Monday, September 19, 2011

ACL Festival 2011 Round-Up

Another year, another ACL Festival has passed. It was three days of heat, a bit of rain, lots of music and some sore, tired feet. Weather-wise, I can't complain too much about this year's festival. I was worried since the festival was moved from October in 2010 back to September in 2011 that it was going to be unbearably hot and it certainly had its moments. For the most part, we saw overcast days, brief periods of rain and highs in the mid-90's. There were extra misting fans this year and a few extra areas with shade, although those were, generally, jam-packed with people. I brought a chair this year, which made for a more pleasant experience. I felt like an old-man at times but sometimes it's just nice to have a chair and for those times when I didn't want it, it was easy to drop off at the chair-check.

As far as music goes, the 10 year anniversary had a great line-up, there was a little of something for everyone and I didn't hear too many complaints. Sure there are artists, who performed that didn't interest me in the least but for those times, I just went over to the food concessions. My favorite set of the weekend was Kanye West's Friday night headlining set. I was kind of bummed to miss Coldplay but Kanye brought great production elements, and a string of hits that lasted beyond his 90 minute allotted time. He played a song (maybe two) from Watch the Throne and the set-list was definitely heavy with tunes from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy but he also played every top 10 hit he's ever had, of which there are many. I have seen both Coldplay and Kanye in the past and I knew that Kanye's performance would be less predictable, which isn't a slam on Coldplay it's more of a compliment to West.

The most disappointing set of the weekend was Stevie Wonder's Saturday headlining set. I was ridiculously excited to experience a living legend and was deeply saddened by the extraordinarily low sound-levels from his stage. I don't know if it was due to the wind, the slope of the park, or simply technical issues but I was about mid-back from the stage, beyond the second set of speaker towers and his performance was barely audible whatsoever. Meanwhile, I could hear My Morning Jacket from the opposite side of the park clear as a bell. The section of crowd where I was situated with thick with people before Stevie Wonder took to the stage (15 minutes late) but by the time the third song had begun there was hardly anyone around me. There were similarly low sound-levels from that stage earlier in the day when I tried to see Alison Krauss and Union Station but I presumed the volume was low because of her day-time slot and assumed it would be much louder for Stevie Wonder's headlining slot, which was not the case.

The sets that warmed my heart the most all come from artists whom I had seen perform before this weekend. Firstly, Cults played a fantastic set, which brought people to Zilker Park early on Friday. There were hundreds of people there to see them play at 11:45am on day 1 of ACL Festival. I was very pleasantly surprised to see such a big turn-out for a, relatively, unknown band. I was, also, extraordinarily happy to see tens of thousands of people gather to see, Australian band, Cut Copy perform on Saturday. I last saw them play the outside stage at Emo's so to witness a sea of people in every direction singing, dancing, clapping and losing their minds brought tears to my eyes. To me the greatest thing about a massive festival is the large-scale enjoyment of music. I wanted more moments like that but I was glad to have that one with Cut Copy. The final big heart moment for me was seeing Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.. Not only did they have a great turn-out, they won over lots of new fans. There were people set-up who were there to see bands playing after Dale Jr. Jr. who were won over by their great tunes. Also, they did the most genius thing of the weekend, which was to throw popsicles into the crowd during one of the hottest moments of the weekend.

There were lots of acts I wish I had seen but didn't as well including We Are Augustines and Death From Above 1979. However, having lived in Austin for 5 years now I can tell you, there is always something your missing. I try to focus on the stuff that I DID get to see and not get caught up in the hype of, "Oh my God, I can't believe you didn't see _______!" I'm too old for that crap. My greatest discovery of the weekend was Charles Bradley, I had seen the name, I had heard the hype but to see him perform in person was a religious experience. He is the type of performer who reaches into his chest pulls his heart out and lets you watch it beat in his hand. He told the audience he loved us at least a dozen times and I think we all believed it more each time we heard it.

Charles Bradley - The World (Is Going Up In Flames) video via YouTube

Overall, I would say the things I didn't like about the festival have more to do with me than the festival itself and it's things that bother me every time I see a show. I will NEVER understand people who pay money for a concert and spend the entire time talking. I will NEVER understand the people who spend hundreds of dollars to get black-out drunk in public. I LOVE music, I go to musical performances to experience the performance and when I can hear 2 bros bro-ing out easier than I can hear Arcade Fire then we all have a problem. In other words, I might be getting too old for this stuff but I haven't given up on it. I still love love music, I just wish everyone showed their love in the same ways and made an effort to be respectful of their fellow music-patrons. To me there is nothing valuable about saying I was at a show if I wasn't listening to the performance. Maybe next year I'll get black-out drunk and then I won't mind all of the talking, then again maybe I'll get black-out drunk and assault some shirtless bro in mandles, with the most horrifying tattoos who won't SHUT THE FUCK UP! Only time will tell.