Notes from the Austin City Limits Music Festival
There’s only one way to describe the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Big, hot, and fucking dusty. Most of the time you think you’re smack dab in the middle of Texas cattle drive, with 30,000 head kicking up the dust so it just chokes your throat and burns your nostrils. Thank God Lone Star beer is cheap and not very potent so you can just suck it down and wash the grit out of your mouth.
With eight stages spread out over I don’t know how many acres, everything is a lot farther away than it seems. Like a mirage floating over the desert, that stage that you think you can get to in a minute or two to catch a couple of songs from some band you’ve always wanted to check out is pretty much out of reach. Once you arrive at the stage you find you’re miles away from the one act you really want to see. We spent a lot of time walking and just waiting sometimes. Time and space are real things at ACL.
The heat is frightful. It just bakes down on the ground and people huddle in the shade, just inside the perimeter where the sunshine ends and the shadow begins like cattle around a almost dry waterhole. (The analogy of cattle is an easy one to make there. It’s Texas, it’s the home of the Longhorns, it just fits.) Lots of people wear these distressed straw cowboy hats. To me, they look like something you’d put on a scarecrow. As much as it felt like my brain was just stewing in its own juices, pride just wouldn’t let me buy one, much less put one on my head. Yee-haw. Look at me, ma, I’m a cowboy. Why did I think that half these people had never even been near a horse, much less on one?
Texans are the friendliest bunch of people you can imagine. They love to talk. And talk and talk and talk…even when the music is playing. They just stand around in groups talking like they’re standing in their own backyards around the barbecue. Texans got this accent—we’ve all heard it—and it’s a particular way of talking that cuts through the loudest sound. The accent itself isn’t loud. It’s not even piercing. It’s real flat so it can sneak in under just about anything including a Jack White guitar solo and make its presence known. It’s sort of flat and clipped so if you’re not paying attention to the words being said the sound of it really does seem to be saying, yakkity, yakkity, yakkity, yakkity, yak, yak, yak.
And did I say these Texans love to talk? At the Patty Griffith set, who seems as sweet and wonderful as I could have imagined, a young woman and two of her friends plopped down on the ground near me and commenced to yakkity-yak. She didn’t give Patty as much as a minute’s notice although she must have said about five times how much Patty Griffith was her favorite artist. She kept referring to her as an artist, but I got the impression this particular woman wouldn’t know an artist if one fell right in her substantial lap.
Anyway, I was giving her my best East Coast glare to shut her the hell up and she saw me and just looked up at me and, not missing a beat gave me a big ole Texas smile and said, “How y’all doin’?” I think she meant it, too.