Review: Austin City Limits (ACL) Festival — One Snapshot
Having done all but one of the nine ACL festivals, our gang of troubadors has an overall game plan, as you might imagine. And it usually centers around activity at one main “camp” set up early at one of the primary stages for each day, followed by side trips galore. This year the music was so diverse, some of us regulars never even saw each other, try as we might. Yet everyone seemed to enjoy the shows they attended, with completely different stories all around. So, here is my little summary “snapshot” for my little world at this year’s ACL festival.
Friday morning found a core group of us there with the opening of the gates, allowing just enough time to get over to see one of the first acts, Sahara Smith, local to the area. I was happy to see Will Sexton on the stage with her, as well as Mike Meadows on percussion, typically seen with the porterdavis band. It was a fine set, and her CD was already in our collection. From there we zipped over to JJ Grey and Mofro on the big Budweiser stage. They were excellent, overall and he’s got it all going on: gutsy guitar, a strong voice, and killer harmonica. We also caught the last part of Charlie Mars, who is well-received here in Austin in general. However, I’m ready for him to put out some new tunes to keep us coming back for more of what he does so well.
We then covered some ground, catching a good amount of Donovan Frankenreiter and his band, for a good classic rock sound — with their own fine songs like Free, and a well-done cover of Tom Petty’s American Girl. We heard a couple Blues Travelers songs, occurring at a time when the crowds were becoming apparent, and then trekked over to see a bit of our local powerhouse, Carolyn Wonderland, doing her usual phenomenal singing and playing, which included Dylan and Janis Joplin covers. Shelley King was on hand to help. as is often the case.
Then it was back over to the small Austin Ventures stage for multiple sets. Wisely we had made ourselves a perfect camp by the sound stage early in the day. A lot of people had the same idea. We heard the last part of Chief doing a nice cover of Springsteen’s Atlantic City. And we stayed for all of Angus and Julia Stone, all quite pleasant, including a Down by the River like cover in the end. Then the Band of Heathens put on yet another one of their stellar performances, with a little help from an added horn section, and they packed in many of their now familiar hits, like LA County Blues, Jackson Station, and Golden Calf. They also gave tribute to Otis Redding as they played You’re Gonna Miss Me. They were shinin’ their light on us for sure.
Amos Lee was next – what a treat – and I have some catching up to do there to learn all of his music! Then it was time for Ryan Bingham and crew – including Doug Moreland on guitar (yeah!) – and they threw down a great show as the sun was setting. We has a fine Phish finale, while many of our friends enjoyed The Strokes on the other end of the park.
I needed research help for the highlights of Saturday since I wasn’t there for day two (!), but heard good things about Grace Potter, Pete Yorn, two ACL favorites LCD Soundsystem and Gogol Bordello, but most of all, Monsters of Folk — definitely the top of the heap in the eyes of my fellow concert-going buddy, Cindy.
Sunday I was back to it again. Friends announced their arrival to our house at 10:10 am on 10/10/10 and once more we were there at the gates for the opening Star Trek tunes. Local 15-year-old Ruby Jane started things off with a great crowd, at least 4 of her instruments, and tons of enthusiasm. It’s apparent “She Wants to Be Her Own Girl” with her special stage presence and exuding energy felt by everyone.
We visited the Honda stage for Shearwater. Jonathan Meiburg has a wonderful voice and they seemed to fit that setting as the morning opened up. Then it was back to the small Austin Ventures stage for Maxim Ludwig and the Sante Fe Seven, followed by Frank Turner. Maxim Ludwig was raw and rockin’, a nice little live band and fun to look at. Frank Turner had just flown in from the UK but was ready to perform like the rock n’ roll greats he admires so much. His set, though a little shorter than it had to be, was well received and included Reasons Not to be an Idiot, The Road, and audience participation on Never Grow Up.
We caught a few songs by Dawes, with Taylor Goldsmith sounding a bit like Rick Danko at times, and much talk of dreams coming true and answers for pain. Then we headed to the tent for four fantastic shows, starting with the well-received family group, The Relatives. Trombone Shorty was next and blew the tent away. He has to have one of the bigger trombones. And I swear he held one note the entire time my friend Cindy went to take a bathroom break. Hell, I had to get a drink of water after that! Sometimes New Orleans shows Austin how this music thing is done.
Next up in the tent was Martin Sexton. I know why he thanks God for his voice, which he can change moment to moment, with incredible diversity. All alone on the stage, his presence was felt and the sound was full. I feel lucky to have seen him.
Then came the show for which I bought the ticket, Richard Thompson. Though it meant losing a chance to join our group wonderfully positioned for The Eagles, I wan’t missing a minute. And I wasn’t sorry. You should have heard the crowd. And not heard it. As always, one song presentation was better than the next, including The Money Shuffle, Among the Gorse,, I’ll Never Give Up, Can’t Win (but he won in my book),one of his historic guitar solo, Tear Stained Letter, and more.
The Eagles were the closing act. The crowd was huge, and it wasn’t just those of us who grew up with all their well-known songs, including those done as a group or as the members developed on their own. I know not every young person there preferred them to Pearl Jam, but it was solid and to many of us, it was a perfect ending. They played everyone’s favorites. We all were singing. I especially liked Funk 49 right there in the middle, along with Boys of Summer and Dirty Laundry, and I was glad that the get-off-the-stage choice was of my favorite Eagles song, Desperado. Yes, it was a peaceful, easy feeling.
Once the travel home was complete — an event in itself each night — we continued to relive it all over one last margarita, while KGSR pumped out super commercial-free tunes for us. ACL Festival 2010 must have been good, since it happened again… I didn’t want to end it by turning off the music, cutting off my wristband, or going to bed.