I've never been a good festival goer. I'm just never prepared for what is coming. It had been a while since my last experience, as well. I didn't go to ACL last year, and the year before that was actually my first. So this year I thought, why not document my sure to be misadventures through the green pastures of Zilker Park as I navigate my way between music.
To give a background, ACL's popularity has grown more and more with each passing year, winning Pollstar's Festival of the Year Award in 2005. The people that put on the shows, Charles Attal Presents and Capital Sports & Entertainment, have done an amazing job bringing a wide spectrum of bands over the past five years. Last year, the big weekend seemed to peak, commercially speaking, with a British Pop invasion by the likes of Bloc Party, Kasabian, Coldplay, and Oasis. So this year, for some odd reason, I didn't feel as much of a build up. It hit, however, the instant I walked through the entrance.
I had decided to go Middle School-style to the show, having my Mom drop me off about a block or two away and just walk. It wasn't until I was actually outside of the car that I realized my first mistake of the day, no sunscreen. This would hopefully be a small obstacle to overcome, as the cloud cover seemed to be closing in (it would in fact, come back haunt me later). So, onward into the fest.
The first band on the line-up for me was The Dears, 1:30 @ AT&T's Blue Room stage. Having listened to their previous album, No Cities Left, and being quite impressed with the aural landscape they painted, I figured they'd be good to check out. Being the first day of the fest, and being that it was Friday at 1:30 in the afternoon, there weren't many people about, making the trek to the stage and getting a nice spot up front very easy. The Dears hopped up on stage right on time and took to blasting their way through tracks off No Cities Left and their upcoming Gang Of Losers. The energy of lead guitarist Patrick Krief was infectious and lent itself well to being the opening band of the day for me. About three-quarters of the way through, and after deciding I wanted to marry keyboardist Valerie Jodoin-Keaton, I thought I'd take off, and head to the next show.
The AT&T main stage was clear across the park, and about a five-minute walk past other bands starting and finishing their sets. After passing by the end of Ted Leo's set, I arrived to find Deadboy & The Elephantmen just starting. Dax Riggs kicked out a fuzzy blues lick and Tess Brunet laid down a mean beat to start off and the small crowd was treated to an energetic attack of stripped down blues. Signed to Fat Possum records (one time home of fellow blues rockers The Black Keys), I sort of wrote them off as a carbon copy of their Ohio-based ex label mates. However, the threesome (recently added bassist Alex Bergeron) ran through a tight set and seemed genuinely happy and gracious to have the crowd in attendance and loving their music. Brunet's drumming caught me off guard right away. It was a strange site to have such an attractive woman banging away so violently at the kit, screaming in a fit of rage, but then being able to back with soft vocals. With two great bands and two great sets the weekend was starting off exactly as I had wanted.
After meeting up with a couple of friends and grabbing a water, we headed to show #3 for the day - Stars. I was pretty excited to see what Stars had to offer, being part of the whole explosion of indie rock that's coming out of Canada nowadays. The Dears did a great job representing their country, would Stars do the same? I didn't know what to expect, having heard nothing other than they have been making a pretty good name for themselves, but might be better known for their contributions to Broken Social Scene. Once the music started I was pleased to see how happy and into the music lead vocalist Torquil Campbell was, and the sweet harmonization he had throughout the set with guitarist/co-lead vocalist Amy Millan, was uplifting. Even when Campbell's generous assumptions toward the audience's political leanings drifted towards the negative, he still managed to leave everyone with a smile on their face. Once finished, they thanked the crowd with a sprinkling of bottled water and wide smiles. It was then that I realized the heat index was sure to be pushing 100, the sun was out, and my forehead was burning. It was off to the food stands.
Leaving the Heineken stage proved a little difficult, as the masses were making their move to Gnarls Barkley on the main stage. I had no interest in seeing the dynamic duo, but must say that C-Lo, Dangermous and Co. put on a great show. I saw them Wednesday night at Stubb's and was quite pleased. It was my first encounter with Gnarls and they proved their celebrity with soul. I challenge anyone to go back to James Brown's It's a Man's Man's Man's World, and tell me that Gnarls Barkley is not the evolution. After breaking through the exodus, we made our way to the giant Technicolor sign, simply reading, "EATS." We figured that probably meant we'd find food. The decision was made and two tasty BBQ tacos were sought out. The heat was becoming unbearable and it was starting to take a visible toll on other ACL-ers. Take for instance the poor soul laying face down in the grass next to the water line. Clearly affected by the heat, he had passed out while waiting for rehydration, but couldn't quite make it there. Even after getting up only to wander around and pass out again, this time falling into a chain-link fence, water still escaped him. A third and final attempt at standing proved too much for bystanders and he was asked to stay seated while water was brought to him. Laughing it off with my friends, I realized that I might be in his boat all too soon, and that hydration was pertinent to any sort of late night functioning. So with my BBQ tacos and H2O in hand, we took a seat under an umbrella and made use of our mouths.
After our food/water break my friends and I parted ways. I was headed home to catch some rest for a busy night and they were off to watch Gomez rock the festival crowd. But before I walked to the corner of Lamar and Barton Springs to meet my ride home, I thought I might make use of more of what the festival producers had provided to the fans, in this case the Gibson guitar tent. Being an amateur musician myself, I thought it would be fun to try my hand at some of the new tools Gibson had to offer, namely their new Les Pauls, top of the line effects pedals and tone makers. Luckily there was an open seat right as I walked in; so on went the headphones and guitar. I fooled around with my major scales, channeling the ghost of Stevie Ray Vaughan, until I decided that a change was needed, and the pedal was to be messed with. I pushed the plethora of buttons, thinking I knew what I was doing, until a swell of the most heinous feedback imaginable infiltrated my ears, forcing the headphones right off my head. The real guitarists sitting at my sides looked on at the amateur as I tried my best to stop the racket, and in the process created some nasty delayed loop of fuzz and distortion. After a minute or two I was sure I broke it, got up and left in a flash, leaving the possibly destroyed pedal to the next poor sucker that thinks he knows what he's doing. Sorry Gibson, for breaking your instrument.
With day one now behind me and two more days staring me straight in the face, I headed home to clean up and rest before a big Official after-ACL concert featuring The Stills and Kings Of Leon.
Day One Bands:
By Kyle Rother