Playback: ACL Fest Platinum

Lucky 13 marks the biggest ACL Fest yet

Jimmy Cliff
Jimmy Cliff

Austin's largest outdoor music festival commences this weekend with ACL Fest. A gathering of radio rockers, stadium rappers, celebrity DJs, tabloid pop stars, and up-n-comers performing to four- and five-digit audiences in flip-flops and lawn-chairs, it's become the local equivalent to Lollapalooza, also put on by homegrown promoter C3 Presents. Feelings of uncertainty that preceded last year's mitosis, where the event doubled, have all but vanished in the face of two largely sold-out weekends.

Last Friday, the crumbs of single-day passes were gobbled up, meaning all general admission options are gone, leaving only VIP ($1,050) and Platinum ($3,600) passes on the market. Like 2013, passes for the first weekend went fast again this year, but where second weekend wristbands remained available until days before the event last year, they were extinct by early July this go-round. Factoring into sales was the re-availability of single-day passes, which were discontinued last year to stimulate second-weekend sales.

Those who haven't yet scored a wristband still have hope, but don't expect the buyers' market of the 2013 scalper scene, when a perfect storm of expansion and misjudged demand created a rock-bottom marketplace so that three-day passes went for as low as $50. At press time, Craigslist scalps ranged from face value of $225 to $350. The scales of supply and demand have tipped back in favor of the middleman.

The marquee talent wrangled by C3 drove sales. ACL Fest's top line of Eminem, OutKast, Skrillex, Pearl Jam, and Beck represents the single strongest grouping of headliners for the 13-year-old convergence. Collectively, those five artists account for 89 Grammy nominations and 29 awards. For the two top-tiered rap acts, Austin's been a long time coming. OutKast, who recently reunited, haven't smoked an Austin stage since a pre-renovated Austin Music Hall in 2001, and, apart from an appearance with 50 Cent at South by Southwest 2012, Eminem's never – to our knowledge – played Austin. Credit the ecstatic reception of Kendrick Lamar at last year's ACL for stimulating the fest's hip-hop bookings.

EDM comes strong too with half-haircut producer Skrillex leading a prominent list that includes Calvin Harris, Major Lazer, Zedd, and Glitch Mob. The pop clique gets Lana Del Rey, Iggy Azalea, and a sole appearance by Lorde on weekend two, as throwback keyboard duo Chromeo, baroque melodymakers Lucius, and Scottish electros Chvrches offer a different (better) side of the genre's coin. Rockers revel in reformed cult band the Replacements, local boys Spoon, art-minded guitarist St. Vincent, Jersey quartet Gaslight Anthem, and piano-pummeling southerners J. Roddy Walston & the Business, while the Americana crowd flocks to the Avett Brothers, Lake Street Dive, Nikki Lane, and songwriting Texan Robert Ellis. The always-underrepresented reggae tip comes like a lion with roots radical Jimmy Cliff.

Iggy Azalea
Iggy Azalea

This year, vending of the future debuts "ACL Cashless," which turns your wristband into a credit card. Attendees can activate their passes online then breeze through lines for food, drinks, and merch with a quick scan of the wrist. The new technology yields obvious upsides: shorter lines, no ATM fees, and you won't even notice that a single beer costs $8, but you might still want to bring cash in case the guy selling mushrooms doesn't have a wristband swiper.

While I wait impatiently for ACL to launch a virtual reality home experience, we'll settle for newly expanded live streaming, which excludes having to find parking and applying sunblock. That experience, a partnership with Red Bull TV, only happens weekend two. The sole place weekend one streams is inside the "Golden Porta Potty," a lavish ACL Fest outhouse equipped with air conditioning, phone chargers, and TVs monitoring the concerts. Step back behind the velvet rope, friend – that commode arrives exclusive to winners of a ticket promotion. Even swankier is the little-known Platinum Porta Potty, where Skrillex spins and Eminem helps you wipe.

Such amenities remain less important to fall festivalgoers compared to the concern of rainfall in this already wet year given that last year's second Sunday was canceled when Zilker Park flooded. Instead of merely pulling out my iPhone and checking the forecast, I drove down to KXAN and got the lowdown from my favorite TV weatherman, Jim Spencer.

"A week ago, I would have told you if you want to make money, set up a booth and invest in 60,000 rain ponchos because it looked like a wet weekend," the meteorologist told me. "However, we've seen a complete reversal in the computer models and now you'd lose a lot of money because I don't think it's going to rain."

The veteran forecaster acknowledges that recent wetness, caused by energy from Pacific hurricanes, has sogged the ground with available moisture, which increases chances of rain if a storm system comes in. Notwithstanding a very slight chance of rain early Friday, everything points to a dry first weekend.

"The timing looks perfect," he continued. "We've got a cold front coming in Thursday with a dry northerly flow behind it so Friday, Saturday, and Sunday should be completely dry and in the low-to-mid-eighties."

Jim Spencer
Jim Spencer (Photo by Sandy Carson)

Spencer called last year's downpour "uncanny," because the heaviest rainfall fell exactly over Zilker Park.

"It was a bull's-eye!" he said. "Statistically, it would be extremely unlikely for that to happen again."

Half Notes

Stewart Copeland and Jon Kimura Parker debuted their collaboration "Off the Score" in front of a small private audience Sunday at the McCullough Theatre. The Police drummer and piano virtuoso, along with violinist Yoon Kwon, bassist Marlon Martinez, and EVI (electronic valve instrument) innovator Judd Miller, spent the weekend practicing at UT for the ensemble's world premiere at Bass Concert Hall March 6. The set list likely features improvisations on Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, and Copeland's compositions. "Most of this band attended the fanciest music schools, and I graduated from the institute of hard knocks," Copeland declared. "We're making things up and feeling the moment while having really great material to leap off from."

The city's Music Office has initiated a music industry census and market research study. The data collection aims to identify the number of workers in various sectors of the local music industry, evaluate the economic earnings of those workers and fields, and determine opportunities for growth. Local consultants Titan Music Group have begun holding focus groups and will release a survey Oct. 30 intended for full- and part-time workers in any music-related field. Titan will report its findings to the city next spring.

The Weird City Hip-Hop Festival will return next year, organizers confirmed Monday. Last weekend's inaugural gathering saw respectable attendance in Downtown clubs, particularly at the Empire Control Room, which hosted Dilated Peoples, Pharoahe Monch, Jean Grae, and Dam-Funk. Many noted the diversity in both genre and audience, including Detroit rapper Guilty Simpson, who observed, "I've never seen so many different lookin' motherfuckers at a hip-hop show."

Vulcan Gas Company, the DJ venue with an old-school name, has begun working with ACL Fest promoters C3 Presents, whose first booking there, Odesza, sold out last Thursday. Among several C3 shows on the Sixth Street club's calendar are ACL aftershows Tipper (Friday) and a Glitch Mob DJ set Oct. 10.

Pre-game for ACL Fest Friday begins on the lawn of the Four Seasons Hotel, where KUTX hosts Hard Proof, Lake Street Dive, Temples, and the Head & the Heart 9am-1pm. The $10 cover goes to the Seton Shivers Cancer Center. Meanwhile, KGSR loads into Threadgill's World Headquarters for two days beginning Friday, with an expansive lineup that includes Bleachers, Benjamin Booker, Lucius, and more, 8am-noon. Their $5 donation benefits HAAM.

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ACL Fest 2014, Eminem, Outkast, Skrillex, Beck, Pearl Jam, Jimmy Cliff, C3 Presents, Lollapalooza, KXAN, Jim Spencer

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