A rainy morning greeted me as I stepped out of the car onto Barton Springs Blvd. Sliding on my luckily packed poncho, I made my way to the AT&T stage that The Stills were about to take. With about fifteen minutes until show time the rain had just begun to pour and it looked like the start to day three might be delayed.
With soaked shoes I waded my way through the park, hardly a crowd around, and found a cozy spot up front with about a hundred people. Turns out half of them were there to stake out a plot for Tom Petty, who would be going on eight hours later. The crowd grew steadily as the rain ended and the equipment was uncovered for The Stills to go on nearly right on time. I had seen these guys on Friday night at Emo's, where guitar/co-vocalist Dave Hamelin's gear quit working for over half the set. He was visibly frustrated, but still managed a great show. I was happy he got a chance to play now with fully functioning equipment.
Apparently having a great time on stage, they rocked through an exact blend of old and new. With five songs off Logic Will Break Your Heart, and five off this year's Without Feathers, their excitement rubbed off on the soaking wet crowd, who began sloshing around in the puddles and generating an uncomfortable level of humidity. They entertained us with witty banter and stories of their acceptance by the sushi-eating patrons of a local eatery. Hamelin for some reason reminded me of Corey Haim from the 1986 film Lucas and the energetic lead supplied by Tim Fletcher was a warm welcome at the beginning of this dreary day. Half the time wandering around the stage, half taking his turn at lead vocals, Fletcher somewhat stole the show in the end. Trying his hand at "channeling Stevie Ray Vaughan," he slouched over and let his fingers fly before slinging the guitar behind his head, ending ultimately with a howl into the midday clouds. In the end, I think Petty's fans were won over. The Stills don't make it down to Austin very often, and now that they have I'd rate them pretty high on the list for this year's fest.
My feet still soaked through my shoes, I decided to continue the Canadian start to my day and check out Sam Roberts across the way. Just as I arrived he jumped right on stage and began a good ol' southern rock show. Through his set I was impressed with the energy of the band, their chemistry, but most of all by how short Sam Roberts is in person. How could all this energy and rock come from such a small, sprightly guy? It looks like his head may burst at any second when he sings, and when he is not singing he's banging around and clapping his hands. He won me over in two songs with his performance, so I decided to go grab some lunch.
On the way out of the front entrance I decided to stop by the Waterloo tent and check to see who was signing autographs, thinking The Stills might be there. They were and I was more than happy to wait through a couple groups of people to meet them. I had them sign my notes that I took at their gig on Friday night, to which Dave Hamelin replied,
"Sorry man, it wasn't my fault. I was so pissed the whole show. I had to buy all new wires to make sure today."
"Kyle, its hot as hell in Texas," is all Tim Fletcher had to say about it.
I apologized and stepped aside to make way for three sixteen year old girls that were, "like totally excited" to meet the guys. Fletcher sent me a flick of the eyebrow indicating his excitement and I chuckled my way out of the tent and onto food.
After a couple of wasted hours, a plate of nachos and feet that were still damp, I headed back to the fest to meet my friend for Matisyahu at 4:30. On the walk back I noticed that Barton Springs had transformed in the three days the festival had been going on. Any grassy space available had been taken by some local vendor in an attempt to profit. This normally clean sidewalk was now littered with tables including but not limited to: tie-dyed shirts, leather sandals, cowboy hats, hand-made glass pipes and tacos. It felt like I was in Mexico. As if that wasn't strange enough, at the entrance I saw local cross-dressing phenomenon, Leslie. I know what you're thinking, I live in Austin, I shouldn't be weirded out by Leslie. That isn't what caught me off guard though; it was the fact that he/she was being interviewed on camera by someone dressed in a gray mouse costume. Shaking the eerie feeling from my head, I found my friend in the middle of Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley's set and we headed down to catch Matisyahu.
With a spot secured not only for the Hasidic rapper, but the following act (The Flaming Lips), we waited for people to crowd around us. I didn't realize this guy was so popular down here, or at all I suppose. I was never a fan, but then again I never really gave it a chance. All the pot-smoking youngsters around seemed to enjoy it, so I was kind of getting into it. I still don't know how to exactly pronounce his name (long or short "i"). I simply laid back and waited for The Lips, an experience I had been waiting on for a while. This one was to be extra special in that one of my buddies was going to be dressed up as Santa Claus on stage.
The youngsters left, thankfully, after Matisyahu. They were to be replaced, however, by twice as many weirdness-craved people in the build-up to the show. When front man Wayne Coyne finally stepped onstage and began to inflate himself in his bubble, the excitement began to build. Up there to assist him and his band in the show were, from right to left: a group of sweaty Santas, a giant inflatable robot and Santa, the likes of Wonder Woman, Captain America, Superman, The Flash and a group of female aliens. As Capt. America helped Coyne out of the bubble, smiles became contagious. Starting with Coyne, slowly spreading across the stage and ultimately over every face in the crowd, The Flaming Lips were pure entertainment in all their confetti-ed glory. Stopping a couple songs into the set, Coyne greeted the crowd, praised the city of Austin, name-dropped a couple influential Austin-based bands and set the mood for the dusk show. He also caught everyone up with the happenings of Ben Kweller's bloody nose from the day before, and attempted to out-do the popster by pouring a liberal amount of fake-blood across his own forehead. The set continued on in a Technicolor flash as an approaching thunderstorm made its way across the evening sky, and was closed with the brightly positive "Do You Realize." The crowd was now happy and not really fearing the thunderclouds on the horizon. Half of us made our way to Muse, which would be my last act of the festival.
They had already begun by the time I made it over to the Blue Room stage. Catching their second song, "Hysteria" the mass was drawn in instantaneously. Muse is one of a few bands that had been on my list for a long time to check out, but was always forgotten about. Their riff-heavy, distorted, cinematic glamour blasted its way over the audience. With lights flashing at an alarming rate I didn't realize how close the storm had gotten. And as they kept rocking the lighting seemed to sync-up with the show. Racing through the set to beat the gathering storm, they still managed to give out joyful thanks and cheers to the crowd. For my first time seeing Muse, it couldn't have been a better setting.
I parted ways with my friend who would later get poured on while enjoying Tom Petty. The idea didn't seem appealing to me, so I made my way out of the park and into my car. Nearly 15 minutes after Muse ended and Tom Petty began, the rain came, but as I was on my way home, it was totally fine.
In a weekend that saw the heat of a Texas summer and the end of a long draught in Austin, ACL 2006 turned out successful for me, and I am guessing for the people in charge as well. Everything seemed to have gone smoothly, there were no serious dust clouds, no 100+ degree-days and no real bad technical glitches that I am aware of. The music wasn't bad either. Highlights for me included The Dears, TV on the Radio, Kings of Leon, BBQ tacos, Sweet Leaf Tea and Massive Attack. I must say that my two favorite sets of the three days came on Sunday with The Stills and Muse. After winning '05's Festival of the Year and what's sure to be a high-ranking fest this year, I'll be looking forward to September 2007... but am still happy that its 362 days from now.
By Kyle Rother