360° at Austin City Limits: Interviews, Photos, Video & Review

Written by David Shehi / photos & video by David Shehi

October 4, 2011

acl_2011_day1_low_52.jpgDriving into Austin, TX is always an enlightening experience. From the megastructures and multi-tiered interstate junctions, one cannot help but be reminded of the old adage that “everything is bigger in Texas.” And so is the case with Austin City Limits Music Festival.

Mist tent? No way. Mist tents are for the minor leagues. ACL boasts a misting station that is approximately 50 yards in length and has industrial sized mist blowing fans scattered throughout the park. You will not find a water spigot in Zilker Park, the site upon which the the event sits. Rather, at ACL, Camelbak has a spot that is staffed five deep at all times who are anxiously awaiting the next patron who needs his Nalgene refreshed.

All of this fails to mention the lineup. Whether you are an undercard guy or a headliner whore, your needs will be met with choices ranging from Coldplay, My Morning Jacket or Stevie Wonder to Gary Clark, Jr., Mavis Staples or Gillian Welch. That is Austin City Limits. They do it big.

 

For ten years now, the proud liberal city that resides in one of the most conservative states in the land has played host to one of the most burgeoning music festivals in the country; an event that typically sells out of three-day passes before the lineup is even announced. And though the festival is undoubtedly large, it has not lost sight of its local flavor that allows one to have a large sampling of the Austin experience by simply attending each day’s festival festivities. From local cooking and art to bike taxis, it is all right there for the indulging.


 

Headliners

Coldplay

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With a new album due in late October (Mylo Xyloto), Coldplay is once again gracing the stage with their presence, and their performance at ACL was just that… graceful. While many bands of these Londoners’ stature might run the risk of falling victim to the “my shit doesn’t stink” rock-god mentality, Coldplay has done anything but that. I lost track of how many times front man Chris Martin thanked the audience, and the performance did not even have a hint of entitlement. Maybe Gwyneth keeps them grounded. Never mind.

Opening with the title track from the forthcoming record, the audience was immediately drawn into the set via the laser lightshow and Chris Martin’s not of this earth stage presence. But it was during the opening acoustic strum of “Yellow” and ensuing colossal riff that signaled the arena sound and European intensity — that one may have only seen on television when watching mega-events like Live Aid — that had the devout multitude of adorers at the Coldplay blokes’ beck and call. From “In My Place,” “The Scientist” and “Fix You” — that included a snippet tribute to the late Amy Winehouse — Coldplay delivered.

 

Setlist: Mylo Xyloto, Hurts Like Heaven, Yellow, In My Place, Major Minus, Lost!, The Scientist, Violet Hill, God Put A Smile Upon Your Face, Everything’s Not Lost, Us Against the World, Politik, Viva La Vida, Charlie Brown, Paradise

Encore: Clocks, Fix You, Every Teardrop is a Waterfall

 

Kanye West

acl_2011_day1_low_76.jpgCall me crazy but I just had to check out Kanye West. Maybe it was the curious nature of my live music loving soul or the fact that rumors were rampant that Jay-Z would make a guest appearance. Whatever the reason, I made the trek to witness what turned out to be the exact opposite of what was going on across the park with Coldplay, and exactly what I suspected would be the case from Kanye. But an open mind was kept, primarily because I had heard that the cat had toned it down since making a complete ass out of himself (again) with the whole Taylor Swift thing.

The open mind would soon be closed, courtesy of Mr. Kanye West. Kanye’s set was nothing short of grotesque. Though supposedly there was something deeper going on that my feeble mind must not be advanced enough to understand, from my vantage, the three “act” show was nothing more than a superficial display of lowly bravado, angry homage to materialism, and partial renditions of songs from the somewhat vast West catalogue. The stage was adorned with camel-toed goddess looking figures who were dressed anything but goddess-like. With repetitive lines such as “fuck me with the lights on” scattered amongst the pomp and circumstance of a guy who really thinks he matters, the kiddies scarily ate it up… to each their own, but I bailed when I could feel the regurgitation bubbling.

 

Setlist: H.A.M., Dark Fantasy, Power, Power (Remix), Jesus Walks, Can’t Tell Me Nothing, Hell of a Life, Monster, Flashing Lights, Good Life, Love Lockdown, Heartless, Pinocchio Story, Run This Town (Jay-Z), Niggas in Paris, Through the Wire, All Falls Down, Touch the Sky, Gold Digger, All of the Lights, Stronger, Runaway, Lost in the World, Hey Mama

 

Stevie Wonder

acl_2011_day2-18.jpgWell, yet one more person from whom Kanye West could benefit from. Stevie Wonder’s set was — sans an out of place and unnecessary plug for President Obama — pure bliss. But who is anybody to question what Stevie Wonder does? The guy is a living legend who is a master of what he does.If he finds it necessary to belt out “yes we can,” then so be it. Many waited the length of the day in order to have a good vantage from which they could see this figure of music history. Their wait was worth it and beyond.

From the opening note of Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is,” grins were abound – with Stevie’s being the widest and brightest. Watching Stevie Wonder gave the feeling that one may feel if he were to marvel at a miracle in the making right before his eyes. There was nothing forced about his playing. It was perhaps the most natural exhibition I have ever witnessed. And “I Just Called To Say I Love You” was the type of material that could have gotten even the most no game having chap a spot in the sack with his better half.

 

Setlist: How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) (Marvin Gaye), My Eyes Don’t Cry, Master Blaster, The Way You Make Me Feel (Michael Jackson), Higher Ground, Living for the City, Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing, When I Fall in Love (Nat King Cole), Ribbon In The Sky, Overjoyed,   Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours, Sir Duke, I Wish, Do I Do, For Once In My Life, My Cherie Amour, I Just Called to Say I Love You, Check on Your Love, Superstition, Isn’t She Lovely, Fever (Little Willie John), As

 

My Morning Jacket

There is not much more that can be said about My Morning Jacket, the literal festival kings of 2011. acl_2011_day2-11.jpgWith rampant success on the heels of Circuital, the Kentucky quintet decided to close their long summer road trip in grand fashion with a performance at Austin City Limits, playing directly opposite of Stevie Wonder.

Needless to say, the Jacket multitude was not quite what the Wonder one was, but the attendance was beyond respectable. For those that decided to catch all or a portion of MMJ, they were treated to a catalogue mixture that was not too far off base from what has been given at many other outings over the summer. This said, the highlight came when a somewhat expected deviation from the norm — a guest appearance from Preservation Hall Jazz Band — launched the evening into an electrically infused jazz eargasm for the ages.

Knowing their place, they gracefully opted for no encore. Jim James is the shit and all, but even he was cognizant of the fact that the guy behind “Fingertips – Pt. 2″ was right across the way.

 

Setlist: Victory Dance, Circuital, Off The Record, I’m Amazed, Gideon, Golden, Outta My System,  Mahgeetah, Smokin From Shootin, (end of) Run Thru, Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt.2,  Wordless Chorus, Holdin On To Black Metal*, Dancefloors*, One Big Holiday* * w/ Preservation Hall Jazz Band

 

Highlights

 

Rain

Unless you have been hanging out under a rock, you know that Texas has experienced one of the worst droughts in its history. As a result of this, wildfires have sprung up across the state — which forced the festival to make it a strictly non-smoking affair (bummer) — and the devastation has been acl_2011_day1_low-90.jpgcatastrophic. The folks of Austin and Texas as a whole have been praying for rain, and on day one at ACL, they got it. Granted, it was a small shower, but it was something. Then on day two, the site actually got a true summer downpour. It was magical, even communal; not a single soul complained about being wet. Folks were more than glad to walk around in drenched clothes considering the recent state of parched affairs in the land of the lone star.

 

Gillian Welch

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings performed a set that was so stripped down that authenticity bled from the stage. Too bad the bass from Skrillex’s set ironically bled over into the purity that was taken place in Gillian’s tent. As they played their honest brand of Americana, Welch and Rawlings kept their faithful mesmerized with raw string play and sincerity in delivery for beloved tunes including “Look at Miss Ohio” and “I’ll Fly Away.”

 

Gary Clark, Jr.

Clark’s set scorched. Though played on one of the smallest of the festival, it was packed shoulder to shoulder with many catching their first glimpse of the man who many are crediting with bringing back the blues on the heels of his first major label release, The Bright Lights EP. Clark played every chord and sung every note with the fervor and depth of a man singing and playing his last; his tall, lean and humble presence only adding to the dynamic. Though comparisons to Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn remain abound, there is no mistaking Clark as being a true original and one of Austin’s proudest sons.    

 

Lowlights

 

DJ Electronica/Apple music

Do people eat this stuff up? Of course they do. Do some place these cats in the “no talent ass clown” category? Yep. This too, falls into the “each/own” category. acl_2011_day1_low_20.jpgEither way, the sweaty masses of pubescent and college aged kids who fill these tents and fields before the never ending list of DJs are not going away. The scene is a force with which to be reckoned. Let’s face it, some folks need repetitive beats so that they do not ever actually have to listen to music but can still show up at a live event and dance like they know what they are doing. However, is it really necessary that it is played so loud that Sara Bareilles — an artist of unquestionable talent — finds it necessary to comment to the effect that she can’t concentrate on her own set due to the fact that Pretty Lights‘ thuds, or hooks as some refer to them, are so low that the Richter scale in the other tent registers?

 

Austin Eats

Austin Eats, the food spot at the park, was a disappointment this year. Though everything was reasonably priced and the local fares were well represented, the fact that all of the food was located here was a buzz kill because it meant that eating had to be a scheduled event. With such a competitive schedule, making a stop on such vast grounds to grab a bite to eat should be something that can be done with impulsivity. Is this nitpicky? Probably so, but I think – as a large mammal – that reinvention of what was a good system where folks could stop off at multiple places to get their grub on was a bit of a misstep.

 

Honorable Mentions

 

North Mississippi Allstars

With Big Chris Chew back in the rotation for the first time in awhile, the NMA sound was once again fully complete. This is not to say that the duo is not enjoyable because it is. But there is something about having that trio of musicians – and on this date, Roosevelt Collier (Lee Boys) playing pedal steel – that is delightful. Plus at a acl_2011-4.jpgfestival that primarily focuses on the indie genre, a good ol’ southern jam-rock session was much needed. It was like coming home.

 

Del McCoury Band with Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Who would have ever thought that this collaboration works as well as it does. With American Legacies they proved it and the live translation was just as impeccable. What was perhaps most compelling about the set was the true love of music that shone through from these students and teachers of the sound. It was hard to tell who was smiling more, Del or the throng that came to witness the anomaly.

 

Waterloo Records Autograph Signings

Autograph signings are such a wonderful way to engage music fans, but with Waterloo Records, it is also a reminder to music fans that there are these things called CDs and also places to buy them called record stores. In a true testament to the recognition of the need to support independent records stores, artists — including My Morning Jacket, Young the Giant, TV On The Radio and others — showed up in droves this year to shake hands, kiss babies and sign whatever swag was placed in front of them.

 

Conclusion….

acl_2011_day1_low_21.jpgDue to its placement on the calendar, Austin City Limits is charged with bringing something that will make traveling festivarians put off the other big names (Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Outside Lands) or make it to Austin in addition. It is quite the task, but the event once again delivered.

With enough indie to satisfy even the most tragically hip and enough of the rest to make anybody be able to find a niche, there was also a lot of room for discovery. From Big Boi to Alison Krauss, musicians brought their A-Game. Hell, Cee Lo‘s set started on time. Surely that — and the fact that Christian Bale was on the scene to shoot a film — says something about the event.

In short, Austin City Limits Music Festival remains to be one of the top dogs in an ever increasing list of events of its type, but from the top to the bottom, this event is managed with unparalleled professionalism, organization and downright courtesy. Fans come first at ACL, as evidenced by the last minute decision to add 11,000 square feet of shade structure in order to keep patrons cool. It is an event that is definitely big, but also one that prides itself on the fact that one rarely realizes that he is in the midst of 70,000+ people and it for these reasons and many more that ACL has staked its claim as a must-make event that is here to stay for years to come. Cheers to ACL 2012!

 

On the Scene at ACL with Gary Clark, Jr., Futurebirds & Ruby Jane

For more on Gary Clark, click here. For more on Futurebirds, click here. For more on Ruby Jane, click here.

 

Click the thumbnails for photos From the Fest by David Shehi

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