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By Christopher Gray, September 15, 2006, Music

High Five

This weekend the Austin City Limits Music Festival reaches its first true milestone, five years, and its reward is a weather forecast that actually resembles autumn: highs in the low 90s, 20% chance of rain. Although the irrigation system prompted by last year's dust bowl isn't completely installed, it looks like they won't need it. "The park is as green as I've ever seen it," says promoter Charles Attal. Also new this year are banks of drinking fountains near the two main stages. So for everyone used to bitching about the water or weather, don't worry, there's still the sound bleed-over from neighboring stages and interminable post-show waits in the shuttle-bus lines. Just kidding – but don't forget that the shuttles are now dropping off and picking up at Republic Square Park, at Fourth & Guadalupe.

Whether due to its success or simply its very existence, the ACL Festival has engendered a certain amount of grumbling among Austinites, and not just Zilker residents, whose neighborhood becomes a parking lot for three days. Big surprise: This is the same city where people get up in arms when the Longhorns lose more than one game per season, the City Council thinks bicyclists should wear helmets, and people have the audacity to want to smoke in bars. In Austin, causing someone to complain is a high honor indeed. The fact remains that even before the ACL lineup is announced, three-day-pass presales sell out faster every year, and by the time the festival rolls around, one-day passes are mighty hard to come by. Very few three-day passes were available Wednesday at the ACL box office.

Those tickets sell so fast because Attal and his staff bring in acts people want to see (and will endure 105-degree temperatures to do so, if they must). Its first year, when the stages still had quaint names like Feature, American, and Heritage, ACL headliners could maybe sell out Stubb's on their own: Wilco, Jayhawks, Ryan Adams, Emmylou Harris. This year, there's a genuine rock legend who's said this tour may be his last (Tom Petty); two from the British Isles that are scarce stateside (Van Morrison and Massive Attack, still on, despite recent visa trouble); two of 2006's most-talked-about new bands (Gnarls Barkley and the Raconteurs); and Willie Nelson, who's topped Attal's ACL wish list for years. My, how it's grown.

Just think: No ACL Festival, no Rolling Stones next month. Not to mention, ACL's success combining indie and hippie was an obvious factor in Bonnaroo booking Radiohead this year. ACL and Coachella have almost single-handedly revived the U.S. festival industry, leading to events like the rebirth of Lollapalooza. Last month, the second Lolla was produced by ACL founders Capital Sports & Entertainment, and it was the first time it expanded to an ACL-like three days and 130 acts. The Chicago-based festival eclipsed ACL in terms of national media attention and, arguably, A-list talent (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kanye West, Panic! at the Disco, Sonic Youth). So is ACL still the jewel in CSE's crown? Of course, says Attal, who insists booking Lollapalooza has no bearing on the ACL lineup.

"This is our home base," he says. "This is our baby, and it always has a special place for all of us. This is where we live."

ACL Notes

Austin techno-rock sensations Ghostland Observatory, a late add, play 1:30pm Saturday on the Heineken stage.

Taping sets at the Austin City Limits TV studios this week are Van Morrison (tonight); Sufjan Stevens and the Raconteurs (Sunday); Cat Power (Monday); and Damien Marley (Tuesday). Marley tapes at 9pm; all others at 8pm. Ticket hotline: 475-9077.

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