It's October in Texas, which means only one thing: festival season. With it comes the eternal question for Dallas music fans: Will I go to Austin, and if so, for which festival? Today kicks off the first of back-to-back weekends for Austin City Limits, with Fun Fun Fun Fest set to follow in a little more than a month. These are monster fests that suck hordes of traffic down the parking lot called Interstate 35 to see plenty of high wattage acts, but these days they hardly seem worth the bother— and that has as much to do with Dallas as it does with Austin.
Of all the major Austin festivals — including South By Southwest and Levitation, the festival formerly known as Psych Fest — ACL packs the biggest star power. This weekend they'll feature the Foo Fighters, who are almost exclusively a festival band these days, as well as Drake and the Strokes. Those three bands are spread across three different nights, meaning that catching all three requires a $250 weekend pass. (Plus the Strokes only play weekend one.) Worth it perhaps for the die-hard fans of those three bands or if ACL was the only place to see most of the others on the schedule, but it's not. There's Dallas.
Hozier, Alabama Shakes, Modest Mouse, TV on the Radio, Dwight Yoakam and Father John Misty are just a few of the big-name acts coming to ACL that have already passed though Dallas in the past year. In the next week alone, the Decemberists, alt-J, A$AP Rocky and the Strokes' Albert Hammond Jr. all come to town to play festival spillover dates. (Thanks, Austin!)
That's not limited to ACL. While Wu-Tang Clan (who always seem to be billed as a "full" Clan reunion, even when it's not) are passing us by, other highlights of the Fun Fun Fun lineup like Jane's Addiction, Cheap Trick and CHVCHES will play Dallas on the way to or from Austin, and D'Angelo was here in June. Levitation announced a sneak-peek of its lineup back on Wednesday, and the headliner is Brian Wilson — who played Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie in June as well.
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Not all that long ago, Dallas wasn't so blessed with options. In the dark days of Deep Ellum's decline, touring shows of that caliber were few and far between. In fact, Denton's booking game was stronger than the Big D itself. But that's changed. Catching top-notch shows on a weeknight is a common occurrence these days: D'Angelo's Bomb Factory gig in June landed on a Tuesday, while alt-J's South Side Ballroom gig lands next Monday and Hammond's House of Blues show is the following night. That's great news for the paying customer, less so for the big-name festivals.
Granted, Austin brings these acts in a heavy, concentrated dose while Dallas sees them sprinkled throughout the year. And of course, Austin is still the king of music festivals. Dallas' Homegrown, Spillover and Untapped have developed successful niches, but they're a world removed from the big boys. But the primary draw of a festival like ACL is exclusivity — you can't see these bands anywhere else. When Dallas' concert schedule was more anemic, it was a different matter. Once that's off the table, the math doesn't look good for the out-of-towners: A trip to ACL, between tickets, travel and (insanely marked-up) lodging can exceed $1,000 over the course of a three-day weekend.
It's not any better for the other festivals — maybe even worse. Fun Fun Fun has built a reputation among fans in the know as the true best festival in Austin (if not all of Texas) for its "curated" selections of bands, but those same bands are far more likely to also stop in Dallas than they were before — ironically, often thanks to Transmission Events, who own Fun Fun Fun and officially set up offices in Dallas last year. Where those same bands would've been one-and-done in Texas with a visit to Austin a few years ago, they now regularly make the run up and down I-35 from San Antonio to Dallas, or over to Houston.
So let them spend the gas money and make the — what is it now? — 10- or 11-hour drive. The experience is often better when you skip the festival. It's basically a given that the sound suffers at an outdoor show, plus the sets are reduced and the crowds more, well, crowded. And, as Fun Fun Fun's own Nites performances — which place the same acts from the daytime festival into the clubs after dark— tend to bear out, those bands are usually better-suited to the clubs anyway. Paying $20 or, at most, $40 to see them at Club Dada or Trees sounds like the better alternative.
So are we worried about making it to Austin this weekend? Nah. We've got other plans. And that's not just the homebody in us saying so. Besides, Austin's heart won't be broken if a few less Dallasites show up.