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Music Editor Survives Hot, Hot Sun, Big, Big Crowds At Austin City Limits Music Festival! Print E-mail
Thursday, 05 October 2006
Article Index
Music Editor Survives Hot, Hot Sun, Big, Big Crowds At Austin City Limits Music Festival!
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3 Ways To Deal
There were at least three ways to deal with the mind-boggling number of bands and the logistics. You could Play Favorites: decide beforehand who you were going to see that day, probably five to seven at most, then get to their stages early and plant yourself. (I nabbed a spot on the front fence, but off to the right side, for closer Van Morrison Friday night by getting to his stage an hour early, squeezing my way up to the front of the already-large but not yet too densely-packed crowd, then sitting on my butt on the ground for a boring hour of staring at knobby knees and waiting. And had to pass up four acts I would’ve liked to have seen. Decided that was not worth repeating, for any performer.)

You could Wander: have no agenda but to drift to wherever it sounded good. (Did that once, first thing Friday, as the sounds of Asleep at the Wheel on a nearby stage drew me like a siren’s call after the dissolving last notes of my opening pick, a very fortunate lead-off homer, local legends Beto & the Fairlanes. It was the first and last time I did not consult my tattered schedule for my next move.)

Or you could Overachieve (yours truly): cram in as much as possible because there was such an embarrassment of riches (and because I was trying to be a good reporter). There were disadvantages to that strategy. The only entire sets I got to see were Morrison and Flaming Lips, and sometimes taking in only part of a set leaves you with a different impression than catching start to finish. When it got really crowded, there were some acts I saw and heard without even stopping, it took so long – a couple of songs – just to walk past one stage on your way to another). If you didn’t arrive way before an act’s scheduled start time, you wouldn’t get very close; I like very close and it’s best for reporting, and worming your way to the front then reversing it to exit was often too large an investment of time. If you weren’t at least toward the center you might not get perfect sound, or a good look. My nourishment consisted of apples, nuts, energy bars and gallons of water because the food lines took 30-60 minutes; by all reports the food booths were really good, as were the arts and crafts and other vendor stands, but I didn’t go there to eat or shop. Final disadvantage: physical exhaustion.

Pluses & Minuses
Pluses: An amazing lineup each day, a mix of stars, known, unknown, cult and locals, remarkably consistent in quality though lacking somewhat in breadth of genres, made possible by the promoters’ good judgment and reportedly a performer payroll of nearly a million dollars (reduced dramatically by paying Willie in weed). Really low ticket prices – hard to pin down after the fact, but it seems it was about $100 for a three-day pass, less for an entire day than you’d pay for one show by one of the bands in a club, maybe even that night in town. Few scheduling conflicts, indicating a real effort to put bands that might draw similar crowds on at different times. Sets that started amazingly on time, though some ended before their scheduled finish time, leaving you to walk up expecting to hear a good 20-30 minutes and instead catching only part of the last song. Nearly perfect placement of stages and monitoring of sound levels, so you only heard who you wanted to hear, yet at sufficient volume. I don’t think I witnessed a single equipment malfunction, except maybe the sound for TV on the Radio. Even more startling – not a single altercation did I see, not even a discouraging word did I hear, with sardine crowds and 200,000 hot tired sweating mostly-under-30s sucking down colossal quantities of beer (think it would be that peaceful in other cities?). It was an overwhelmingly white crowd, so no racial tensions to speak of, and the rowdy youth factor may have been missing because, well, Austin’s just a very laid back place where people, at least at this huge gathering, seemed to respect each other and just be looking for good music and a good time. The vibe was exceptional.

One more kudo for the organizers: they had interpreters for the deaf for at least three quarters of the performances, and they were a smiling, dancing, hip-shaking bunch who added to the good feeling. I spoke to a couple of them, who said it was pretty fast-paced as they scooted from stage to stage to start or relieve in 20-minute shifts, that they had to listen very carefully to catch lyrics (though the Flaming Lips seemed to provide a notebook), and that, yes, they did almost feel like they were part of the band. The best moment I saw was when Terri Hendrix went into a low-growled scat that sent the surprised interpreter into a finger-bending flurry.

Minuses: Besides the few minor points already mentioned, only one other Big Bad Thing stood out: the buses. There was no parking at the grounds, so everyone who didn’t bike (a bit of a ride in nasty traffic) or hike (a very healthy hike, especially considering that’s all you’d be doing for the next 10 hours) or take a taxi, had to come on shuttle buses which all left from one point downtown – not so bad, because people showed up at various times. But they also returned from only one … one … one little curb at Zilker Park, where about 64,850 people were in one line, trying to leave at about the same time. Friday night I did the turtle shuffle for an hour and a half before joyously plopping down in a gloriously chilled bus. Saturday I thought I’d get smart and skip the bus death march for a quick jump into a taxi – what could it be, five bucks for a shared ride back to downtown? – well worth avoiding the infinite line … only to discover that no one else had that bright idea and I was the only one going back to Republic Square. I had to pay the full 15-dollar fare for a solo ride (with a driver with a non-Texas accent who had no clue where the center-of-Austin landmark square was – I gave him directions) – after an hour-plus wait in the taxi line. Sunday it was back to the bus brigade, thankfully not nearly so long because I did the smart thing and … skipped festival closer Tom Petty. Moan if you will (I’m used to it – everyone has their favorites, and AVRev VP Bryan Dailey could barely hide his disillusionment with me when he found out I did not catch Ween – scheduling conflict!!), but thankfully my willingness to skip Petty was a minority opinion or the line wouldn’t have been so short (though I definitely had lots of like-minded company). I laughed and loved sharp-penned Austin Chronicle scribe Joe Gross’s preview piece in that morning’s paper that advocated my bail early strategy: “A geezer no matter how young he was, Petty and his lousy voice ripped off the Byrds for 30 years without ever stealing the good stuff… This wheezer is worth missing ‘The Wire’ for? No. Not then. Not now. Not ever.” Call me, Joe. I’ll make a place for you at AudioVideoRevolution. Around here, we value writers who don’t mince words.


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