for the ancient creatures and their very presence zipping through the crowds at near-hummingbird speeds seems to distract angst from festering.
With this phenomenon in mind, it was unfortunate for GAYNGS, as their day began in another part of town where dragonflies must frequent less, and where the band was forced to cancel their festival appearance hours prior to it happening (insert unconfirmed, though imagined angst here). In a strange turn of events for the band, they reported their bus (and all of their gear) as stolen in Austin early Saturday morning. While exact circumstances remain unclear, it was later made apparent that their bus driver, bus and gear, made for Nashville in the middle of the night, leaving the band sans instruments (and, it seems, a ride home), forcing them to forfeit their festival time slot.
This distressing tale set sadly aside, we return to the harmonious location of Zilker Park: fans arrived in droves, outfitted in their favorite festival flair. The fashion ranged from the popular “No big deal, I just have feathers woven into my hair” (that or there were popular pheasant fights happening just off the grounds), to rolled-brimmed cowboy hats, to “I decided to use my index finger and smear war paint on my face,” and of course, who can forget the “I LIKE tying a belt around my head – it holds my hair back” look (keeping with the fad of wearing price tags on hats, one belt was spotted with a TJ Maxx tag still dangling… intentional? Difficult to say)? Also in the audience: thousands of men and women wearing t-shirts and shorts.
The day’s program began with a schedule including White Rabbits, Warpaint (trust here that the aforementioned fashionable finger painting happened all weekend long), Dawes, Foals, and The Morning Benders.
Positioned by the unicorn piñata flag (approximately a quarter of the way back on the right side of the stage), the audience began to pack in to the AMD Stage as Brooklyn’s Yeasayer stepped out. The synth-driven outfit fronted the stage with three white keyboard pedestals, and a second row featuring additional members. The hour-long set included “Madder Red,” “Wait for the Summer,” “Grizelda” and “Tightrope,” the band’s contribution to the Red Hot benefit compilation Dark Was The Night. While vocal comparisons can be made with this band (Chris Keating’s delivery on “Tightrope” has a distinct (cough) Tracy Chapman tone about it and Anand Wilder’s vocals draw a strong resemblance to those of Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore), it became fun to imagine an album of Yeasayer covers. Did they cover “Dancin’” by Chris Isaak? No, they did not. But it should be considered (no Hawaiian shirts necessary.)
Prior to The Great Face-Off (aka The Flaming Lips vs. Band of Horses performing at the same time on stages opposing one another), the afternoon provided the fans wearing belts around their foreheads (and music fans alike) the opportunity to sing along with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes’ “Home,” drift through the food court for a taco, then marvel at Martin Sexton’s falsetto on “Glory Bound” (the man can sing, and he can sing high).
With a difficult decision then to be made, coins were flipped and fans split east and west to see their favored (or fated, depending on the quarters) band. While the music of Band of Horses pulled to the east, the widely-known (and not yet experienced) grandeur that is The Flaming Lips’ live show pulled me to the west. Awaiting spectacle, spectacle was delivered. Twirling ribbons, a fuchsia-smoking bullhorn, enormous balloons, Wayne Coyne’s giant inflatable hamster ball, and innumerable stage guests dressed similarly to DJ Lance of Yo Gabba Gabba.
Of course, music was involved too. The audience, beckoned on by Coyne’s frenetic Eva Peron hand gestures, sang along to The Lips’ “She Don’t Use Jelly,” acted along to “I Can Be a Frog” (imagine, if you will, thousands of people pretending to be a frog) and marveled at human strength as Coyne climbed onto the shoulders of someone donning a bear suit, while marching in place to “Silver Trembling Hands.” The celebration and fantastical experience concluded with the lovely and always seemingly magical “Do You Realize?”
With the sun setting, the evening shifted from novel to noir as the Ohio-bred, Brooklyn-based band The National set-out to close the Honda stage for the 2010 festival. The ensemble compressed fourteen songs into their hour-long set (plus an unexpected encore) stemming heavily from their 2010 release, High Violet (“Anyone’s Ghost,” “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “Conversation 16,” “Terrible Love,” “Afraid of Everyone,” and “England”) as well as tracks from the groups albums Alligator and Boxer. This set, one of the weekend’s very best, delivered a performance that translated to the festival setting, despite the music’s otherwise “dark, seedy underground club” feel.
And then, there was The Eagles, the only band to have a time slot not shared by one or four other bands. Love ‘em, or loathe ‘em, they’re The Eagles and song after song, they gave fans and curiosos what they wanted: “Take It Easy,” “Take It To The Limit,” “Hotel California,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Witchy Woman,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” … and the hits just kept coming. The classic Southern California folk rock eased their ENORMOUS crowd out of the weekend whirlwind, and slowly back into the reality of their lives.
Security guards were spotted around the closing craft stands (again, with such a civilized festival, what else has a security guard to do?!) Eyeing $65 ACL belt buckles(!), I (heart) ATX t-shirts and strappy leather sandals, one lucky Austin Police Department officer walked away with a memento for his wall, turning to show off the new keepsake he enthusiastically proclaims, “THE KING!,” revealing an oil pastel image of Elvis. While far south of Seattle, Austin is still a ways away from Memphis but, the tie that binds these cities together is an unquestionable love for live music, musicianship and the appreciation of its role in all of our lives.
With the ninth Annual Austin City Limits Festival complete, the hums of the monitors are silenced, the oscillating misting fans are unplugged, and the dragonflies are left alone once again (“Where’d everybody go?! I swear there were about 70,000 of you here yesterday…”), the dust settles in Zilker Park and a bottle of sun-soothing aloe vera awaits for many. Now then, to attend to these pesky feathers in my hair.