Austin City Limits 2011

“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.

Antarctica updates, July 2011

The fact that today’s high was -67 degrees at the South Pole is not news. Especially for the 49 hardy souls overwintering; they knew what they signed on for. Nor is it a shock that it was -97 at Vostok one day last week, since the Russian base holds the record for the coldest temperature ever recorded (-128).

But there are some surprises being reported from the deep-deep south during the continent’s long, cold winter (which lasts eight months, roughly March through October). Like that alien species are invading and that declining penguin numbers may have less to do with warming temps than previously thought. And that the ozone hole over the continent increasingly influences the southern hemisphere’s weather and that the ice around the continent’s edges is melting faster than predicted. And that for the first time in a decade tourist visits to Antarctica are expected to dip dramatically in the coming summer season.

1. The aliens worrying Antarctic observers are not of the cellophane-skin and pumpkin-head variety, but rather more garden variety: Insects, slugs, worms, plant seeds and fungi that sneak in with the fruits and vegetables consumed by the 4,000 scientists who call Antarctica home during the summer season. Tourists are contributing too, carrying plant seeds in on their shoes and clothing. The invasion is encouraging calls for new levels of “biosecurity” to protect the otherwise pristine continent from being further infiltrated. For the moment, simple fungi and mold are the greatest concern because they often carry plant diseases: On the 11,250 fruit and vegetables sent to nine research stations researchers found soil on 12 percent of the food as well as 56 alien invertebrates and 19 different species of mold. On Antarctica’s near islands, rats, mice and cats are already devastating bird populations, a risk the mainland doesn’t have to worry about … for now … since warm-blooded creatures have a hard time surviving sub-sub freezing temps. For now.

2. Everything from burning fossil fuels and rain forests to cow farts are blamed for the planet’s changing climate. Now a team from Columbia University suggests the ozone hole growing over Antarctica is linked to warmer, wetter weather reaching all the way north to the equator. Initially discovered in the 1980s and blamed on the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in refrigerators and aerosols, since their banning it’s expected the hole will largely close up by the middle of the century. In 2000, NASA satellites measured it at 11.5 million square miles; a decade later it had been reduced to 8.5 million square miles. Despite the shrinkage, the study blames the high-altitude ozone hole for contributing to higher wind speeds, leading to more intense storms and for heavy summer rains across eastern Australia, the southwestern Indian Ocean and the South Pacific.

3. It has been widely reported (including by me) that the Adelie penguin population in Antarctica has dropped by as much as 50 percent in recent years. The blame has been placed largely on the fast-disappearing ice along the edge of the Antarctic Peninsula, which had long been home to thriving penguin populations. The reasoning has been that as the average winter temperatures along the Peninsula have risen by 9 to 11 degrees since the mid-20th century, compared to 2 degrees everywhere else on the planet, the habitat change was chasing the ice-loving Adelie’s further south, or killing them off. But new studies by NOAA and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography suggest that might not be their numbers are declining, but rather because their main food source – krill – is diminishing thanks to warming seas, a recovering whale populations and overfishing. The two-inch long, shrimp-like crustaceans are the basis of Antarctica’s food chain but along the Peninsula it’s estimated krill density has declined by 80 percent. Warming temps, of both air and sea, will continue to take a toll as will man’s growing demand for krill: In 2009-2010 more than 202,000 tons of krill were taken, a four-fold increase over 2002-2003.

4. It looks like penguins and krill alike will have to adapt to even warmer temps and less ice far sooner than expected. A new report out of the California Institute for Technology and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory suggests that the big ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland are melting faster than previously predicted. If nothing changes – i.e. dramatically less-burning of fossil fuels and far fewer cow farts – that will make melting ice the biggest contributor to sea level rise, outstripping the melting of mountain glaciers and polar ice caps. The report suggests a 6 inch rise in sea levels around the world by 2050, sounding even more worrying alarm bells than the 2007 study by the International Panel on Climate Change, the last international body to fully assess the future of the ice sheets. The new numbers are based on a new technique that combines satellite radar readings of ice movement and soundings of ice thickness with new satellite information that measures differences in gravity planet-wide. Between Antarctica and Greenland, the two ice sheets dump 475 gigatonnes of ice (one gigatonne is one billion metric tons) into the ocean each year. They report estimates that the melting of polar ice caps and glaciers is about three times slower.

5. According to the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) the numbers of people visiting the 7th continent during the most recent summer season has dropped way off its high of 46,265 people in 2007-2008. Last season – 2010-2011 – the number was less than 34,000. This coming summer, thanks largely to a new ban on heavy fuels which will prohibit most big cruise ships from visiting the Peninsula, the industry monitoring group anticipates a 25 percent drop, to just over 25,000 visitors. The ban on heavy fuels, imposed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), goes into effect next month; it is purposely aimed at reducing the number of big ships visiting the Peninsula, the kind that carry thousands of passengers. Big ships + heavy fuel = big trouble in case of an accident, which could be disastrous on many fronts in this most-remote, most-pristine region. Visitor numbers are also down simply due to a still-sour global economy. Even the smaller ships that carry fewer than 500 passengers and make a dozen or more trips to the Peninsula each season are expecting fewer customers in the season, which begins in November.

[Flickr image via Christian Revival Network]

The Quileute tribe’s quandry

Every time it floods in New Orleans or a hurricane wipes out a mobile home park along the coast of Florida similar questions are asked: Why do people continue to put themselves in harm’s way by living in – and often rebuilding in — places clearly threatened by natural disaster?

A Native American community in the northwest corner of the country, popularized in the hit book and movie series Twilight, is attempting to get ahead of the curve by moving inland before tsunami waves trash their town.

Recent video of Japan’s coast as it was shaken and flooded by earthquake and tsunami waves has propelled a three-decades-long struggle by the tribe to move to higher ground.

Four hundred families of the Quileute tribe in northwest Washington state – concerned because the schoolyard where their kids play is constantly thrashed by storm waves from an often-wild Pacific Ocean – are pressing to reclaim ancestral lands from the federal government so they can move to inland. At risk are the Quileute Tribal School, homes, the tribe’s headquarters and its elder center.

“Our people live in danger daily knowing that we could hit by a tsunami,” says Bonita Cleveland, the tribe’s chairwoman. “It could be wiped out in a heartbeat.”While there hasn’t been a major earthquake in the area since 1700, computer models of the Cascadia subduction zone that parallels the Pacific coastline suggest the tribe would have 20 to 30 minutes to clear out if a Japan-sized earthquake struck nearby and it would likely rip the town to pieces in advance of a tsunami wave. In recent emergency drills, the tribe has quickly evacuated to higher ground. Warning sirens have proven difficult to hear and the feat has been managed with hours of advance notice and coordination.

In the good old days, the nomadic tribe of fisherman and whalers moved around the Olympic Peninsula with the seasons, spending winters safe inside the old-growth forest, away from the coastal storms and river flooding that have long haunted the region. Those good old days are long gone, of course, and locals are feeling trapped and at risk.

As John Dodge reports in the Daily World, tribal officials have been asking for freedom for its 750 members to roam for decades and last week traveled to Washington, D.C., to testify before Congress on a bill that would designate 800 acres of Olympic National Park for the tribe’s use. The National Park Service backs the plan that would give the tribe roughly two square miles inside the park where they could move immediately. A sophisticated tribe website with press clips and videos makes its case.

The tribe is proposing to use part of the land to relocate homes, the school and several other facilities. It has an enrolled membership of more than 1,000, with roughly 400 of them living at the town site.

Chairwoman Cleveland makes this plea, accompanying a new video: “The introduction of the legislation is just the first step. We need the support of the American public to get this legislation passed. Please watch these videos and share them with your friends and family and then contact your legislators and ask them to support the Quileute Tsunami Protection legislation. The Quileute Tribe is grateful for your support.”

A very spiritual people, who have longed believed in their ability to obtain supernatural powers, Quileute folklore maintains they are descended from wolves and have the ability to transform into werewolves, which is why novelist Stephanie Meyers fictionalized the tribe in her popular Twilight series. In her books, members of the tribe are capable of shape shifting into wolves and are the enemies of vampires.

The popularity of Twilight has made the tribe’s hometown of La Push and its scenic beaches favorite tourist destinations and has allowed a small tribe largely dependent on fishing to improve its economic circumstances through tourism.

The tribe has not been shy about reaching out to Twilight fans for support in its fight to move. “The Quileute Nation has always been friendly and welcoming to Twilight fans, asking little aside from respect of the Nation’s photo policies in return. Now, here’s a chance to show support. Please consider aiding this effort if possible.”

[Flickr image via Thomas Cristopher]

Photo of the day (5/21/09)

Sometimes you’ve waited so long for a good vacation that you’re just ready to flip when you get there. I have no idea if this is what happened in today’s Photo of the Day, though. This picture, taken at Crystal Cove, CA was submitted by Nismo334 and it managed to catch our attention.

Are you a Flickr user who’d like to share a travel related picture or two for our consideration? Submit it to Gadling’s Flickr group right now! We just might use it for our Photo of the Day!