Monday, October 15, 2012

ACL 2012: Full Wrap-Up (TLDR)

It's Monday, and the city of Austin is starting to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. The junior high and high school kids who were smoking pot while listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers are back in class and the babies with Nascar headphones are back to whatever babies do in their non-festival time. The tailgaters in their fold-up chairs who were sitting under the giant tree nowhere near the music are probably sitting on a chair in their living room reading the same book they read at the festival. I am at my trusty computer banging out some words that will try to give you a sense of my impressions of ACL Festival 2012.

This was my third year attending ACL Fest so I was already prepared in a lot of ways for what to expect. This year, I tried to have a positive outlook and think about the festival experience in a different way. I tried to see it through the eyes of a festival fan rather than a music fan. It worked for quite some time, I thought about how a music festival is a self-contained city and that made the whole thing seem more interesting somehow. I enjoyed the music and I was even mildly entertained by the people watching. At some point I realized that the whole thing about a music festival is that the music is only part of the experience and to most people it's one of the most insignificant parts of the experience. Especially when you're talking about the lesser-known performers.

I don't have a lot of money to throw around so throughout the weekend I would see people sleeping in their lawn chairs or camped out far away from any of the music and I would wonder why they spent $200 to be at the park. I still sort of wonder about that but I have some theories. First, maybe those are the people who own the free-roaming Middle-Schoolers I kept seeing? When I was in Middle-School I wasn't even allowed to go to the mall unattended so, I would presume those kids' parents were somewhere in the park...hopefully. It would make sense to say, "Ok, junior you and your fellow tweens can roam free just check back in at this tree every hour so I not you're not too drunk." My other theory is that they are straight-up tailgaters. They enjoy the community of fellow chair-dwellers, they bring a budget that can afford them $10 domestic cans and they just want to chat and get drunk. My last theory is that they just want to be there for the headliners so the rest of the day they are content to simply be in the park, sleeping so that they can wake up enough to hear Neil Young when his set starts.

I realize the other side to the festival experience is the group-think theory. Many of the people who were in attendance this weekend were part of a large group of friends who are all making the experience a group-bonding experience. These are your flag-bearers. The people who are looking away from the stage trying to find the rest of their friends wearing squid caps with big bras on a pole obstructing the views of people behind them. These are the people who I imagine are having the most fun at a music festival. They are in their own world with their group, perhaps they are making friends with other like-minded individuals swapping STI's with strangers and all of that. I do believe that they are there for the music in some sense but they are not hardcore music fans by any means. They want to possibly discover a new artist or hear the song they know by an artist. They want to be close enough to post good photos on In-Your-Face-book and many of them are quite successful.

I could write an entire blog post on inappropriate footwear for music festivals. The flip-flops and sandals will never cease to amaze me. You're entrusting 65,000+ drunken music fans to NOT step on your feet? Are you crazy? Along those same lines, the shoe-less people also intrigue me. What message are you sending? Do you care so much about your shoes that you'd rather just get a foot infection? Are you trying to re-create the Woodstock vibes? Are you just that high?

I was struck by the number of ladies wearing lace-backed shirts this year. I think that is a very clever trend. It is fashion with function and I fully approve. Normally, I hate those stupid fishing shirts on men but I think the festival environment is perfect for those as well. I hate wearing hats but a good hat is also ideal for the festival environment. I certainly saw some that were outrageously ridiculous but they were also functional.

The costume people make my heart hurt. Are they only children? Did they stop breastfeeding too soon? What would possess someone to say to themselves, you know what would be even better than standing in direct sunlight in a field for 12 hours? Standing in direct sunlight in a field with a rubber unicorn head! Clearly, these people are seeking attention and will suffer to receive that attention. More power to them but seriously WTF?!?!

Let's talk about the transportation for a minute. Obviously, there is no parking at or near Zilker park. You can't park in the neighborhood near it and anything resembling an area to park is charging you at least $20 to leave your car nearby. I recommend using Austin's city bus system but they refuse to increase service so, you could end up waiting at a stop just to have the bus fly by. C3 presents does offer free shuttles but those take you between the park and downtown. A great idea in theory except that parking in downtown Austin sucks all day, every day, all year long. I propose that C3 pays CapMetro to run three times as many busses that normally use the Zilker-adjacent route and have them run longer on Sunday. In addition, rather than have the shuttles go between the park and downtown have them go between the park and the mall like they do for UT games. This would mean paying the mall to use a section of their parking lot but at least they have a parking lot to be used. You could do the same thing at the Tony Berger Center as well.

You'll notice this post hasn't really talked about the music and there are a few reasons for that. For one, I talked about the music in my last two posts, for another I didn't see as much music as I wanted to and the music I was present for was only a part of what was going on in that moment. I did catch some really great performance by M83, Caveman, The Afghan Whigs, Rufus Wainwright and Stars amongst others but music is only part of the equation at a music festival.

I think what I learned this year was if I am granted media access again next year I will spend most of my time in the park early in the day and spend the rest of my time conducting interviews in the back. The early part of the day is my favorite, there are fewer people so it's easier to navigate. You can get closer to the stage and you can see lots of up-and-coming artists. I'm also a big fan of the late-night shows. With that, I draw this rambling, unfocused review to a close. See you again next year ACL Fest!