September 21st, 2011

Pride and Pestilence: Austin City Limits 2011

We had come up with this category called Pride and Pestilence a while back hoping to chronicle Loopster journeys out of the city. That didn’t really pan out the way we thought it would, but it’s nice to have a fallback plan for things that don’t fit in our usual wheel house. This year, Austin City Limits didn’t really fit in my wheelhouse… And by that, I mean that I think I’m getting old.

Actually, my birthday fell on Saturday, so maybe that attributes to the whole “getting too old for this shit” feeling that I got from walking around Zilker Park for three straight days. My legs are still numb. My liver still wounded. My ears still ringing. I still enjoyed every minute of music and meandering, don’t get me wrong. The question that plagued me was more of “when will the bottom fall out?” or “when will I turn into one of these loathed ‘chair people‘ that clog the stages?”

Chair people. Ugh.

Instead of feeling sorry for myself, let me try to focus on the good parts of the festival. I’m sure that many of your Loopsters had a chance to visit Austin this weekend. Call me a liar. Add to the fire. Remember the good times once again. Here are some highs and lows.

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High — A scissor-lift entrance for Kanye West
I knew that I was going to be in for a spectacle when I chose to see Kanya instead of Coldplay. From the first moment of the show, I was proved correct. West “entered” by soaring above the crowd at the soundstage on a scissor-lift raised as high as it could go, fog streams blasting up at him. From there on out, the rest of the set was as self-aggrandizing as I’ve ever witnessed… And that’s EXACTLY what I wanted to see.

Low — Mic issues
Through the first three songs, Kanye couldn’t get his words out. No, I’m not just talking about when he cried on stage after proclaiming that we were “the best audience [he's] ever had” (which he totally did choke up), but the first three songs or so, the microphone kept blipping out. I heard the sound was pretty terrible for Stevie Wonder as well, but I was busy jamming out to My Morning Jacket instead.

High — FIVES!
One of my friends placed himself on “high five patrol” on Saturday night. This means walking up to people minding their own business and demanding high fives from them. He found his honey pot when we made our way through the shuttle line. Our group would never have guessed that his antics would be so infectious. By the time we were three coils of the serpentine deep, there were tens and tens of people recruited to the “patrol.” My favorite quote: “Hearing all those people high fiving is music to my ears” OR “Gimme the baby! Gimme the baby! YESSSS!!”

Low — FIVES
Now we’re going to have to hear this story for the rest of our lives. I’m pretty sure this was my friend’s greatest moment in life. Sure, you have to hang our hat on something, but…

High — Preservation collaboration
Each of My Morning Jacket’s songs seemed like the end of the set. Lights were sent flashing. Each song had a crescendo into an all out blitz of jamming. But MMJ wouldn’t call it quits until Jim James invited the Preservation Hall Jazz Band onto the stage. Two or three songs later, as the two bands collaborated in an all out assault on our symphonic senses, they exited the stage. If James can get the Jazz Band into Houston for their Verizon Theater tour date in December we’ll all be better off for it.

Low — No other cross-breeding
Besides the already scheduled duo of Nas and Damien Marley, there weren’t any other acts that invited other bands onto the stage with them. I always hope for a few here and there during ACL. Well, unless you count Christian Bale playing bongos with the Fleet Foxes… which brings me to my next point.

High — Being in the next Terrence Malick project
We were up close and personal for TV on the Radio’s set when we looked to the sidestage and saw Christian Bale looking soulfully into the distance and heavens. Right? That’s Christian Bale? Indeed it was. And it was Terrence Malick behind the camera as well as Haley Bennet dancing like a flower child in front of it. After a quick search of the internet when we got back to the hotel we discovered that he was at even more performances throughout the festival. All I know is that I’m looking for a blurry, green-shirted, blonde dude in whatever Terrence Malick’s next-next-next film is.

Low — Not having my own camera
C’mon, Austin City Limits. Just let me bring my camera into the venue? I saw enough un-approved digital SLRs in the crowd to know that I should have tried to sneak mine in, but I didn’t want to have to walk two miles back to my hotel to drop it off when some Dudley Do-Right decided to flex his muscle at the gates. Next time I expect press access.

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High — Stick ‘Em Up
Good to see that stickers for our Houston street art documentary are making their way to Austin. I’m not aware of any screenings so far, but maybe that will change soon… I hear the plausibility is directly related to the number of stickers that find their way onto the backs of street signs.

Low — Scorched Earth
Driving through Bastrop on 71 was a sobering experience. Acres upon acres of black fields and forests. Melted buildings. Homes and businesses spared and others leveled, for about a half hour of our trip we were faced with the cruelty of nature. Let’s pray for some rain in the near future.

High — Second time’s the charm
I really enjoyed seeing several bands for the second (third or fourth) times this weekend. Delta Spirit was amazing. Fresh Millions did all they could to amp an early crowd. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. commanded the festival stage as well as they did the tiny one at Fitz. Smith Westerns showed more energy than they did opening for Wilco. The element of surprise is gone when you see a band that’s still playing the same setlist, but knowing how it ends doesn’t mean you will enjoy it less.

Low — Skipping seconds
There were several bands that I decided to skip just because I had seen them recently. Honestly, I regret it. ACL should be more in tune with my needs for festivalling. Stop putting bands up against each other that I want to see! I am but one man. So, I missed Hayes Carll, Chromeo, Cut Copy, The Head and the Heart… Maybe next year? Yeah, probably not. Such is life.

— Paul

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