I spent last weekend with 65,000 of my closest friends in Austin’s Ziker Park listening to music all day at the Austin City Limits Festival. In past years, the big concern about ACL has always been how hot it was going to be, although there was one year not too long ago when there was the distinct possibility of a hurricane shutting everything down. This year, the festival had been moved later in the year by a few weeks and the weather had turned nice and cool. Alas, fall also means rain. But there was lots of good music anyway.
ACL has always had a mix of roots music and more mainstream current music. But it seems to me that this year they tipped the scales more to mainstream bands. Or maybe I’m just turning into an old fogey. In any case, here’s some of the highlights for me:
Sadly, I didn’t get to the festival site in time to see the Avett Brothers perform. They have a new CD out I And Love And You and I was really looking forward to hearing their new songs live instead of on CD. But it wasn’t meant to be. Travel logistics made it impossible.
But honestly, I was just waiting for the band that I had anticipated the most, Kings of Leon. You have to understand, I’ve been a fan of theirs since their Aha Shake Heartbreak days and I still thought of them as sort of an scraggly outsider visionary kinda rock band that were destined to spend thier career in the hinterlands of rock with a devout, cultish following. And then my girlfriend told me that the local pop station had been playing them on the radio. This left an odd disconnected mystery in my brain that begged to be solved. So I was keenly interested in hearing the latest from The Kings of Leon at ACL.
Mystery solved. They’ve apparently been signed to a major label and paired up with a roducer who as turned them into the latest alternative rock craze. Now, I’m not gonna say that this is a bad thing. Not exactly anyway. I have to allow as how some of the tracks from their latest CD, Only By The Night, has its moments. In particular I can get into “Crawl” from their latest CD, techno groove and all.
But I also have to admit that I miss the Kings of Leon that gave us “Taper Jean Girl”
and “King of the Rodeo“.But hey, I’m glad to see Kings of Leon get their 15 minutes of fame, and when they decide to head back into the wilds, I’ll still be listening to them.
Saturday’s first highlight was Felice Brothers. I’d never gotten to see them live before, but I’d watched enough of their videos on YouYube to know they would put on a good show. That’s exactly what they did. They are definitely one of those bands that throw themselves into their music 100%.
I got a fairly good recording of (most) of their M. Ward-ish, folk/New Orleans Jazz/Fusion song “Greatest Show On Earth” and it made me want to go out and buy all of their CDs. It’s a long extended ballad full of bizarre imagery, outcast people, and a hint of blues. You can hear the whole thing here:
The other highlight of Saturday for me was Papa Mali. Papa Mali holds a special place in my musical history because he was the front man for the very first reggae band I ever heard in my life, The Killer Bees, way back *mumble mumble* years ago. And the ACL Festival bio said he’d been Ruthe Foster’s producer and she blew everyone away at Merlefest, of all places. The only other association I’d had with the name Papa Mali was this more psychadelic that Dr. John kinda sound. So I was eager to hear just what the heck his show was gonna be.
Well, his show was kinda all over the map. He did some reggae songs as can be seen in this video:
But he also did some unbelievable New Orleans funk. I can’t find any more ACL footage from the show, but this documentary excerpt will give you a feel for the sound:
The real highlight for me on Saturday was NOT the ACL headliner, Dave Matthews Band. Instead my girlfriend tok me out to Threadgills to see the Greatest Bar Band In The World, The Gourds
Like an idiot, I left my field recorder in the hotel. I figured the folks at Threadgills would be all over me if I tried to record the show. But If I’d known ahead of time that they were going to close with a “Gin ‘n Juice” medley that wandered into “I Can See Clearly Now”, “Up On Cripple Creek,” and finished up with “Psycho Killer” I would have taken the chance. It was completely weird and amazing and classic Gourds.
I cant find any online video from that night’s show, but this video will give you a sense of it:
Judging from their videos on YouTube, they seem to make a habit of playing Threadgills during Austin City Limits, presumably so they can make wisecracks about the Festival. This year they were ragging on the $2 million dollars spent on grass in Zilker park for the festival.
It took a tremendous amount of effort to keep most of the mud below my knees. I’m proud to say that I did not fall down once in it. And for that, I was rewarded with a fan-damn-tastic performance from Black Joe Lewis
This guy is very nearly a genius. On the one hand his music is retro-soul revival in its purest form as you can see from this video:
On the other hand, he brings it all into the 21st century. Instead of songs about “I’m a prisoner of your love,” we hear songs like “Get Yo Sh*t” about a guy who’s getting kicked out of his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend’s apartment for among other things, forgetting her name.
Those were the highlights for me. Yes I missed Dave Matthews Band and Pearl Jam. But I got to see some great music from band’s I’d never heard of before and some that I’d just barely been aware of. And that’s what a music festival should be all about, discoverng music.