After three days of battling excruciating heat, rain storms, and the escalating crowd size at Austin’s Zilker Park, I was actually very sad to see Austin City Limits end. Similar to years past, I’ll leave the great state of Texas with a deepened appreciation for the “weirdness” of Austin, Tex Mex cuisine, and the wealth of opportunities for a good ol’ fashioned adventure this festival has to offer. For more ACL accounts and a gallery of the weekend’s festivities, read on.
1) Less is not more. Everything is bigger in Texas, and this includes Queso serving sizes, golf umbrellas, the ambition behind Kanye’s stage construction, the ACL bike lot, and the hype surrounding headlining music legend Stevie Wonder. Over the past few years, I’ve learned to come to ACL overly prepared, as the weather is almost always unpredictable this time of year and, hell, anything can happen. While here, I always load up on runny Tex Mex queso dip, nachos, and hard tacos, so this year, we hit up Guero’s and Maudie’s in Austin and sampled the nachos from The Salt Lick and Tim Love’s Love Shack inside the festival grounds. (The Salt Lick won our blind taste test.)
For me, the most ambitious performance was Kanye West’s and his troupe of ballerinas on Friday night. For his opener, “Higher,” Kanye descended into the crowd from a hydraulic lift and casually swaggered onto the stage. The following hour and 45 minutes was remarkable in its aesthetic simplicity and near-perfect execution. Unfortunately, the ever-so-anticipated Stevie Wonder’s Saturday performance was marred by some technical sound issues (My Morning Jacket could be heard pretty distinctly even from Wonder’s corner of the park). Dedicated fans set up shop around the Bud Light stage starting that morning in anticipation of this headlining performance, but the impression shared by the exiting crowds was generally nonplussed…To go out with a bang, the weekend ended with recent Grammy winners Arcade Fire; the closing honors served as a homecoming of sorts for band members Win and Will Butler (who grew up in Houston suburb, the Woodlands). They played an aggressive show for the festival’s most-coveted time slot and bid adieu to Austin with Regine Chassagne twirling around in multicolored ribbons and the sad announcement that they wouldn’t be back for a few more years.
2) Be open to try new things. I’ve heard the name Skrillex before, but realistically knew very little about the LA-based electro DJ and producer. Now I do. His performance at the Google + stage on Saturday was surely one of the most crowded, rowdiest and high-energy shows of the weekend. Crowd surfing fans started coming over the front rail in waves as soon as Skrillex took the stage, and the thousands surrounding continued jumping in unison through his hour of glory. At one point, he lifted a fist-pumping, little, blonde boy from backstage onto his soundboard. That kid is going to be so much cooler than anyone I know…I’m now also a converted Tito’s Vodka fan, thanks to the Vodka slushie concoction booth in the media area (amazing idea).
3) Timing is everything. I came with two friends from New York, a camera and a rough itinerary for our 72 hours in Austin. We ended up with an arm full of wristbands, some sweet cowboy boots and backstage access to Cut Copy’s Saturday afternoon performance and Fleet Foxes Sunday show. On Saturday, while standing on fold out chairs in an attempt to catch a glimpse of TV on the Radio from the Google + lounge, a concerned concert-goer approached us and explained that he’d lost his girlfriend, Bridget, and asked if we would hold up a barcode he’d drawn on a piece of cardboard with Bridget’s name. Trying to be polite (we’re in Texas, after all), we obliged, and within seconds Bridget and her man were reunited. Incredible…Like many other surprised festival-goers, we had a few Terrence Malick/Christian Bale sightings (Fleet Foxes, TV On the Radio, Bright Eyes), and have been informed via the Twitter-sphere that they were indeed shooting a film throughout the weekend’s festivities…In addition to hosting some of the festival’s biggest names and attractions, the Bud Light stage also acted as a backdrop for the weekend’s most cringe-worthy-but-cute public engagement. An adorable Aussie fellow took the stage on Sunday afternoon and asked the crowd if he could use it as a forum to ask a “very special question”. The lucky lady joined him, and (phew) she said yes. They also announced that they’re moving to Austin just because they like it that much.
Austin native Terrence Malick directing Christian Bale backstage at Fleet Foxes