Volume: Austin City Limits Festival 9/16-18 2011, Zilker Park, Austin, TX
My excitement level for this year’s installment of Austin City Limits Music Festival wasn’t what it had been in the past. Not since the minute I gazed upon its lineup was I overly excited about much. The rumors of Bruce Springsteen were dashed and the inclusion of Coldplay each picked a body part and stomped on it. Then I thought surely the scheduling could possibly work in my favor, but alas, I was kicked in another body part as Stevie Wonder and My Morning Jacket were pitted against one another. On a festival lineup in which I was SCROUNGING to find interest, the rug was pulled out from under me.
I realize not every year is going to be stellar for me. 2010 gave me well more than enough to see and I couldn’t ingest it all. I left satisfied and spent. For the general public, this year was knocked out of the park for their 10th version of the perennial festival. Kanye West, Coldplay, Arcade Fire, Stevie Wonder and My Morning Jacket make for incredible festival headliners, and strategically scheduled would have worked out for me as well. But it didn’t. So much that extenuating circumstances kept me from even attending Friday’s shows.
Finally making it to the park on Saturday, I struggled to muster interest in seeing much. Watching the last couple of songs from The Antlers kicked off my day. They were good, but not terribly engaging, which will be a theme of the weekend. Following an attempt to watch Young the Giant in the first outburst of rain for the weekend, things woke up a little bit with Boston’s J. Roddy Walston and the Business, with their energetic rock set that our good friend Kim Berg likened to a 5 years younger Kings of Leon. Let’s pray they don’t find the same fate.
Next on the schedule came Daniel Lanois’ Black Dub. I made my way towards the front during their set, and was able to watch the man responsible for co-producing my favorite album of all time, U2’s The Unforgettable Fire. The recurring theme of the weekend reared its head again as I struggled to watch Alison Krauss & Union Station – so great but not engaging me at all. I think there were sound difficulties on the Bud Light stage they were playing, and will be confirmed at a more crucial hour later in the day. Everyone I knew who saw Fitz and the Tantrums had a wonderful time, I only caught the first song or so, and they were fine but again, lacking that engagement factor. The legendary Wanda Jackson tore through her classic old school rock-a-billy set set to a massive crowd which led me up to the first dazzle moment of the weekend: TV On The Radio. This band is tremendous, and I must thank them for lifting me out of my Saturday funk.
The biggest conflict of the weekend was upon me. On one hand, I love My Morning Jacket as does my girlfriend. And one of the main things getting us down to ACL this year was the fact she needed to see MMJ. But right up against Stevie Wonder? I hate this scheduling. Thanks C3. So, we watch a fantastic half-set from the wonderful My Morning Jacket, with the plan of finishing the night by Stevie. The sound problems I mentioned from the Bud Light stage persisted. In years past, sound bleed hasn’t been that big an issue. As one hits a spot in the park, all other stages have faded and the one you are facing is audible. We had well past the point of being able to hear My Morning Jacket, but unfortunately you could still hear them. Loud and clear. Over Mr. Wonder. This proved to be one of the biggest disappointments of my 8 years of attendance. Stevie Wonder was barely audible 100 yards away from the point any other stages should be heard. Thus ending our night. We promptly left without really paying our respects to the musical icon.
We leisurely arrive at the park on Sunday around the middle of the day. Once again, the Bud Light stage was an issue. Broken Social Scene, one of just a handful of acts I wanted to catch on Sunday just didn’t grab me. I love their records, but just didn’t connect during their set. Manchester’s Elbow, whom I had wanted to see for the past decade kept their crowd in the moment with tons of audience participation (in which I’m wayyy too cool for clapping along or raising my hands or whatever, ha) putting on a fun solid performance. Following a bit of a break, I inadvertently watched some of Jack Ingram while waiting on Randy Newman. This is one of my most anticipated sets of the weekend – when will I ever get to see Randy Newman? Unfortunately, we were unable to get under the tent, and his intimate setting was marred by porta-potty doors slamming and bleed from 2 different stages! Another heartbreaking disappointment this weekend. I could only attempt to watch for 15 minutes before making my way to watch a couple of songs from Hayes Carll. I can count at least 20 friends who love this guy, and I just still don’t click with it.
Grammy award winners and one of my favorite acts today Arcade Fire closed the day out, but by this point I just couldn’t be bothered with heading to their stage. We had seen them earlier this year from about 4 feet away from them, and there wasn’t any chance of remotely making it that far this year, so why attempt? We watched the screens for about 5 songs before calling it a festival and heading to dinner.
Something about this year just didn’t come together for me, as you can tell. I had a good time, as I do every year; seeing acts I don’t get to see often or ever, being in Austin for 3 days, seeing friends from across the country who attend the festival, every year a good time is had. And again, I did have a good time. It just fell short for me this year. Next year will hopefully be a whole different experience, as I am sure it will.
So long ACL. See you again in 2012.