Thursday, October 9, 2008

Broad Ripple Gazette, vol 4. no 21

first published in the Broad Ripple Gazette

Austin City Limits Festivals
Zilker Park, Austin Texas
September 26-28

Friday, September 26, 2008
ACLF Day One

I had the great opportunity to attend the Austin City Limits Festival -- and I had a media pass, which made it extra fun. I started really getting excited about the festival on the plane. My seatmate was attending for the third year in a row. John gave me lots of good tips on transportation, restaurants and other good stuff. I was impressed how the whole city wrapped their arms around the festival from the greetings at the airport to my 84 year-old uncle giving me tips about getting around the venue.

The weather was great, for Austin anyway, for the festival- high 80s, low 90s each day. Because of a series of unfortunate events (mostly involving exchanging my rental car and losing three hours), I arrived at the park much later that I wanted to and was worried that I wouldn’t make it to the make it to pick up my pass before the cutoff time. I leapt off the shuttle bus with fifteen minutes to spare. I raced through bike racks, people with clipboards pitching Green Peace and strollers and skidded to a stop in front of the media table with seven minutes to spare. I know, without a doubt that if I would have missed getting the pass you would have found me sitting on the sidewalk sobbing.

Once my wristband was safely around my wrist, I calmed down and looked around the media area. It just happened to be happy hour. I tried my first and last Red Bull and vodka; I ditched it and grabbed water instead. The media corner is tucked in the shade, which proved to be a lifesaver over the weekend.

All of the local radio stations had areas for interviews and live broadcasts. There was a stage for interviews and such. In the middle there was a tent with tables, power, computers and Internet access for us writer-types. After taking advantage of the air-conditioned, big-as-my-bathroom at home porta-potty I launched myself out in to the fray.

I started by walking around the parameter of the park and checked out the location of the eight stages. I couldn't believe how many people were there. The food area was full of local vendors and the art section was full of local art, clothes and jewelry. I bought a bag of the best kettle popcorn I've ever eaten, and trust me when I say that. I consider kettle corn a food group. The other side of the venue had an autograph tent, a Waterloo records tent and a giant tee shirt and merch tent.

David Byrne had a huge crowd. I stood at the back of the crowd, and when I say back of the crowd I mean that I was behind thousands of people. ACLF has giant screens that project the sets. Byrne played a great mix of Talking Head tunes and songs from his collaboration with Brian Eno. And let me tell you, Byrne and his band can get away with white after Labor Day. They looked and sounded great!

I'm a huge Ryan Bingham fan, and he was playing at the same time as David Byrne – the first of many hard choices. As it turned out, Ryan and the Dead Horses had a big crowd also. I discovered the 'back stage' entrance and the guy watching the “door” let me through with my media wristband. And then another guy waved me up the stairs to the stage. Suddenly I was standing next to the guitar tech, just a few feet away from Ryan and the band. Holy crap! It was wild to look out on the sea of thousands of faces dancing also to the music. I can't imagine what it must be like to play for all of those folks.

Ryan invited Doug Moreland, who as it turned out was standing next to me, to play violin. They rocked though two songs with Doug and then Ryan said they were going to "turn it up," and they sure did! The stage was shaking with the intense playing and stomping. I peeked around a stack of amps and the crowd was matching the band's force with dancing and clapping. I stood there like a proud Aunt, grinning from ear-to-ear at Ryan's success.

We were hustled off stage for the last song. I stood at a table next to the stage stairs, jotted some notes and watched the hospitality area action. There was plenty of fun to be had and the drinks were flowing. I hung back, munching popcorn like I was watching a movie.

Ryan and the band came flying down the stairs after the show and Ryan barely made it to the last step before people swarmed him with congratulations on the great set. I hung around for a few minutes, waiting my turn to chat with Ryan. I talked to his bass player, Elijah Ford for a minute, reminding him of the Birdy's show and how they had to drive through torrential rains to get there. I snuck in to shake Ryan's hand and geekily told him that was a big fan and had written about him and his Indianapolis show. I reminded him that we couldn't connect for a phone interview since he was performing on Conan O'Brien instead. He apologized with a very charming "I'm sorry ma'am." I told him that I was sure he'd made the right decision. I mentioned that I thought there were more people watching him from the stage than were at the Birdy's show. He laughed and said the thought today was the most people he'd played for. I slipped out of the backstage area before I was tempted to grab a beer.

I was hoping to catch up with Indianapolis-to-Austin transplant Cameron Smith. In Indianapolis Cameron booked national acts at Verizon, the Murat and Birdy's. Cameron was the one who clued me in on the festival in the first place, which started the ball rolling for me to attend. He teaches a course at the University of Texas, Austin on artist and venue management. I know from our Facebook friendship that he is a huge Alejandro Escovedo fan. I had a feeling that if I hung around the opening to the backstage area when Alejandro was playing I'd run in to Cameron. That was a pretty bold plan considering, the thousands of people packed around the stage. It worked! Cameron and his friend, Kyle actually found me and soon we were standing on the stage. I think my favorite part of the festival was watching Cameron watch Alejandro.             

Cameron told me lots of great stuff while we were watching. Susan Voelz, the violin player was part of Melloncamp's band and in one of my favorite bands, Poi Dog Pondering. The cello player, Brian Standefe is an I.U. grad. Alejandro Escovedo had a residency at the Continental Club in Austin and Cameron told me how cool to see the songs unfolding each week. The result of the residency was the new album "Real Animal." Cameron pointed out the waitresses from the Continental dancing next to the band, like they do when Alejandro plays the club. The band played shout-outs to Iggy Pop and Joe Strummer. Not only are the band members great instrumentalists, but also they harmonize beautifully.

We walked over to hear a bit of Manu Chao. His music mixes several languages and genres - Latin, pop, reggae and techno. Hearing just few songs was enough for me; I parted from the guys and started the trek home. In Nora fashion, I walked the wrong direction for what seemed like forever. I really do have the sense of direction of a doughnut. Every trip seems to include at least one u-turn. It really stinks when I’m on foot.

Saturday, September 27, 2008
ACLF Day Two

I keep getting to ACLF much later than I intend to. I'm staying my cousin Sheila’s, lovely house north of town. By the time I write, dip my toes in the pool, and make the drive and park and it is hours later than I've planned on. I decided to check out the local flavor (beer, flavor that is) and met my airplane seatmate, John for a beer at the Ginger Man. I had a lovely Live Oak (Austin) pilsner, and then we made our way to the shuttle buses. I don't think I can rave enough about how well organized and manageable the festival is. It's very impressive how they keep 65,000 people organized.

Robert Earl Keen was first on my must-see list for the day. I've seen REK twice in Indianapolis, first at Birdy's and the last time at the Music Mill. I was anxious to see him on Texas soil. REK is a native Texan who lived and wrote for a newspaper in Austin for a bit. In college he lived next door to Lyle Lovett. They would hang out on the front porch and play. Wouldn't you have loved to hear those jams? "The Front Porch" song was inspired by those nights and both REK and LL often play it as part of their sets.

Robert Earl Keen is a great storyteller, both in his songs and stage banter. I was having a conversation with John earlier about how some musicians should talk between songs. REK is a master at stage banter and is fun to listen to. He told a fun story of seeing Townes Van Zandt play at a place in Austin called I Scream, You Scream. REK swiped the cup TVZ drank from (he still has it and is happy to show it to anyone), before launching in to a Townes Van Zandt song.
I'm a big fan of pedal steel, in fact it makes me swoon. There was plenty of petal steel for me to swoon over. I loved seeing the thousands of people singing and dancing along. His fan base was across the board age-wise. I really enjoyed the set.

I had a Nora moment in the afternoon. I was standing by myself in the media area, trying to look like I belonged there, when a woman walked up and asked if I was “Nora.” Woo hoo! It was Roxanna from WFYI who recognized me from the Red Key. She had Evan from Indianapolis Monthly in tow. I saw a guy wearing a Rock for Riley tee shirt - it was Greg from My Kentucky Blog, a must read for any indie music fan.

I got BBQ’d in a tragic accident with a photographer from Dallas juggling his gear, a plate of brisket and a Coke. I very nerdily ran to the merch tent, purchased a ACLF tee and changed.
After that I caught parts of Spiritulized, John Fogerty and the Yonder Mountain String Band. I joined the throng heading to the Black Keys show. I tried to walk close to the stage (and when I say close, I mean a football field away) and got a little freaked out by the crowd. I wound my way out and headed to the Austin Ventures stage. Roky Erickson's band reminded me of a garage band- in a very good way. He was recently named 'Musician of the Year' at the Austin Music Awards. Erickson was a rock icon in the 1960s Austin but had a rough road to travel, from schizophrenia to shock treatment. With help from his musician friends he is enjoying a well-deserved resurgence of his career.

I bounced between the Beck and Robert Plant/Alison Krauss stages and as some points could hear both bands at once. “Two Turntables and a Microphone/Through the Morning, Through the Night.”

I joined the queue for the buses- walking the right way this time and headed north, with a quick stop to meet John for quick post-show recap beer (Live Oak Hefe-Weizen) at Ginger Man in between. It was fun to listen in on the conversations of other ACLF patrons. One guy said that he suddenly felt less cool the second he saw David Byrne. I totally understood that.

Sunday, September 28,2008
ACLF day three

I started the day off joining my Uncle Bruce for 7:30 Mass. While not very rock-and-roll, it was good for my soul. I waffled, but opted for a nap before I started the trek to town.

Once I arrived I wandered around for a bit, spending a few hours walking around and stopping for music. I heard bits of Gnarls Barkley, Tegan and Sara (who I saw in the media area Saturday), Band of Horses and South Austin Jug Band. I finally got brave and figured out that I could stand in the photo pit for some shows. I heard the first three songs of Austin's Kevin Fowler up close and got some great photos - and a cigarette flicked on me. Another shirt bit the dust. Who knew that music writing could be so hazardous to my wardrobe? Anyway, Kevin Fowler and his band played good-old- boy, sing-along rock and roll.

I joined the masses heading to the buses and was back downtown in less than half an hour. I decided to check out the Continental Club to see Redd Volkaert and I'm glad that I did! Redd and the band, Heybale are amazing. I grabbed a whiskey and stood along the wall watching the band and couples dancing. I was already loving the club- the doorman told me I was "good lookin'" and the bartender was nice and friendly. As you know, pedal steel makes me swoon - when pedal steel player winked at me after a solo it was almost too much for me.

During the break I had fun chatting with the band. The keyboard player, singer Earl Poole Ball, is a legend in his own right.

All of my guitar-playing friends that have heard Redd play want to move to Austin. I'm not kidding. I was stretching the truth just a little bit and teasing Redd that he was not good for my love life. As we were laughing, a guy joined our conversation and asked Redd if he had time to give a guitar lesson the next day. I was trying not to let my jaw drop, but I thought he looked like the guitar player for the Foo Fighters.

Chris: I'm just in town through tomorrow; I'd be honored if you'd have time to work with me.
[Nora’s brain is screaming: You're in town tomorrow because you're taping Austin City Limits show Monday night!]
Redd: Do you play guitar?
[Nora’s brain: to about 50,000 people just two hours ago!]
Chris: I play in a band that played ACLF, the Foo Fighters.
[Nora’s brain: the freaking headliners of ACLF]
Redd: I live about half an hour south, do you have a car?
Chris: I think I can arrange something.
[Nora’s brain: ummm, yea, like the tour bus...or I could drive you...]
Redd: Well, if you can get a ride, here's my number.
[Nora’s brain: should I take a picture? yes, no, yes, no...]

I shook their hands, and took my star-struck self back to the wall where I belonged and concentrated on not stalking Chris or Redd.

I wound up slipping out when the next set started before I got myself in trouble. It was the perfect ending to a great visit to Austin and ACLF.

I’d like to give a big shout-out to the organizers of the festival. As someone who works with volunteers and events, I can't tell you how amazing well ACLF is run.

No comments: