By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Seems every year, right around this time, we start to notice the same thing: the abundance of impressive shows on the upcoming concert calendar. This year's no different. In fact, this week alone is just straight-up bonkers good.
The biggest names are, well, kinda huge: Sunny Day Real Estate, Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys, John Legend, Snow Patrol and Moby. Even the smaller ones (subjective, I know) are still super legit: Dead Weather, Wye Oak, Cotton Jones, The Dodos, Colour Revolt, Thievery Corporation, The Ataris and These Arms Are Snakes, just to name a few (I'll respectfully withhold comment on Insane Clown Posse). And then there's next week, which will feature Wilco, U2, Muse, Wavves, A Place to Bury Strangers, Common, Maxwell, Pitbull, Alice Cooper and The Sounds, among many others.
Nuts, right? Believe me, I already know.
But a funny thing about this year's busy fall schedule: Its genesis ain't exactly as cut-and-dried as usual. See, in years past, we'd just hop on top the tallest building we could find, whip out our binoculars, glance south and confirm our suspicion that the Austin City Limits Music Festival and its prosperous lineup is the reason for our bounty. Except, this year, by my count, only 15 of the 100-plus acts playing this year's ACL are also making a convenient stop in ye olde Metroplex at around the same time—and no offense, Black Joe Lewis, Sarah Jaffe and Zac Brown Band, we love you and all, but it's not like we haven't seen you before.
"Wait, just 15?" you ask. "Like that's not enough?"
OK, fine. Maybe it's just sour grapes on my part. But compare it with last year's 20-plus shows boasting spillover talent, and dammit, I think I'm onto something.
And actually, wait, I am: "There's definitely a lot less [spillover]," Granada Theater booking agent Kris Youmans says. "ACL clamped down pretty hard this year because of the recession and the other festivals not doing so hot."
Ah, the age-old story: Festival gets band, festival doesn't want band seeing other people. In this case, blame C3 Presents, the Austin-based booking agency responsible for throwing ACL as well as Lollapalooza. This year, most of the bands playing the festival had to agree to a 300-mile-radius no-compete clause in order to play the fest. As a business model, it makes enough sense, sure: C3's got a whole park (Zilker to be specific) to fill with bodies. And, yeah, it needs to make sure that sucker fills up. It needs to make sure the folks from Dallas and Houston and the other Texas cities, the ones who've been waiting all year to see, say, Phoenix, whose Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix release is an indie-pop gem and a surefire contender for album of the year, drop at least the minimum price (in this case, an $85 day-pass) for the chance.
It's worked out for C3, absolutely: There aren't any more tickets available to the ordeal. It's sold out. And it works out for the bands, too, right? They get to play for an audience of thousands in exchange.
Youmans bets they would—only, neither he nor any of the rest of us will get the chance to see it. A shame too: Youmans says he'd all but booked each of those three acts to the Granada before C3 stepped in and intervened. Now count those three alongside the already cringe-inducing list of acts that will be skipping Dallas, a list that includes Yeah Yeah Yeahs, supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, The Decemberists, Dirty Projectors, Flogging Molly, Girl Talk, The Raveonettes, !!!, K'naan and some band you may have heard of called Pearl Jam.
There are others, too, of course, but it'd be beneath us to nitpick, y'know?
That'd be like us not pointing out that, yeah, OK, fair enough, some of the smaller bands we're missing out on (maybe not the French and English ones, but some of them) either already stopped by in recent months or will be doing so in the next few (see: Mute Math, Ghostland Observatory). Or it'd be like us pointing out that the Fun Fun Fun Fest, which takes place in Austin next month and might actually boast a lineup of more difficult-to-catch bands (see: Mission of Burma, The Jesus Lizard, Pharcyde), charges less for a weekend pass ($75) than ACL does for a single day of shows.
Doing either of those things would just be unfair and shortsighted of us.
Of course, the silver lining here is that even without ACL's help, things are still damn impressive booking-wise. If anything, it's shocking to look at the upcoming calendar, see names like Wilco, Sunny Day Real Estate and U2, and realize that, holy crap, they're coming through town for real, but not because it made for a handy tour stop en route to some bigger date down the line.
It baffles Youmans, too, actually: "Sunny Day Real Estate's coming through, and they're one of the most influential emo bands in the whole world," he says (and he's right; read about their upcoming show on page 39). "They're coming two days after ACL. It's weird to me that they weren't scooped up."
Decent point. That is kinda weird now that I think of it...
"Of course," he continues, "if [C3] did scoop them up, I wouldn't have them here."
OK, better point. Good thing they didn't.