By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
One could argue that North Texas' fingerprints were all over last weekend's ninth annual Austin City Limits Music Festival.
Pretty much no one from outside of the region would agree with you, but, hey, you could argue it.
It wouldn't be completely unfounded, either. Five acts with North Texas ties played the three-day event over the course of the weekend: Should-be-legendary area songsmith Will Johnson of Centro-matic performed his duties as Monsters of Folk's drummer early Saturday evening; 15-year-old Dallas native Ruby Jane, a virtuoso on the fiddle, opened up Sunday morning; Denton folk heroes Midlake offered up a Sunday mid-afternoon set; Dallas-born Norah Jones closed out Sunday night's side stages; and the Eagles, with Dallas' own Don Henley and all, closed the three-day weekend's main stage.
Hey, maybe five isn't all that much—but it sure beats last year's total of three.
And, let's face it, last year's ordeal—which was, yes, very much an ordeal, what with its torrential rains, muddy fields and human feces-filled fertilizer—just didn't have the same feel as this year's.
Last year, three locals, all with serious promise and potential on the precipice of would-be greatness—Sarah Jaffe, Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights and Neon Indian—played the festival. Whereas their sets felt more like auditions (each of which went well), this year's North Texas-involved performances felt decidedly different.
They were more than potential coronations; they were celebrations.
That much can be said of the whole weekend, actually. There weren't many surprises to be found: Aside from a few notable exceptions (Phish, The Strokes, Spoon and Broken Bells among them), nearly every act on the bill has played the Dallas area in recent memory. (Yes, even the mighty Eagles, who soared into the American Airlines Center back in June.)
Yet, somehow, we managed to enjoy ourselves—because even if this ACL looked a bit like a snoozer on paper, it was anything but. Each day, an intentional move from mega-promoter C3 Productions or not, offered up two decidedly different potential ways of splitting up your show-viewing day (on Day One, for instance, you were either a hippie passing the time until Phish or a hipster catching all you could in the amp-up to The Strokes), and each day had a different feel than the last.
In some ways, it felt a bit like a boxing card with three intriguing matchups of modern music preferences.
So, in the end, did the festival feel like a statement on the current climate of music? Probably not. But we did learn a few things along the way. And we kept diligent notes as we hustled from one end of Zilker Park to the other, catching as much as possible. We're paying the price now, but we caught a ton of performances—as many as we felt physically possible. Our leg muscles have never been more toned.
(Pro Tip: When at a festival, don't bother rushing the stage; the pits are far too crowded and the speakers far too loud. Instead, make a beeline to the sound-tent out in the field, where not only is the crowd more maneuverable, but the band's mix is heard the way it was intended.)
And, with that, we present the following all-encapsulating retrospective field report, taking a look back at the 2010 edition of Austin City Limits, one day at a time:
Day One: Friday
In Opposite Corners: Hipsters, Hippies.
Headliner(s): Phish, The Strokes.
Deep On The Bench: The Soft Pack, Those Darlins, GIVERS.
Local Ties: None.
Field Report: Like ACl 2009, a gorgeous Friday—the kind that makes you relish the fact that you're not stuck in the office. Featuring the strongest night pairing of headliners, Friday falls a little flat because of its supporting acts, which, until work officially lets out at 5 o'clock, is a little spare. Few acts before The Black Keys serve as much of a draw—something the Keys remedy immediately with a fiery set heavily culled from this year's Brothers, the band's most accessible and successful release to date. Spoon continue the momentum, performing arguably the best show of the weekend with what amounts to a greatest-hits set, reveling in their hometown Austin glory and giving the crowd something familiar to embrace. Vampire Weekend follow with the biggest side-stage draw of the weekend, proving the band's popularity and serving as a prime example of the importance of including pop (as in "popularity," not sound) acts in these settings. The Strokes perform a short, nonchalant (albeit crisp and still relevant) performance, exciting only in the regard that it's happening and not because it's something revelatory. Phish score, oddly enough, for the same reasons The Strokes failed; a Strokes concert doesn't bear the same levity that a Phish performance does, and, as such, droves of former Phish-heads (still active in full-on tie-dye and dreadlocks or reformed, rocking khaki shorts, tucked-in shirts and baseball caps covering their bald spots) arrive, infesting the grounds beforehand with their chipper attitudes and kind demeanors. Phish, for all their joke-inducing ways, delight, coming off less as a jam band that meanders in all directions and more like a ridiculously meticulous band trying to cram all its clever ploys into as concise a space as possible. They kind of come off like the anti-jam band, actually—other than the 15-minute songs.