The Winners and Losers of ACL Fest 2008

This year's Austin City Limits Festival ushered out the summer concert season with performances by Beck, Erykah Badu, Spiritualized and dozens of indie rock, folk and alt-country critical darlings. And, as can be expected with a festival of ACL's size, there were moments of brilliance, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to witness music history stuck in between moments of chaos, boredom, disappointment and fatigue.

Here are a few of our favorite and least favorite moments from the festival.

Decisions, Decisions

Hardest: Deciding between N.E.R.D. and David Byrne on Friday was difficult, but picking whether to see The Raconteurs or Gnarls Barkley on Sunday practically had me in a fetal position. I ultimately went with The Raconteurs, but snuck across the park to catch a couple of Gnarls songs and got there in time to hear the still-great-the-742nd-time-to-hear-it "Crazy."

Easiest: Faced with the choices of John Fogerty, Mason Jennings or Conor Blowhard and the Boring-Ass Country Band at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, taking a dinner break was the quickest decision of the weekend.

Swag

Best: When the sun is straight overhead and you're soaked from the heat and the effort of lugging around a backpack or laptop, it's impossible to reapply sunscreen as fast as you sweat it off. There's no telling how many people Blackstone Wines' giveaway straw hats saved from sunburn—and hearing the obligatory "Looks like you got some sun this weekend!" from each and every co-worker the first day back at work after the festival. The same company's freebie bandannas, which came in handy as dust masks in the gritty air, came in a close second.

Worst: Sponsor Washington Mutual, which had its assets seized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation the day before the festival, set itself up for easy jokes by handing out sweatbands—which were so tight they couldn't have possibly fit anyone except toddlers and anorexics. And, yes, hindsight is 20/20, but the "Take a picture, it'll last longer" slogan on the WaMu photo booth was probably also a poor choice for a struggling company.

Itinerary Changes

Best: Vampire Weekend started getting pretty dull, so I decided to see what else was up and stumbled upon Louis XIV. The one or two songs of theirs that I'd heard before the festival hadn't done much for me, but their raw live show and tongue-in-cheek chauvinism was a welcome antidote to Vampire Weekend's mom-friendly whiteboy Afro-pop.

Worst: Returning to the media tent to file a blog post after Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings was a mistake, as I missed what, by most accounts, were great shows from Man Man and CSS.

Hair Trend

Best: If there's one thing the male musicians of ACL could agree on, it was the beard, which transcended all age and genre lines. Favored by everyone from elder rock statesmen Roky Erickson and Robert Plant to folkies Sam Beam and Fleet Foxes to Gnarls Barkley's DangerMouse, this year's festival had more beards than an Exodus International conference.

Worst: The mullet. Those who wear the Kentucky waterfall without a smirk may look behind the times, but hipsters who wear it with a smug sense of superiority look far worse. Anyone whose life is so frivolous that his hairstyle is an ironic statement about the people he looks down upon has a mildewed stack of Vice magazines where his soul should be.

Oddest Spelling Trend

Two ACL bands, Colour Revolt and City and Colour, have opted for the British spelling of color despite being from America. First the Brits get everyone writing "whilst" instead of "while," and now they have people adding superfluous U's to words. Thanks a lot.

Change of Heart

Best: I lost interest in the Old 97's years ago, but felt obliged to watch the Dallas-rooted band perform. By the end of their set full of the witty, twangy rockers that they do best, I'd decided to give Blame It On Gravity a listen after all.

Worst: I liked Neko Case's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood and enjoyed her set last year during the Sasquatch! music festival in Washington. But whether it was because she somehow toned down the energy level in deference to the folk roots of the Austin City Limits TV show or because I was ready for The Raconteurs already, I found myself looking at my watch during her Sunday afternoon set.

Best Footwork

The Dap-Kings' classic funk made singer Sharon Jones take off her shoes to get down onstage, showing moves she dedicated to West African and Native American ancestors. She couldn't contain herself, though, and recruited some help from dudes in the audience, one of whom I later recognized in the ACL Official Program as Nakia Daniel Reynoso of ACL Southern rock band Nakia and His Southern Cousins.

Too Little, Too Late Award

Del Tha Funkee Homosapien did some half-assed comedy to persuade people not to file-share his shit, putting on a hick accent as "Cletus." "Go out and buy it," he drawled. "And don't you download it. If you do, my friend Jethro here is gonna stick a shotgun under your neck." That'll stop 'em from killing the music industry!

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