Austin City Limits Music Festival Day 2

Saturday at the fest it was cloudy and drizzly, but it was warm, and despite our not bringing ponchos or umbrellas there were only a few minutes when I was uncomfortably wet. Unlike yesterday, I got almost a full day at the venue today, and it was all about the music.  We got down to the venue around 1:30. This time Laura, Meghan, Meghan’s friends Des and Katy (Katie?), and I drove in Laura’s car and parked where Katy works, off Mopac at the Barton Springs exit. From there it was a short walk on the greenbelt trails to Zilker and the venue. Much nicer than the shuttles, especially leaving.

We got inside in time to catch the last song of The Old 97s’ set on the Capital Metro stage. As with Al Green last night, the sound was pretty bad again. Luckily they got it fixed, because that’s where I would end up spending a large part of the day. After the Old 97’s we slowly made our way across to the H.E.B. stage to catch the Dandy Warhols, stopping at the craft vendors long enough for me to buy a curl-brimmed straw cowboy hat, thus completing, along with my goatee, my metamorphosis into a true Austinite. All I remember of the Dandy Warhols was a haunting, slow, beautiful cover of AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells.

At 3 p.m. we skipped the Johnny Cash tribute to catch Los Lobos back across the venue at the CapMetro stage. It’s strange, although I’ve known about Los Lobos at least since La Bamba, I had no idea how much they rock! They played a fantastic, energetic set with a nice mix of English and Spanish songs, and their incredible latin rhythms. In a way, I envy them. They have the career I would have liked to have had, if I had made music my career. They’ve been around for 30 years, supporting themselves without burning out, and after all this time, can still come to Austin and blow most of the youngsters off the stage with great, powerful rock’n’roll. The two big stages, the Capital Metro stage, and the Cingular stage, each have a huge video monitor to the left of the stage, and several cameras providing pictures of the band. (The nice thing about a festival spawned from TV show is that they have professional crews available to do the camera work). One thing I was struck by watching the images on the screens was how smart they were to leave the backs of the stages open so the artists are framed (in daylight) by the trees and sky. If they make a TV show or DVD of the festival, it will really give a feel for the ambiance of Austin, and mesh nicely with the faux-foliage in the ACL studio set.

4 p.m. Robert Randolph and the Family Band! Robert Randolph!! Robert Randolph!!! Wow. Whoever missed this missed the show of the festival. Unbelievable. It’s a good thing they take an hour off between sets on each stage, because I’d hate to have to walk out onto there after Robert Randolph and the Family Band. I’m surprised an hour was enough time for them to repair the great big hole he blew in the stage. Dance for Love. I Need More Love Every Day of My Life. Purple Haze. Voodoo Chile. Amazing. Powerful. Inspirational. Here’s If he doesn’t get a closing spot next year, somebody’s done something very wrong.

Worn out from Robert Randolph, we staggered across to the Heineken stage to hear North Mississippi All Stars. Though competent, they were something of a letdown after the Robert Randolph bomb. Also, they seemed to be having problems with their monitors, because their vocals were flat a lot, especially the backing vocal. So we booked early to the Cingular stage to get good seats for California bluegrass kids Nickel Creek. We mercifully found friends with chairs in the crowd and I sat through the whole set, while everyone else stood. Mellow, but fun, with a amazing musicianship, these guys were a great early-evening set. Apparently they’re well respected all around: fiddler Sara Watkins sat in with Los Lobos earlier, and mandolinist Chris Thile sat in with the String Cheese Incident later on.

We closed out the night back at the Cingular stage with a fantastic spot on the railing in front of the sound board for The String Cheese Incident‘s second set. The earlier sound problems at that stage were resolved and the sound was crystal clear and perfect. Someone told me once that Jimi Hendrix said that he rated originality far below musicianship when seeing other artists play. I’d never seen the Incident before, but they’re a great example of why Jimi was right. When they didn’t sound exactly like Phish, they duplicated the sound of the Grateful Dead (circa 1972). Their lead guitarists’s tone, in particular, was copped directly from Phish’s Trey Anastasio. Nevertheless, on freeform Jams they were much better than Phish, who seem to be better at structured compositions than jamming (despite their Jam-band reputation), and they were much more interesting than any but the best of the many Dead shows I attended. Their cover of Ring of Fire was great, and despite all the deadhead jokes flying around our delegation, I enjoyed them thoroughly.

That closed out the night, and now I’m tired and going to bed. Tomorrow it’s Yo La Tengo, and R.E.M.!! (among others)

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