ACL 2009-much anticipated with lots of drama leading up to it. The weekend was finally here. Letâ€™s face it ACL had a lot of hype to live up to. It was the first year that ALL tickets sold out. The Beastie Boys pulled out due to tragedy, and Lily Allen pulled out (which is pretty consistent for her non-performances in Austin.) I went in wanting to see John Legend (who stood Austin up about four years ago when he was set to open for Alicia Keys), Kings of Leon (who are on fire these days), and Michael Franti and Spearhead. I felt like I needed to see Pearl Jam and Dave Matthews Band, just to say that I did, and the B52′s because, well why not!
Other than that my expectations were all about enjoying the experience and taking in new gems. Let me put the cards on the table, I am not the festival type. I much prefer seeing Ingrid Michaelson perform at The Parish or Alpha Rev at Antoneâ€™s than being a captive audience for three days in a park. Figuring out what to wear and bring is a major challenge. And you just donâ€™t get the comfort of the indoors. Anything can happen. And anything DID happen. After doing the show Friday morning, I was raring and ready to go.
Every ACL should start with a visit to the Gospel Tent. You donâ€™t have to know who is performing, because it is the Gospel Tent! It is understood that it is going to be goodâ€”guaranteed entertainment! The Gospel Silvertones were bringing a little church to ACL and everyone was feeling it. Imagine if you will five soulful men and one soulful woman singing gospel from deep down. The lead singer was in the crowd leading dances. The crowd loved it. The stage was set for an amazing ACL.
A great discovery! ACL serves wine. Thank goodness. I guess I figured festivals were all about water and beer. No mam-they served wine in a water bottle! Heelarious! I was with a group of that included kids. They were the key to a little known secret: Kiddie Limits. If you have a child totally head that way. Not only do they have kid games and entertainment, but they also have special guests performing in a more intimate setting. Kâ€™Naan surprised the crowd with a special performance. Backstory: Kâ€™Naan and his family boarded the last commercial flight out of civil war ravaged Somalia in 1991. The result? A poet, hip-hop artist who sings about peace and a better life. Does it get any better than that? Kâ€™Naan lulled me into a sense of calm. I was at ACL baby!
We left Kiddie Limits and headed to Raphael Saadiqâ€”how to I describe you? Think a throwback singer with groove. Raphael formerly was the lead singer Tony! Toni! Tone! (It feels good, yeah! If it really feels good to you baby let me hear you sayâ€¦) But now he is on his own. I recommend the song Never Give You Up.
Truth be told, I watched Raphael Saadiq from the front of the John Legend stage. I wanted to be front and center. You have to understand as I mentioned, I have been sad about John being MIA as the opener for Alicia Keys a few years ago. He and I havenâ€™t been the same since. Let me just say the second John Legend took stage, all was forgiven. It was an hour I will never forget. He sang flawlessly and sang every song I wanted to hear: Ordinary People, Greenlight, etc.
Yet another highlight of this performance was watching the interpreter.
ACL hands down has THE best interpreters I have ever seen. My favorite was this petite blonde woman. You would never think sheâ€™d ever heard a John Legend song. But once he started singing, she became his second voice. She signed the song as she danced and moved to the music. Her charisma was such that everyone was talking about John Legend AND her.
I could have gone home after John Legend and been completely content. Completely. The weather was perfect, the new 2.5 million dollar grass was beautiful and the mood was just right.
But alas, I couldnâ€™t stop there. Kings of Leon was calling. My last stop of the night. The power that this group has when they perform is captivating. I will admit, I only know two of their songs. But I love them both. And after hearing them perform, I can say they are solid over all.
After Kings, I headed to the ACL after party. The hook was it was the first party to be held at the Seaholm Power Plant. You may know it as the Gotham looking building on Cesar Chavez with the â€œCity of Austin Energyâ€ sign on it. Totally exciting! Rare Magazine put on a party to remember. My favorite part was going inside the Power Plant itself. Perfect venue for a partyâ€”you know Location, Location, Location. I walked by the lead singer of Kings of Leon at least three times but said nothing. I had nothing interesting to say. It was fascinating to see the power plant and the music industry people roaming around.
Day one done and done.
Day 2: I had a Jazzercise District Meeting, so I didnâ€™t make it to ACL until the evening, AKA after THE rain. By the time I got there the beautiful grass had turned into a muddy mess. Not to worry, Mos Def was on the stage doing his unique hip-hop thing. He sang Roni from the 80s and I was hooked. The mud disappeared. Love that song.
I was on my own today just enjoying the music. I tried to head to The Scabs next, but it was a struggle. Not only was I still getting acclimated to the mud, but also I realized that I can see The Scabs and Bob Schneider at Antoneâ€™s all the time. So I took in a little of The Decemberists.
Some of the best times at ACL can be found listening to a few songs from each band and then moving on. It is like a buffet in Vegasâ€”so much variety, so much quality, YUMMY!
What astounded me is that literally every fifth person had no shoes on. Gross! Of course I wonâ€™t go barefoot on the street. Also gross. Last stop Dave Matthews Band. I ran into a coworker and watched most of the show with him. I love that fact that in a sea of thousands, you can run into people you know. Dave Matthews- I used to enjoy this band, and I figured they were here, so I might as well take it in and wait it out until they performed Crash. I did get some songs I wanted to hear, but no Crash. Sigh. Here is what I would say about DMB â€“ they kill momentum. For whatever reason, Dave would stop between songs for what felt like 5 minutes, then he would say two words and they would roll into a song that live they had decided to make 10 minutes long. About half way into it, you would start feeling it. When the song finally ended you were amped, and then they stopped for another 5 minutes and the moment was gone. Ugh.
The highlight of Dave Matthews was a man who was walking around in only shorts. He would find an open area and then slip and slide on the mud. There arenâ€™t wordsâ€”Speechless!
Day 3: My body ached, my boots were muddy, but I was determined to make this a three-day affair. It was humid, the grass was gone, but by Jove, I was going to make it.
Still 1 in every 5 people went barefoot. Yesterday I get, it rained and there was little warning. But today? How did they not know? Bizarre. And still gross.
First stop: The B52â€™s Perfect way to start the muddy day. You do realize donâ€™t you that when it is muddy, you canâ€™t sit down. You are committed to standing for the ENTIRE day. So I walk into ACL, to The B52â€™s singing Roam. Love it! They have aged but they gave it all they had. They sang Love Shack, Rock Lobster, and more. Oh and my favorite interpreter was interpreting. Perfect!
From the B52â€™s to Brett Dennen .
What can I say about Brett Dennen? He is one of the most underrated singer/songwriters right now. Brett is this quirky long and lanky red headed, freckled guy who is as tall as he is soulful. And if you take a moment and listen to his message, â€œBlessed is this life. Iâ€™m gonna celebrate being alive,â€ you leave feeling inspired. Go now and listen to a little Brett.
Ben Harper and Relentless7 whenever I see Ben Harper, I think about my friend Molly whose husband looks just like Ben Harper! It is so crazy. When you go see Ben Harper you know you are getting a consistent show. The man can sing, play and perform (and he looks good doing it). The great thing about Austin is just when you think you are missing the Ben, he comes back for another performance (Nike Human Race, SXSW free concert, and ACL in the course of one year).Of note, the mud wrestling/mosh pit that started during Ben Harper. People were embracing their surroundings.
Girl Talk was next and it just happened. There was much buzz about Girl Talk. I wasnâ€™t familiar. Was it a girl band? No I overheard someone saying there were no girls in the group. True, true. There are no guys plural, either. Just one guy. He doesnâ€™t play any music. He mashes songs together like a skilled dj. Before you roll your eyes, imagine a crowd of festivalgoers so large it went all the way to the heart of another stage. The crowed was so electric that you could see and feel the energyâ€”hands waving in unison. It was INSANE. The music was all familiar music from the radio and the guy was nutso. Electric!
Michael Franti & Spearhead. if you have seen the video for Say Hey (I Love You), then you know how endearing Michael Franti can be. He did not disappoint. The highlight was this little kid he had sing the chorus of Say Hey. As the little tyke was singing he began to realize he was singing for all these people and he got slower and slooooower. It was adorable!
Pearl Jam. I was exhausted by the time Pearl Jam hit the stage. By then, I wanted to hear the oldiesâ€”the songs I remember from yesteryear, and wasnâ€™t really concerned with broadening my horizons. My one complaint is probably that they waited too long to get to the old stuff. By that time my prissiness started creeping back in. I was no longer a mud loving ACL goer. I knew that I was going to turn into a pumpkin and go back to my regular life. Enjoying Pearl Jam just wasnâ€™t happening.
Thoughts of the long cab lines to get the whopping one-mile from the park to my home made me frown.
What to do? Head to the food court! Genius. I am about to share a delicious ACL secret. (The best thing comes to those who read all the way to the end.) When the last act is on, the food vendors are looking to give away, yes I said GIVE AWAY the food that they have preparedâ€”it is too late to sell it. I had a Torchyâ€™s Taco and a Mighty Cone and then had to stop myself because there was too much to choose from.
Of note: I am happy to say I spent three days at ACL without visiting the port-a-potty. I just couldnâ€™t do it. And so I was a reverse camel. Heh heh heh.
Common question: Do you do ACL with our without friends? It is a toss up. I spent parts of it with a various groups, and other times it was just me. Both work. If you want to see what you want to see when you want to see it, then being alone is ideal. But sometimes it is nice to share the moments with friends. There are also lots of people to meet at ACL and that is also a highlight.
Best freebie: Energizer passed out these! Portable cell phone chargers. They had connectors for every kind of phone.
It was genius. I didn’t have to worry about my cell phone dying while I was out there. Let’s face it, had that happened, I would have been out of there. ha!
It is astounding that so many people come and truly know the music and the performers. Not everyone is polite sadly, but if you can get past people walking all over your stuff (which is only an issue on a dry day), ACL is totally worth it. There are so many people of all ages embracing music and sharing a moment. I canâ€™t wait for next year!