By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Ten years into ACL, C3 Productions, the Austin-based company behind both this festival and Lollapalooza in Chicago, knows how to run a tight ship. Entrance into the festival was a breeze. Water stations were everywhere — as they were in past festivals, but still nice to see after a few dehydration-related deaths at festivals this year, including Dallas' electronic-themed Electric Daisy Carnival. C3 has an advantage here: As the last festival of the formal summer festival touring circuit, they see get to see what works and what doesn't. One sign of this leg up came during English rockers Elbow's set on Sunday; after a run of tragic stage-collapse incidents across the globe this year, C3 quickly dropped the screens and stage banners mid-set on the Google-Plus stage, not wanting to take any chances against an early warning of strong winds.
The performers, too, are prepared. Most have played festivals in the months leading up to this one; many use the ACL stop as a way to end their tour runs. That was certainly the case for Kanye West and Arcade Fire, both of which boasted impressive set backdrops, but ones that had been used as their tour set-pieces on the road all summer long. As opposed to stale, however, it all came off rather crisp. Better to see a band that knows what it's doing than one that's trying something new that could go awry.
Shame the one awry moment at this year's festival had to happen to Stevie Wonder, sure, but for a festival of this size to only have one faux pas is kind of a miracle. It's kind of storybook. It's kind of, well, the professionalism you might expect from something childishly derided as being mainstream.
One last lesson, in that case: Mainstream isn't a dirty word in the world of commerce. ACL sure seems to be thriving on it.