A little more than a week ago, Jenny and I attended the Austin City Limits music festival. It’s a huge concert festival that is held in Zilker Park every autumn. They have a combination of big acts and quirky ones, and we were excited to attend. I found a sub for my precalculus class, and Jenny took the day off from work. We worried a little bit about how Jenny would hold up, but decided to take the chance, even though at least one person told her she must be crazy to go while pregnant.
Since the boathouse is just across the river from Zilker Park, we got permission to park there and walk to the festival. (Any other parking would have been at least as far away, even if we paid for it.) We arrived well before the first show we wanted to see, and began the trek with our chairs and water bottles, and some smuggled-in Nutrigrain bars. Outside food was supposed to be forbidden, so we hid them in the pocket of one of the chairs. I was going to fight for the food, since Jenny needs her snacks! They didn’t search too thoroughly, so the food made it through.Once we got inside the park, we had to walk all the way to the far end to find the stage that we wanted. I think that our total distance was a little more than a mile, since the rowing team regularly does a run test that covers approximately the same path, and is two and a half miles round trip. In any case, Jenny was quite ready to sit down and get ready for the show, while I went to find a place to fill up our water bottles. In the past, they’ve had problems with heat exhaustion among large numbers of festival-goers, so they’ve worked hard to make water available. They also have a number of mist-tents, where strong fans blow cool mist on those who enter. Jenny really enjoyed that a little later. We wanted to see two of the groups in particular: Jakob Dylan and the Gold Mountain Rebels in the afternoon, and David Byrne (formerly of Talking Heads) later that evening. I should say that I wanted to see those groups, because Jenny’s main goal was to experience the atmosphere and enjoy some good music, regardless of the particulars. Jakob Dylan had a 2:30 slot, so not too many people were there, and we were able to sit pretty close to the line that divided the chair zone and the no-chair zone. Even though we were pretty far from the stage, we still had a great view due to the huge video screens hung on either side of the stage. After a couple of songs in the set, Dylan commented “You guys have more cameras here than at the TV show,” referring to the ACL television show on PBS. At one point, I left Jenny’s side to go up close and take some pictures–although I didn’t force my way all the way up to the front, I did take some photos where the musicians are slightly larger than just dots. One highlight of the show for us was a version of Closer to You, one of the songs we had played at our wedding reception. I read a review later, and it summed the show up by noting that they did a good job keeping the audience engaged without having to play One Headlight, the big hit from the Wallflowers.
Afterwards, we made our way to the food area. We first wandered through some vendors selling arty and crafty stuff, which Jenny looked at a little bit. Then we decided to get some ice cream, and even though the line was long, it moved quickly. To eat the ice cream, we crowded our way into a different stage–this one was smaller, and the audience area was under a tent, to create a more intimate environment. The previous band had just finished, and in the audience churn we managed to find a place to put our chairs down. We thought we might like the next show, and apparently a lot of people agreed with us, since before long all the possible room in the audience was filled. As the show started, we decided that we were sitting a little bit too close for our own comfort, and we weren’t quite as interested in the show as we thought we’d be. Sometimes when they say that someone is a “real musician’s musician,” it means that their music doesn’t sound all that good to the average listener. After a song or two, we forced our way out of there, letting people fill in behind us, so that space opened up in front of us.
With that experience under our belts, we went back to our original location to wait for the David Byrne show. We caught the last bit of Gogol Bordello. After reading about them in the program, I thought they might be interesting, but the festival program can make anything sound interesting! Independent of that fact, the band name refers to one of my favorite Russian authors. Sadly, the show was as crazy and nonsensical as the author in his later life. It consisted mostly in the shirtless front man jumping around on (and off) the stage, shrieking unintelligibly in possibly more than one language. I’m not sure how favorably he compares to Chichikov.
After that set, we moved up closer, although it was more crowded and we weren’t able to get quite as close. We waited for a couple to pack up their extensive cooler and canopied chair set-up, and then moved into their location. The wife promised us that it was a good spot. Then, while Jenny rested, I went back to the food area and got some burgers and cheese fries. The food was pretty good, for being a large festival. It wasn’t marked up too much, and it seemed to be a little bit more healthy and interesting than the standard festival/carnival/fair fare of deep fried and breaded fatty stuff, covered in oil and sugar. Although we got burgers and fries, we could have instead bought fish tacos or traditional English meat pies, or a chicken caesar salad.Finally, David Byrne’s time slot came up, and a huge crowd showed up. The band came on stage, all dressed in white, accented by David Byrne’s shock of white hair. Byrne is touring to promote his new album, a collaboration with Brian Eno, called Everything that Happens will Happen Today, and they mixed songs from that album with some classic Talking Heads tunes on which Eno collaborated. They started out with Strange Overtones, which you can download free at the album’s website. Halfway through, they took a little break and everyone (even the dancers) sat down in rolling office chairs for one song.
I tried to get up to the stage while they played two of my favorites: Life During Wartime and Once in a Lifetime. The audience was so packed together that I had to bounce out to the edge, and try to make my way up front that way. I did get pretty close, but it took a while. By the time I got back to Jenny, there were only one or two songs left. Even though the audience wanted to hear more, they had to keep to their one hour limit, so the next act could get ready to go on.
Jenny was tired, and we had seen what we wanted to see, so we started the long walk back to the car. In all, we had a very nice day.