Playback: ACL Arrives and So Does Aaron Behrens' New Band
On Monday, Zilker Park was already bustling. I showed up to witness the Great Lawn's transformation from a field where bros play ultimate Frisbee to the site of the city's largest gathering, the Austin City Limits Music Festival. A production staff numbering in the hundreds whizzed around in golf carts, erecting stages and pitching big white tents. At the entrance, a rigger hung a banner depicting Stevie Ray Vaughan in a ticket booth. It read: "Austin City Limits: Sold Out." The first weekend anyway. Tickets still remain for the Oct. 11-13 edition.
Taking the stage at a sold-out ACL or any big festival for that matter is nothing new for Aaron Behrens. As the bombastic braided belter for local laser pop duo Ghostland Observatory, Behrens trotted across massive platforms at Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Coachella, and ACL in 2006, 2007, and 2009, when they turned Zilker's muddy lawn into a massive dance floor closing down a rainy Saturday night. Behrens returns to ACL on Sunday, not a headliner, but an opener in a humbling 11:15am slot. That doesn't bother him at all.
"I'm back where I started," he laughs. "I'm just thankful, man. I don't have any illusions that I should be playing stadiums."
We're just down the road from Zilker at JuiceLand, a cherished spot for Behrens, who knows the menu by heart and orders me a shot called Big Dada that tastes like tree bark and ushers in a caffeinated euphoria. His ballcap and twangy accent, I note, belie the flamboyant stage persona he's known for.
He's brimming with excitement about his new band the Midnight Stroll, which, aside from his short-lived country outfit, the Dirty Banquet, marks Behrens' first significant step away from Ghostland. They've released just one song, but it's a great one: a thumpy rock tune called "Day and Night" that rides a crunchy Neil Young riff into a tranquil chorus where Behrens glows, "I'm just thankful for the ride."
The Midnight Stroll was born this spring, after friend Matt Drenik (Battleme/Lions) inspired Behrens to make a new album and helped him assemble a band. They hit the studio and busted out an LP in eight days under the guidance of local producer Erik Wofford, who gave a psychedelic influence to the group's Western rock & roll. Thus, it isn't just the goji berries, B12, and yerba maté concentrate rejuvenating Berhens this afternoon. It's the thrill of entering a new phase. He says he feels like David Bowie circa 1973, done being Ziggy Stardust, but just beginning as an artist.
"I look at my stack of Ghostland albums like, 'This is what I did in my 20s,'" says the 31-year-old guitarist/vocalist. That band remains on hold, having publicly announced its hiatus in April. Not long before Ghostland's last performance on New Year's Eve, Behrens became introspective about his identity and eliminated a false idol.
"I needed to see who I was without the braids," he explains, pointing to his short haircut. "I needed to shatter the ego by shattering the image. I felt that it was not being true to myself anymore, and I was getting lost in something I didn't want to get lost in."
"I never cared about money, because money can't make me happy. What makes me happy is following my internal compass, and that's telling me I need to make different music," he admits. "This might not be the easiest path, but I have to go look at the face of this mountain and say, 'I'm going to climb that bitch.'"
Aaron Behrens & the Midnight Stroll play their first show tonight (Thursday) indoors at Stubb's with Nic Armstrong and Battleme, then open ACL on Sunday.
Pixie-voiced avant-folk bandleader Dana Falconberry takes a break from recording a new album with Spoon drummer Jim Eno to make her first ACL appearance this Friday.
Austin Chronicle: I understand you like to hide away in cabins when you write.
Dana Falconberry: It helps my creativity to be by myself and eliminate distractions. It's also important that it's somewhere beautiful, because I'm very visually inspired. I have an isolated place in backwoods Arkansas I go to in the winter where only six people live in the town.
AC: Your last abum, Leelanau, was about northern Michigan. Will the next album have a theme?
DF: Not yet, but sometimes you notice a theme during the recording process. Everything I write has a lot of nature-based imagery and this is no different. But it also has the personal element of finding the right path and getting past the distractions to make yourself true in the world.
AC: Do you have any explanation for the slow-rolling success Leelanau has had?
DF: We've toured a lot on it and we're a baby band, so there's lots of people left to discover us. It's been my goal to have a slow-burning, upward-climbing career. Our music takes time to listen to, because there's thought behind it and layers you can discover later.
AC: You're a classically trained dancer. Does that inform your music?
DF: Yeah, the idea of movement and choreography sneaks into what I write. Ballet taught me to be structured and well practiced. Our songs have to be super scripted so we can do the crazy harmonies.
AC: What kind of dance would you do to your own music?
DF: Probably some modern dance with lots of running. A lot of the songs I've been writing lately are about me running around in the woods searching for something.
› Despite rumors last year of friction between festival organizers C3 and KLRU's Austin City Limits show over radius clauses, the fest's two-weekend expansion has actually expanded the working relationship between the two organizations. "Charles Attal and I have been engaged all year, exchanging information about his upcoming bookings and our interest in certain tapings around the two weekends," says the TV show's producer, Terry Lickona. Upcoming tapings for ACL TV season 39 include Queens of the Stone Age (Oct. 3), Neko Case (Oct. 8), and Local Natives (Oct. 10).
› ACL inspires some great reactionary music events. Austin Corn Lovers' Fiesta, a blow-out of outsider roots and punk, continues in its fourth year – at Longbranch Inn on Friday and Infest on Saturday. Ditch the Fest Fest, also in its fourth year, hosts 20 indie and experimental bands Saturday at the Scoot Inn. That same night, Cheer Up Charlie's hosts an impressive lineup of queer-friendly acts for their annual gAyCL event.
› Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon brings his bar-rock side project the Shouting Matches to Stubb's next Wednesday, Oct 9, with the Blind Boys of Alabama for a benefit show that raises money for the Waller Creek Conservancy, which stewards the urban stream's preservation, maintenance, and redevelopment. Tickets at www.stubbsaustin.com.
• Friday, KUT raises money for the Seton Shivers Cancer Center with its annual Live at the Four Seasons concert. Start your day on the hotel's back lawn with Dixie Chicks offshoot Court Yard Hounds (9:30am), White Denim (10:30), Local Natives (11:30), and Okkervil River (12:30). Entry is $10 and the performances will be broadcast on KUTX 98.9FM.
› In a couple of non-ACL-related notes, longtime local blues and soul fixture Malford Milligan's audition on NBC's The Voice aired Monday. Milligan absolutely nailed Al Green's "Lets Stay Together" and not one judge turned around, further proving that TV singing shows suck. Then, as we went to press Wednesday, came the announcement that Carolyn Schwarz has stepped down as HAAM's executive director, a position she's held since the organization was founded in 2005. Board member Diana Resnik will serve as interim executive director during the search for a successor.