“We should make sure we go to at least one music festival a year for the rest of our lives”, I said to my fiance as TV on The Radio took the stage in front of me during Austin City Limits 2011. The sky in Texas is one of Texas’ best qualities. It seems to canopy the entire sphere of Earth sometimes, looking elastic and bright enough to make you squint. At sunset, pastel colors are strewn from the edges of the horizon, all collapsing in the straight-ahead center sky like cotton candy melting. One of the best parts about Austin City Limits is the opportunity to get lost in that sky all day long and all night long, and the gazing is weekend long. In fact, Zilker Park‘s sky is top notch for the city of Austin. Green trees are roped around the ring of the green park, which is green no matter the drought. From most directions, you’ll see just that: green. But from one direction, you’ll see the ever-expanding Austin skyline, dressed up in colorful shades at night, coming to life with those myriad shades just as the sky is doing the same. It’s an ethereal world there in Zilker Park during Austin City Limits and I’m happy to say I was there for it all this year.
%Gallery-135004%What makes the Austin City Limits experience so very ethereal moved beyond the velvety sky. I mean, it is that. But it is that combined with other elements, other equally powerful elements, which make ACL such a cool experience.
So, you have the sky. But you also have the music.
ACL draws in bona fide headlining acts each year. And for every well-known headlining act that appears as part of an ACL bill, there are several just as good, if not better, lesser-known acts that pour life onto the smaller stages. ACL 2011′s mainstream mascots were: Stevie Wonder, Kanye West, Arcade Fire, Coldplay, and My Morning Jacket. The artists on the roster thereafter were “smaller”, but, particularly in the world of music, smaller is oftentimes for the better. Outside of the huge acts, the ACL stages this year saw the likes of: Manu Chao La Ventura, Fleet Foxes, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Nas & Damien “Jr Gong” Marley, Cee Lo, Bright Eyes, Social Distortion, Empire of The Sun, Cut Copy, Ray LaMontagne, Santigold, Pretty Lights, TV on The Radio, Skrillex, Iron & Wine, Death From Above 1979, Broken Social Scene, Chromeo, Cold War Kids, Elbow, Gillian Welch, Delta Spirit, The Walkmen, Gomez, The Antlers, and, would you believe me if I said SO MANY MORE. Indeed, the large pool of artists each year at ACL and just another one of the main attractions to the festival. Not only are there always big names on the list, but there are also always so many names that any festival-goer will likely have a difficult time choosing which artists to see and which artists to forfeit seeing. Pair that luminous sky with the from-stage vibrations of your favorite music–it looks perfect, it sounds perfect.
Another undeniable draw to ACL was, and probably always will be, the people. Just like every other music festival I have been to, people tend to let their guards down when attending a music festival. And more than let their guards down, many people unleash their inner hippie, their inner lover. Utopia, most of us would agree, probably couldn’t work out practically on a long term scale. But it can sure work out for a weekend. It’s a wonderful reminder of the goodness in humanity to be hanging around outside for several consecutive days with well-wishers occupying themselves with hula-hooping, face-painting, hair-braiding, and groove-dancing.
Austin City Limits 2011 stood out in other ways still. The food was and is all locally sourced and, despite the long lines during regular ‘feeding’ times, still worth the wait. And, as I found out, if you hang around toward the end of the festival, food vendors will start giving you grub for dirt cheap or free. The art vendors have a decent sprawl in the park next to the food stands and there seems to always be good art for the viewing or purchasing around in this area. ACL also excels in the areas of free water, a multitude of portable toilets, numerous bike racks, nearly immediate trash pick-up and recycling, as well as various public transportation options.
All in all, it was a good year back at the fest–my second consecutive year attending. And my oh my, I sure do hope I achieve that one-festival-a-year goal for the rest of my years.