The 9th annual Austin City Limits Festival broke the festival’s long standing curse of bad weather. No mud, no rain, no dust, no extreme heat. It was a weekend full of nothing but beautiful weather, great music, and good times.
We kicked things off Thursday night at Spoon’s sold out preshow at the Mohawk. Aside from the really awful opening band, it was a great show. Spoon is selling out shows everywhere they go, and whenever they come back to their hometown, they are always greeted with a very enthusiastic crowd. Britt Daniel started their set with a solo acoustic arrangement of The Mystery Zone and ended two hours later with a five song encore.
The young and talented Sahara Smith kicked things off down at Zilker park on Friday morning. She’s been touring extensively and getting a lot of attention following the release of her debut album Myth of the Heart. There are many good things yet to come from this rising star and her band (Jake Owen on guitar, Will Sexton on bass and guitar, Mike Meadows on percussion). Later in the day, local favorites Carolyn Wonderland and Band of Heathens heated things up with their unique, soulful blues.
I tried to get close enough to really experience The Black Keys’ set but they had attracted a sea of an audience and all I could see was the jumbo tron. The crowd was so big I couldn’t get close enough to really get inside the music, one of the hazards of such a large festival. No worries though, I was set up to photograph their aftershow on Saturday. So I wandered over to see Ryan Bingham and caught the tail end of Angus and Julia Stone who I’ll keep an eye out for in the future. I wish I had seen more of their set. Ryan Bingham has had a trememdous year. Hot off the tails of his Grammy, he’s selling out shows all over the country. He’s a huge talent and I hope to see him again soon.
On Saturday we caught Broken Bells, the awesome collaboration between James Mercer of the Shins and Danger Mouse. We saw them this year during SXSW when they performed their entire new album live during their showcase at Stubb’s. This time around, they performed tons of unreleased material along with a few tracks from their debut release. I hear a second album is in the works, and we can’t wait to see what else this amazing collaboration cooks up. I also caught parts of sets by Gogol Bordello, Beats Antique, Monsters of Folk, Mayer Hawthorne, and Kinky. All great bands with Mayer Hawthorne and Kinky being obvious standouts.
Saturday was a night of much anticipated aftershows all over town, most of which were sold out within minutes of tickets going on sale. The Black Keys aftershow at Stubb’s was completely off the hook! Foals opened the show. They’re a solid electro pop band, not really my favorite flavor of things, but a good band nonetheless. The Black Keys duo consisting of Dan Auerbach on vocals and guitar and Patrick Carney on drums are musicians’ musicians. Testament to that fact, amidst the totally packed house, I spotted Britt Daniel of Spoon, Danger Mouse, Brian Aubert of Silversun Pickups and a slew of other who’s who from around town. The Black Keys played tunes off their newest and hugely successful full length album Brothers and then brought a bassist and keyboardist on stage to debut some new material. It was a seriously awesome show, one of the best I’ve seen, and it was followed by another remarkable sweaty, funky madhouse inside with Trombrone Shorty & Orleans Avenue.
Another Sunday highlight was Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Despite frontman Alex Ebert losing his voice, the eleven piece ensemble brought the mojo they’re known for. Ed Sharpe’s following has grown in tremendous proportions in a very short time. I’m already finding myself ‘remembering when’ I saw them at 4am in a funky little makeshift SXSW venue on the final night of the festival a year and a half ago. They were still months away from releasing their debut album and no one knew who they were. Everyone wondered why there were so many of them crammed on this tiny little stage. It seemed to take an hour just to get them set up and sound checked. Edward Sharpe and the who? But upon one listen, you can’t help but be hooked. Their music challenges the unflappable glazed over hipster stare and offers up an unrepentantly blissful, feelgood interaction and experience reminiscent of some time that is not clearly past or future. It feels holy. And judging by the sea of people in their audience at ACL, it’s an experience people are thirsty for. When we first saw them two SXSWs ago, we described them as a “transcendental-spaghetti-western-hippie-gospel-rock” ensemble, and as we’ve seen them evolve for the last little while, the label seems more fitting than ever, so we’re sticking with it.
Other big highlights of the day include (there were so many!) Devandra Banhardt, Flaming Lips who we reviewed just before SXSW this year (and thank you Wayne for not spewing confetti all over our park!), local funky soul favorites T Bird & the Breaks, and of course the one and only Richard Thompson.
In addition to perpetuating Austin’s reputation as the Live Music Captial of the world, event producer C3 is making progress on their green initiatives for ACL. This year they had free water refill stations which saved somewhere around 200,000 water bottles. The run off from the refill stations was captured and diverted to misting fans which were quite delightful to stand in front of during the heat of the day. The Rock & Recycle program gave trash bags to festival goers to collect recyclables, and once the bag was full, they could turn it in for a t-shirt. There were also recycling bins next to every trash can. And the efforts to maintain the grass on Austin’s Great Lawn are evident to all of us who live here and enjoy Zilker Park throughout the year. While there is still more that can be done, we really enjoy seeing the progress that is being made and look forward to even more innovative developments for future festivals. For that and all the great music yet to come, we’re already looking forward to next year.
Written and photographed by Laura Lea Nalle, all rights reserved.
See more of Laura Lea’s live music photos here.