Confessions of a Festival Weenie

Girlie Action looks back at ACL 08

The grass was still standing at Zilker Park Friday morning at 11am. Snaking lines already formed about the entry points, waiting to be the first to the stages. On the AT&T Blue Room stage, the p.a. blared the Beatles’ opening line, “It’s been a hard day’s night,” and from across the field a voice sang in response, “and I’ve been working like a dog!”

I haven’t been to an Austin City Limits Music Fest since the second year. Media privileges were mysteriously spare that year, and spending two hours waiting on a shuttle bus at the end of the night after spending a day on the job being rained on soured me. I confess I’m a festival weenie. I hate outdoor concerts because I hate to be hot and sweaty and tromp across fields just to be squeezed behind a hygienically challenged fellow member of the human race. And that’s who I’ll end up next to, guaranteed. After 32 years of writing about music, I’ve earned the right to pass. Most of the time I do. This year the lure of music was too good and I didn’t.

If you can afford it, the VIP Grove is totally worth it. This isn’t like the ripoff $350 bleacher tix for the Stones, either – it’s got the goods from food to freebies. You could watch the game, get a massage, not wait in line for the misters, pee in relative comfort, and there was always an extra chair. Plus it’s really nice of Dell to provide a tent with laptops and Internet connection for children to play games and check their Myspace pages constantly. (I watched one brave adult try to bull his way to a laptop only to be run off by a gang of rugrats.)

ACL gets major points for having such a well-trained corps of crew and volunteers. Years of crew chiefing for South by Southwest has given me an appreciation for good workers and ACL Fest’s were outstanding. No complaints about the music either, which kept me entertained as well as updated on new acts.

OK, one complaint and a suggestion. I think ACL missed the boat this year on Tex-Mex and Latin rock. This would have been the year to bring in Steve Jordan and Max Baca & the TexManiacs. Or Grupo Fantasma and Vallejo, both of whom put out excellent records this year. It’s a sound unique to the Southwest and cultivated right here. Also, while booking We Go to 11 was very cool, a Saturday under-18 stage for teen bands, not children’s performers, would also be cool. Lots of high school kids go to ACL and they support their peers around town.

That’s just nitpicking because Gnarls Barkley made it all worthwhile for me. Here are my highlights:

Biggest surprise Friday: Feisty Irish quirk-rockers Autamata

Smartest cookie: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings in the Media Area on Saturday. “Thank you for making music women my age can get behind,” I told her. “Why, thank you!” she replied, genuinely pleased.

Best rumor: Robert Plant to sing with Roky Erickson. Didn’t happen, but Stu Cook, the ex-Creedence who got up with Fogerty, was backstage visiting Roky.

Most appreciated amenity: The always-full hand sanitizers beside the outdoor toilets.

Best new artist: Back Door Slam. OMG. They are so adorable and kick-ass on the blues for three guys from the Isle of Man – not exactly a hotbed of blues.

Cutest celebrity sighting: Bill Murray on a golf cart.

Coolest celeb sighting: A summery Drea de Matteo with her husband, Shooter Jennings.

Best food freebie in the VIP Grove: Sambazon’s acai sorbet cups with granola and banana slice. Deeeeelish!

Most welcome freebie in the VIP Grove: Blackstone Winery cowboy hats and bandannas.

Best Media Area food: Ranch 616’s Frito Pie. Outstanding. Thank you very much!

Best testimonial: Mayor Will Wynn at the BMI backstage schmoozing during the Band of Heathens set. “They’re my favorite band,” Hizzonor swore.

Best unexpected appearance: Tosca with Vampire Weekend.

Most unexpected appearance: While performing, Sharon Jones stuck a microphone in Nakia’s face and was blown away when he sang back at her.

WTF?: Stars could change their name to Starzzzzzzzz.

Smart thinking: Distributing decks of cards to count the 50-seat capacity for the onstage bleachers.

Loveliest moment: Alison Krauss’ gorgeous voice floating across the lot as I left Saturday night.

Moment I am banging my head for missing: Robert Plant and Alison Krauss singing “The Battle of Evermore” by about two songs.

Best farewell: “If you think you’re having fun, wait 'til the sun goes down.” Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend, as he said goodbye to the crowd.

Scene and Heard: “We just need three square feet each,” him to her while looking for a Fogerty spot.

“Dude, I saw BILL MURRAY!” That’s the fact, Jack!

“Excuse me, do you know which one is Robert Plant?” Answer: not the one with tits.

“Do you have a spare all-access wristband?” Seriously.

“She looked so hot on The Sopranos.” A guy gawking at Drea de Matteo during Shooter Jennings’ set. She looked perfectly adorable, just not dolled up like she was next up at the Budda Bing.

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More ACL 2008
Snapshot: ACL 2008
Snapshot: ACL 2008
Down on the Street scurries out in the field

Shelley Hiam, Oct. 1, 2008

Recovered Yet?
Recovered Yet?
A geezer looks back at ACL

Jim Caligiuri, Oct. 1, 2008

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ACL 2008, Sharon Jones, Roky Erickson, Robert Plant, Alison Krauss, Back Door Slam

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