Austin City Limits celebrated its 11th year, and also the end of an era. After negotiations between C3 and the City of Austin, the event giant announced that the 2013 festival will extend to two weekends. Undoubtedly a grab to increase revenue, the two lineups are slated to be nearly identical, but the sense of community will be severely altered. Perhaps at the right time, too. The homegrown festival has crammed the 46-acres of space at Zilker Park into an international affair like fellow Austin gem, South by Southwest.
We’ve been piecing together the facts and analyzing stats to bring you the brightest points of this year’s ACL and the specs on the spectators.
Just when cooler temperatures in the week before gave hope of a respite from annually scorching weather, the sun bore down in full force. That didn’t stop the hordes of crowds. One notable difference—a lot less neon. This year’s Red River Rivalry—the annual football showdown between the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma—took some of the usual Greek suspects to Dallas for the weekend, the first time the events have coincided.
First Aid Kit (1:15 p.m., Honda)
Sisters Klara and Johanna Soderberg are part of the latest salvo of Swedish imports. But unlike their pop-inclined countrymen, the duo takes pages from antiquated folk and combines it with modern flourishes. The duo began its set with an a cappella rendition of “In the Morning” from the 2009 debut The Big Black & the Blue. Selections from this year’s The Lion’s Roar dominated the set, reflecting strengthened vocal complements and harmonies. Stunning covers of Swede Fever Ray’s “When I Grow Up” and Paul Simon’s “America” showed respect for their elders. The set was a light, breezy way to start the festival and attracted a crowd despite the early time.
Amount of personal space: Enough room to slowly hula hoop
Crowd attention: Whimsically interested
Number one accessory seen: Flower crowns
Tattoo locations: Hidden, likely on flank and wrist
Esperanza Spalding (3:30p.m., Barton Springs)
Bodies crammed in front of the Barton Springs stage to see the Grammy Award-winning basis and chanteuse Esperanza Spalding, but strained to listen. Maybe it was my stage-right location, but the vocal volume was nearly inaudible from my standpoint. That didn’t seem to bother 27-year-old Spalding, nor did the crowd exodus just a few songs into her set. Her scat-jazz marks her a contemporary legend, breathy over big band styling with just the right touch of crunch. She wheeled through selections from Radio Music Society with vibrancy, a lovely set that would have been much better suited in a number of Austin’s clubs equipped for her sound.
Amount of personal space: .5 feet
Crowd attention: Stay-at-home mom sewing circle awareness
Number one accessory seen: Chairs
Tattoo locations: None. How unsightly!
The buzz has died down after Athens-based quartet Alabama Shakes door-kicked into the industry; meanwhile, the band has been tightening its performance. With only Boys & Girls on its discography, the set list was relatively predictable. Brittany Howard, the 23-year-old leader screamed in a strong, androgynous alto (à la tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus), and bantered with the crowd with Southern charm. B-side track “Mama” stole the show with foot-tapping blues rock abandon, while ’50s doo-wop croon “I Found You” had couples shooting saccharine glances. The horn section of Afrobeat outfit Antibalas joined the Shakes for “Rise to the Sun,” giving the song the shine that only extra brass offers.
Amount of personal space: Twisting room
Crowd attention: High, and probably because Howard can scream louder than you
Number one accessory seen: A cold beer in a koozie
Tattoo locations: Forearms and side shoulders
Actress Rooney Mara joined psych-punk four piece the Black Lips to play guitar. Well, pretended to, at least. Mara continues work on the top-secret Terrence Malick project starring herself, Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale that brought the stars to last year’s ACL and Fun Fun Fun Fest. Despite off-stage on-looker Gosling and the starlet pretending to hammer away during the set, there was no fan-girl (or boy) behavior from the crowd. The crowd thrashed along happily through favorites like “Dirty Hands,” pausing to yell “Weezer sucks!” between sets, a friendly reminder to the eponymous act playing the same time at another stage. Ending in a loud, delightfully unruly four-guitar barrage, the Black Lips exited as fast as the entered.
Amount of personal space: Face-punching proximity
Crowd attention: Unflustered by Ryan Gosling. That says a lot.
Number one accessory seen: Sweat
Tattoo locations: Everywhere
This year’s rain has nothing on 2009’s deluge, but the skies opened to water the crowd at multiple points during the day. Hot and sticky, the crowds surged on for a day packed with mega-acts. With 130-plus acts, there are bound to be tough decisions, but the real hangup was the clash-of-the-titans Saturday headliners.
The 39-year old singer made a bold statement the moment he walked on stage. A red, black and white zebra-esque suit, he seemed just as comfortable on the giant ACL stage as he does on the boutique stages on which he typically performs. Deft fingers zoomed up and down the ivory keys, and his smooth tenor demonstrated some of the best songwriting of our generation. Two backup singers joined him on stage, singing upbeat festival fare and a variation on Judy Garland’s “The Man That Got Away” into “The Bitch that Got Away.” The rain held out for Wainwright’s set, brightening the day without the help of the sun.
Amount of personal space: Still enough to do the same weird shuffle step he was doing
Crowd attention: People that really “get” his lyrics
Number one accessory seen: …I really could only notice his suit
Tattoo locations: Foot tattoos from the younger years
The Chicago-based whistler made his way to ACL for the second time in its existence, riding the wave of March’s Break it Yourself and spinoff album Hands of Glory out later this month. Bird weaved old favorites with his new fair. “Orpheus Don’t Look Back” from his latest release impressed the crowd of Texans with a Western whine, while “Effigy” harkened Noble Beast. Maybe the best part of the set was the stunning cover of country legend Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.” The rain had begun to fall, but no one moved for cover, stunned by his quick switches from glockenspiel, violin, guitar and, of course, his bird-chirp whistling.
Amount of personal space: One foot of stillness
Crowd attention: Even with the rain turned on them, no one moved
Number one accessory seen: Umbrella
Tattoo locations: Flank tats only seen through rain soaked shirts
The Boulder electronic duo Big Gigantic is not my usual fare, but an extended battle across Zilker put me right in front of the set, caught in what was now a veritable downpour. A remix of Aloe Blacc’s “I Need a Dollar” sucked me in, but it was the crowd’s unified arm pumps that kept me there. The wah-wah-wah dustup beats are unarguably outdated, but live saxophone from Dominic Lalli was a fresh, smart decision to the set. If there was collegiate rock, there could also be collegiate brostep, with Lalli holding a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music.
Amount of personal space: Zero, bro. You aren’t ready for the drop.
Crowd attention: If you don’t move exactly with the crowd, you are likely to be crushed.
Number one accessory seen: Preemptive glowsticks. It’s not dark, but whatever.
Tattoo locations: On my chest, brah.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse blasted away on the Bud Light stage, but Jack White’s crowd was a dense, healthy rival in this clash. The former half of The White Stripes offered something for everyone. Combining Stripes, Raconteurs, Dead Weather and solo material—but make no mistake, the crowd was there for the source of it all. There was never a point where anyone seemed discontent or ready for him to move to the next phase. Everyone remained stunned by White’s major shreds and his female-backing band, the Peacocks. Favorites like “Hotel Yorba,” “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” and now stadium-famous “Seven Nation Army” rocked just as hard as expected, but newer material from this year’s solo album Blunderbuss like duet “Love Interruption” slowed things down and reestablished White’s relevance in today’s society.
Amount of personal space: We’ll put it this way – there was no way out for beer or otherwise
Crowd attention: Adored reverence
Number one accessory seen: Millions of iPhone camera screens
Tattoo locations: Shoulder tats of White Stripes lyrics
The crowd making the half mile trek from parking to the festival seemed to drag today. The preliminary effects of a weekend long-hangover began to set in, but the crowd attendance was in full force, preparing for the looming headliner the Red Hot Chili Peppers. More notable, it was HOT. Texans are not shy to heat, but the soggy grounds of Zilker seemed to steam under an unforgiving beat down sending beer sales soaring.
Canadian sweethearts Stars are far from their lovesick teenage years. But despite mortgages, kids and general adulthood, the group remains starry-eyed romantics. “It’s so hot here it makes me dizzy in my head!” cried the blazer-clad singer Torquil Campbell, but the set was still fresh and joyful. “We Don’t Want Your Body” was lush, playful banter between Campbell and the dreamy-voiced counter of the fairer sex, Amy Millan. The standout performance was the unforgettable single “Your Ex-Lover is Dead,” poignant and chilling as the crowd sang along.
Amount of personal space: OMG, but really, it’s hot, don’t touch me
Crowd attention: Hazy lushes downing beer, perking up for that song that was on “The OC.”
Number one accessory seen: More beer. It really was hot, y’all
Tattoo locations: Lower back tats, seen because everyone had their shirts off
Still in wedded bliss, or seemingly so, Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley are the music industry’s hope for marriage. Not to mention they can cut a killer pop song. The Denver duo peddled selections from debut Cape Dory and second album Young & Old. Their breezy summer pop fit the sun-soaked day well. Finishing up a tour promoting their second platter, the duo had a tight, tour trained sound, with the throaty soprano of Moore leading the way through snappy, toe-tapping favorites.
Amount of personal space: Passed out on the grass
Crowd attention: Surprisingly attentive fans
Number one accessory item: Still beer
Tattoo locations: Clear skinned, like all bourgeoisie sport enthusiasts