Fri 14 Sep – Austin City Limits Music Festival 2007
The evening before the 2007 Austin City Limits Music Festival, last weekend, I talked my way into the Festival grounds and wandered all around. I took some pictures of the expansive scene, which looked, to me, exactly like it had the year before.
There were six major stages, with music to be played on at least three of them at any one time. The performances were all carefully planned so that no two stages had music going, at the same time, which were located so that there would be a conflict. Rather, there were hills and valleys and distances that allowed simultaneous performances. One could hear one band finish, and turn around and--on the next stage--another would crank up. Or you could walk a quarter mile or so, and hear another that was finishing up.
You could wander around, and as you did the music you heard would shift to that of another band or performer....
But the evening before, the stages were empty. The fields were empty. And the food, and the beer, and all the other things for sale were not there. There was nothing but anticipation, that and hints of the music to come.
Friday morning: My friend and fellow LastFM'er, Billy, and I walked through an interesting Austin neighborhood toward the concert scene.
It was a beautiful, sunny day. It was going to get hot, and we each had carefully prepared ourselves in the way we thought best. That, for me, included hat, sunglasses, sun screen, camera, small binoculars, festival schedule, money, and earplugs so I could stand as close to the speakers as I wanted I wanted, for three days.
As we did on each day, we walked the perhaps two miles to the festival Park. It was a great way to begin the day. As we got on the main road into the park, the street was lined with great, inexpensive restaurants serving regional, Tex-Mex cooking or Barbecue.
And there were street vendors selling T-shirts, pipes, etc.
We wandered into the park around 12:30 in the afternoon. (We were having such a good time getting there, that we missed the first morning bands.) We wandered by and enjoyed a couple of tunes by Asleep at the Wheel
. They are an institution in Texas music, the ultimate in "Texas Swing" style of music. They play it better than anyone, perhaps; and they have been doing so for decades and decades. They seemed to be having a good time, and featured a new member of the band, a relatively young woman who played guitar and sang for them. She reminded me of one of the women in The B-52's
: maybe it was her hairdo. It was fun.
After a couple of tunes, though, I was ready for something different, so I wandered off. I was just passing by a stage featuring locally-connected artists, and caught Kevin McKinney
and his band. It was a nice show. He is a singer/songwriter and had fine lyrics and presentation.
Then I went to see Heartless Bastards
, and that was a great show. It struck a little close to home, as they did one of my favorite songs of theirs, "Done Got Old." This is a garage band kind of funky band, soulful, rootsy; tough, wailin' female lead vocals.
After about thirty minutes of them, I wandered off again. I stopped by to see a little bit of The Del McCoury Band
at the "Austin Adventures" stage. They are a perfect bluegrass band. Most of the bluegrass I listen too has a slightly edgy or even psychedelic tendency. This, however, was perfect. They could have been playing at the Grand Ol' Opry, or on the Lawrence Welk Show, in 1950, and they would have looked and sounded the same as I heard them that early Friday afternoon last week. Maybe the did do that,back then.
I kept wandering to the next stage and caught the tail-end of Joseph Arthur and The Lonely Astronauts
, with Joseph Arthur leading the band to the conclusion of their set.
As soon as they hit the final note, I turned around and saw smoke: a column of smoke rising up from right behind the row of tables that I had photographed the night before, the row with all the cash registers on it (on of the bars). So, I took a picture of it, and began walking toward it, taking more pictures. I have a lot of them. Here are a few:
It seems a propane gas tank, in the cooking area, exploded. The resulting fire spread to a huge beer truck, which you can see burning behind the tent and the remains of which are visible in some of the pictures. I could hear the tires of adjacent trucks exploding.
The fire spread, moving down a line of portable toilets and thus threatening to catch a row of similar trucks on fire, when alert police officers pulled some of the toilets out of the line, making a fire break.
It took forty minutes for a full-force fire-fighting team to get there and get it under control. Sadly, in the initial explosion, two workers were very badly burned. We did not know this until the next day.
Then I went to see what turned out to be the first block-buster performance of the Festival, and one of the best: Blonde Redhead
. They took their stage at 3:30 PM. They were so good! I took notes! I had a little pad in my pocket and I would pull it out at certain moments and scribble a word or two. I can now read quite a few of those words. Blonde Redhead? This band was fronted by a seeming Japanese lead singer, a petite and photogenic woman with an interesting high-pitched voice (a voice that, interestingly, was far more pleasing live than on their latest studio release). Her companion singer was a tenor-sounding male voice. The music, as I approached, was ethereal and pulsing, and would soar into an anthemic mode. Indeed, as the 2006 ACL was the year of the drone, this 2007 festival was anthemic in many ways. Blonde Redhead had wonderful, driving rhythms, pulsing but with an overlay of two guitars combining for a wall of sound. Looping technology was heavily but tastefully utilized and was clearly, very well practiced.
Then there were the subsonic sounds, a palpable bottom end that pouring and pulsating out of powerful subwoofers concealed beneath the stage at body level.
They drew a crowd!
It was a true tour de' force as the band closed out with sonic pyrotechnics on the part of the lead guitarist. I wanted to tell him, after the show, of a trick I saw Jimi Hendrix do. In fact, I had that feeling more than once as I saw guitarists for several bands do everything but that trick, as I saw them create all kinds of feedback.
Then that was over and I went for a walk. I went to the tent where Big Sam's Funky Nation
was nearing the end of its gig. They were in the stage that was in a tent and had rows of chairs, and which featured a lot of gospel and some jazz. But Big Sam's Funky Nation
was funky! This was a funky, soul band extrordinaire!
We had the best dancing of all the bands, as Big Sam took control. He had the dancing fans at his beck and call: "Go down low!" he would call, and knees bent and it was a test of flexibility for all the smiling beat keepers. The brass section pumped, with Sam in the lead with his funky, funky trombone. I say, "Big Sam's Funky Nation
puts the FUN in FUNky!" Dancing releases endorphines, remember. So it must be good.
Strolled over to catch JJ Grey And Mofro
. They are from my home state of Florida and play powerful swamp funk, not funky, ballads that make you move. They move your heart, too, as Grey's lyrics speak so eloquently of the affects of greed on our planet. He tells it like it is, as he sings of how "one more goddamn developer" ruins the wetlands to construct a golf course for the gated community; and destroys our environment. I have enjoyed this band several times, so soon wandered off.
I am SO glad I got a few minutes to hear LCD Soundsystem
! I got to hear only the last part of their last number, because I didn't have them high on my list and had wandered around some first. For example, I wanted to hear some of M.I.A., to see what all the fuss was about. After an admittedly quick listen, from a distance, I still didn't know. But LCD Soundsystem? The real deal! Great dance feel! A perfect companion to and for the Funky Nation!
My friends, by this time your intrepid correspondent was reaching some sort of 0zone. I wandered around looking for the free water, for a place in the shade, and I passed up Spoon, and Queens of the Stone Age, who were playing head-to-head. I rested in the shade, not far from where the fire had been, and chatted with some fans there. We had a nice break.
Then I heard some perfect music for the ensuing sunset, and I was drawn the short distance to see Gotan Project
, and they were stunning! First of all, they were a visual feast, so entirely different in presentation from the usual fare. One got the feeling of being in a very campy, upscale nightclub. The music was downbeat and cool with a Latin flair, accordion and brass and beautiful lyricism.
The sun set during their show, and it got cool.
Then there was Bjork
. What an extravaganza! She had what seemed an entire orchestra behind her and she clearly communicated, by her movements, that she had orchestrated everything we saw and heard. She could dance to and direct, and she did direct, every crescendo, every abrupt change of rhythm. And talk about amusement! She had all kinds of lighting and projection effect, and smoke, and confetti cannons, and--yes--she had her own fire!
Above, you can see, on the jumbo screen, the electronic music instrument she has been using. And the green laser beams...and in between...
As I was looking around at the audience, I noticed a fire break out, slowly, high up on the scaffold that held the many speakers and PA's. Finally, enough people noticed it that, with the band taking a sudden break, someone climbed up there and put it out. It was a speaker that had caught on fire!
She played many cool songs off her latest album, and had everyone going with "Declare independence! Don't let them do that to you!" Her set illustrated well the anthemic mood this year, and her songs and her narrative urgings advanced the atmospheric undercurrent of loving, cultural revolt.
Then we walked home and crashed. That was just the first day and there were two big days to go.
(Billy leads the way on a temporarily covered sidewalk, in a construction area, as I foresee another photo op.)
READ AND SEE PICS OF DAY 2 AND DAY 3... IT GETS BETTER!: Austin City Limits Music Festival, 2007: Day 2 (revised)Austin City Limits Music Festival, 2007: Day 3 (revised)