Festivals are a whole other world when it comes to seeing live music. It’s a marathon that sneaks up on you. Having moved here a few weekends before last year’s Austin City Limits Festival (ACL), this was my first year attending ACL. My festival resume at this point only included a handful of day festivals on the East Coast and working security at Bonnaroo in Tennessee this past summer. I still hadn’t experienced a weekend festival from start to finish. Until now.
I decided to take the free shuttle from Republic Square Park (thanks Capital Metro!) into the festival in hopes of avoiding traffic at the end of the day. The ride to Zilker Park was a short one and within 15 minutes, I was making our way into the festival. I was worried that it would take me a while to figure out where everything was but within a few minutes, I realized this might have been the easiest festival setup I had attended so far. With that taken care of, I made my way to the Samsung Galaxy stage for a good throwback set ahead of me.
Jimmy Eat World – I was fortunate enough to interview Jimmy Eat World’s bassist Tim Burch a few days prior to the festival so I was excited to see what this band had to offer. It still wigs me out to know that this band has been going for just about 20 years. I remember first listening to their music when I was 11 years old. This band has been around almost as long as I’ve been on this Earth. As much as I enjoyed the throwbacks like “Pain” and “A Praise Chorus,” their newer tracks kept up with the fan favorites and kept the crowd happy. The set was tight and professional. While two decades have passed, this band hasn’t lost their steam. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay for the entire set due to an interview but as I walked away, the band played “Sweetness” and it was the perfect ending.
Widowspeak – I jetted over to the media tent for a quick chat with Widowspeak, a duo based in Brooklyn. I was fortunate to catch both Molly and Rob from the band. The three of us went off to the side in the press lounge and the pair told me a little about what they have been up to. As most already know, Widowspeak recorded their most recent album Almanac during a four-week recording process in an old barn in the Hudson River Valley. Rob said that the record was created as a studio record considering they played all of the instruments on it. Almanac has gained positive attention from media and listeners which has gained the band quite a few new fans. Molly shared that their EP The Swamps (which is set to release October 29) is made up of tracks that they believed didn’t fit into what they wanted their next album to sound like. The duo just wrapped up a tour with Iron & Wine but will head out for another tour once they’ve wrapped up their time in Austin. In regards to touring as an opening band, Molly said, “if you play a tiny town, it might be like five people but if they’re stoked five people…it’s awesome!” I wrapped up my conversation with Widowspeak as some photographers approached us to take portraits of the pair. It was time to head back to the Samsung Galaxy stage.
Local Natives – Local Natives, an LA-based quartet, joined by touring bassit Nik Ewing, served as a perfect breather to the middle of our busy Friday. The band’s brilliant harmonies, alongside their sporadic percussion, have distinguished them in the past. However, in a festival setting, it made for a pleasurable listen for both veterans of their discography, and for curious onlookers. Kelcey Ayer’s soaring vocals blended perfectly with Taylor Rice’s clean, exact articulation. And the guitar tones, though often times obscured by the chatter between fellow festival goers awaiting the Artic Monkeys, were as lovely as the recordings, and often times beefier, especially in the climax of a wonderfully rearranged interpretation of “Sun Hands,” the final song of their set. As the dust cleared at the end of their sixty minutes, little were left unsatisfied, and even fewer were not at least a bit curious about what’s coming next for one of indie rock’s most exciting bands.
Vampire Weekend – It was kind of hard to notice anything other than lead singer Ezra Koenig’s outfit when you made your way to the AMD stage. Donning black sunglasses and a green jumpsuit, you’d think Tom Cruise was leading the crowd into sing-alongs of “Oxford Comma” and “A-Punk.” It was impossible not to giggle at Koenig and his animated eyebrows that jumped up and down as the camera focused in on him. Their set wasn’t anything to write home about, but it was still a fun set to dance to.
Depeche Mode – My first festival conflict arose when it came time to grab a spot for Depeche Mode. Kaskade played the Honda stage next to AMD but his set was scheduled to end when Depeche Mode came on. I decided to give up my plans to see one of the bests in the EDM world right now and snag a bad ass spot for a band that I may not get the chance to see again. Our hour-long wait was well worth it. Barbarella’s 80s night had come to life as Depeche Mode came onto the stage. Lead singer Dave Gahan may look aged but that did not stop him from flailing around stage as he played a wild 90-minute set. Their encore was wrapped up with their hit, “Just Can’t Get Enough,” which brought the house down. We had survived a long day of music but were ready for the rest of the weekend’s festivities.
I decided to drive today considering I needed to make an ACL late night show towards the end of the night. Luckily, I found a sweet little parking spot that was only a 15-minute walk from the festival. We walked around and checked out the free goodies the fest had to offer. It seemed like it was a good time to be a Samsung Galaxy owner considering you could eat for free all weekend with just a simple tweet to swap your battery. AMD stage was our first stop of the day.
HAIM– Considering I’m a female, I’m all about girl power but I am not usually a “girl band” fan. It’s just never been my thing. I had heard the buzz going on about HAIM but didn’t care enough to look into it. On the other hand, my boyfriend was hooked. He had been listening to them all week prior to the festival so I was interested to see what their set would be like. They’re adorably bad. The three sisters all have their own style and personality that just meshes so well together on stage. They chose to open with hit single, “Falling” which won over the crowd. Unfortunately, Danielle was having troubles with her guitar a few songs in and then was given a replacement guitar that wasn’t tuned; it was obvious she was not a happy camper. But in came Alana and Este to distract the crowd while she recouped. The two are definitely the sassiest of the trio and Este made sure everyone’s attention stayed on them. When one of her sisters called her out for “not wearing anything,” Este said, “Shirts are for work. This isn’t work. This is fun.” While they may be rough around the edges when it comes to being professional, it works for them and 2014 is going to be a roller coaster ride for them.
Killing time with Lissie and Portugal. The Man – Before I made my way to park it at the Honda stage, I was able to catch about 10 minutes of Lissie, and Portugal. The Man. I caught the tail end of Lissie’s set and was not that impressed. Her voice is nice but her music doesn’t stand out enough to make you want to listen any longer than a few songs. Her rendition of Kid Cudi’s song “Pursuit of Happiness” confirmed my lack of interest. On the complete other hand, Portugal. The Man. killed it per usual. I was lucky enough to watch their entire set at Bonnaroo this summer and I think this one may have been even better. It was hard to even make your way through the packed crowd. People went crazy when they played hits like “So American” and especially when they closed with a reprise of “Purple Yellow Red and Blue.” I almost wished I had been up front for that one.
Grimes & Kendrick Lamar – As we made our way into the already packed crowd at the Honda stage, we realized our idea of getting a good spot for Kendrick two hours early was not as smart as we thought. There were ridiculous amounts of people, including way too many underage kids, packed like sardines as Grimes hit the stage. She reminded me of a small mouse wearing random clothing items from a Salvation Army. I’m still unsure why she was wearing shorts over pants. Oh, and she had about 100 flowers that she would throw out in random ADD moments. It must have been the day for technical difficulties because when she tried to play her first song, her keyboard did not want to come out and play. After a few tries and a worried look left and right to stage help, she informed the crowd that it would be her, her sampler and her hipster workout Barbie hype girls. The next hour was bizarre. Poor girl is not the perfect candidate for the spotlight and that makes it somewhat awkward considering she was performing in front of a large crowd that was mainly waiting for the next act. As most would imagine, the crowd enjoyed the louder, dubby tracks that just made everyone jump up and down but the audience wasn’t really into her weird squeals that made me think Yoko Ono had snuck on stage. All in all, she made a good effort and managed to make it through her set without the keyboard.
To close my night out at ACL, I chose to stick through the sea of frat lords and “sorostitutes” to see King Kendrick. There wasn’t a single moment of that set that my mind even wandered from where I was and what I was seeing. The 26-year-old rapper from Compton, backed by a live band, went through most his tracks on his platinum debut studio album good kid, m.A.A.d city. All the hype you hear about Kendrick is confirmed once you see him live. His raps just flow so perfectly throughout the set.
As exhausted as I was by Sunday, I wasn’t ready for the weekend to end. I was ready to see as much music as I could that last day.
Early sets – I decided to take it easy at first to save energy for the rest of the day. I sat in the back at the AMD stage for Kodaline, an Irish four-piece that had somehow attracted a pretty large crowd for being one of the opening performers at the festival. Their “boys with acoustic guitars” soft rock sound was pleasant and perfect to relax to. Next up, I walked over to the Honda stage to check out Typhoon. As they finished setting up, it took me two or three times to get the final count on band members. 11 PEOPLE. What in the world were they thinking? Based in Portland, this band is known for incorporating violins, percussion, horns, xylophone and much more, into their brand of indie rock music. After hearing a few songs, I know they could do exactly what they’re doing with half of the members. It was like they had two different people doing the exact same thing. Maybe that’s just me though. Some of the crowd seemed to love it.
Dawes – This was one of the performances I was looking forward to the entire weekend. Dawes’ music is so beautifully done, I never have to skip a song when listening to their albums. Frontman Taylor Goldsmith has given me a new outlook on guitar solos. He has one in almost every song but they never become overdone or cheesy. Goldsmith’s brother Griffin plays drums but during this set, he took over vocals during a few of the songs and his voice harmonized perfectly. Dawes is a well-oiled machine that never ceases to amaze their audience.
Franz Ferdinand – I made my way to this show merely out of curiosity. Franz Ferdinand is a band that I always wanted to check out but not actually buy a concert ticket to see them. They opened up their set with “No You Girls” from their 2009 album Tonight: Franz Ferdinand which was a fun, pretty well-known, track to get people going in the crowd. But then they played their next song “Right Action” from their 2013 album Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action and it all just sounded exactly the same. Their indie/dance rock sound just all blended in as one song for me. After a few more songs, we made our way to the AMD stage to wait for The National.
The National – This is a band I always wanted to get into but never really gave them a good listen. After seeing them live, I can’t stop listening to their music. Frontman Matt Berninger fools you at the start of the set with his serious face and pacing on the stage in between verses. But by the second or third song, he is thrashing around, swinging his mic stand and screaming their lyrics out to the audience. It was impossible not to scream along with him. As if the crowd wasn’t in love with The National already, Matt Berninger came out into the crowd (see picture above) during one of their final songs “Mr. November,” and walked directly through the center of the crowd. Fans left shaking their heads and smiling to themselves, after an epic set.
Lionel Richie – Atoms for Peace didn’t interest me as much as everyone else so we decided to end the weekend with Lionel Richie. Richie was definitely a talker and engaged the crowd between each song. As he began his set, scenes of nightlife in New York City filled the backdrop. The mix of the band, Richie’s jokes and the crazy lighting, made for a fun, dance atmosphere. Just like Richie said, there were two groups of people: one that listened to the records when they came out and one that had to listen to the albums because of their parents. Regardless, the hits made it a good time for everyone. It was hard not to love favorites like the Commodore’s, “Easy like Sunday Morning” and Richie’s “All Night Long.” Highlight of the set would have to be when Richie took to his piano to play “Hello.”
ACL was much more than I thought it would be. Experiencing this festival as a local was something I won’t forget.