Austin City Limits Music Festival

Trip Start Sep 17, 2006
Trip End Dec 23, 2008

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Flag of United States  , Texas
Sunday, September 28, 2008

This weekend I was at the Austin City Limits music festival, held in Zilker Park, Austin. Austin is a huge place for live music, the Lonely Planet lists experiencing live music in Austin as one of its ten ‘must do’ things in the USA.

We all had three-day passes, meaning that we would be at the festival for its entirety. On day one we exchanged our tickets for ACL wristbands, which were to stay on us for the whole weekend. After a breakfast at one of the many independent eating establishments in Austin we headed over to the festival. Parking was at a premium and so we parked about twenty minutes down the road. The main road to the festival was littered with stalls selling ‘trendy’ or new-agey things like bracelets and exotic t-shirts. Part way down the road to the festival was a smoothy/fruit juice/health shop that we would visit several times.

The line-up for the festival was primarily made up of American bands, most of which I didn’t know. However there were a few familiar highlights, those being The Fratellis, Gnarls Barkley, Foo Fighters and The Raconteurs. The highlights for day one were Patty Griffin, N.E.R.D. and The Mars Volta. Patty Griffin was completely unknown to me, but seemed to have a large following. N.E.R.D. is a band that I am slightly familiar with, and their set was very good.

The ACL festival is known for being very hot, and potentially dusty. In fact in 2005 the festival apparently turned into a literal ‘dust bowl’, with temperatures hitting 107f and visibility almost zero thanks to people kicking up dust from the bone dry ground! Thankfully that didn’t happen this year, with temperatures peaking at about 90f. It was a little dusty, and I saw dozens of people wearing masks.

By the end of day one I was sunburnt and feeling fairly sick. The festival was attended by around 68,000 people each day. The Texan sky featured very little in the way of cloud cover, and so the powerful sun burnt down onto my head for a good ten hours in a row each day.

After a Mexican themed evening meal (very common in this part of the world), we retired then got up bright and early the next day to repeat the experience. Day two began with a very British band, The Fratellis. Their set certainly wasn’t the best they’d ever done, and they admitted this between songs. I felt slightly cheated but things improved during their final few songs. The midday crowd was fairly motionless, an accusation often given to American festival crowds. Although to be fair the heat and time of day partially excused this.

In the evening an unusual (to me) combination was the highlight. They were called ‘Iron and Wine’, and were a couple singing folk music with a modern twist. For this performance they confused even their own fans by adding a heavy base line to their songs.

Tired and sunburnt, but with one day to complete, we got up on Sunday morning and parked in the same multi-story car park for the third day running. The trek to the festival was quickly becoming a habit. The Sunday evening saw Gnarls Barkley hit the stage, they impressed with some unfamiliar songs before lifting the crowd with their classic sing-along ‘Crazy’.

The Austin City Limits festival featured about 8 stages in total, spread around a park perhaps a mile in length from one end to the other. This distance meant that an act playing at one end of the park wouldn’t interfere with the music coming from an act at the other end. The two farther most stages were the headline stages with the biggest acts on. In between were several smaller stages and a tent which hosted more dance like music.

The festival closed with an excellent performance by The Foo Fighters, headed by music genius Dave Grohl. They had the ability to excite the crowd and create a performance that even non fans were clearly enjoying. At this point I was with Whitney and we bumped into a friend of hers who was sitting a few hundred metres back in the ‘chairs section’. This was a section of the crowd where you could bring your own chair and or towel to sit on. From this vantage point we were far more comfortable than we had been standing up for other performances.

There seemed to be quite a large variety of person in the crowd. From the young 15 year olds in groups at possibly their first festival, to much older music fans sitting on chairs with picnics, to twenty something’s in large groups, to hippy tattooed thirty something’s enjoying potentially illegal substances. Similar to any other festival I would imagine the people were dressed as if it was still the swinging sixties or hippy seventies. Bandanas were not uncommon, nor were large sunglasses and t-shirts promoting world peace.

Austin itself is very well known as a liberal ‘hippy’ place. Which is made even more evident as it is situated in the middle of a traditional state filled elsewhere with plenty of right wing ‘rednecks’.
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(Updated to remove bit about Austin being in a blue county)

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