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Tortoise in the Dust, ACL 2005

Austin City Limits Music Festival 2005

The Tussle in the Dust Bowl

Beatle Bob Conspicuous in Absence

We swore we wouldn’t do this again. We closed the books on last year’s 98-degree cauldron of a music fest and chalked it up to experience – a good memory, but a sweaty, crowded memory. “No way… unless Split Lip Rayfield was playing this year. Ha ha.”

Dang it.

3-day ticket prices crept up to the $100 mark and somehow all hotel rooms south of Town Lake save for two were sold out by Memorial Day. I reserved one of the two and started stockpiling sunblock.

We lived through last year’s… it couldn’t get any hotter. Wonder what bands Beatle Bob will stalk this year.

This almost didn’t happen at all. With hurricane Rita bearing down on nearby Houston there was talk of the festival organizers scrapping part of Saturday’s lineup out of fear for the safety of everyone below those scaffolds. Melanie fretted about being stuck in a town with no electricity or running water and a hot airport full of stranded music fans. As the storm hooked northward a few Austin websites predicted a minimum of disruption. I threw a Mag-Lite and a couple of pounds of D-cells in my bag and we drove to the airport.

Overheard on the plane: “Austin’s not a bad place to get stuck. You know the bars are gonna work.”

A.M. Austin


We made it to Texas without incident, on a plane full of iPod-wielding music fans. Everybody expected everybody else to bail out due to the hurricane; not one seat was left open as we pushed back.

On Friday morning I wandered across the Congress Street bridge and back via 1st Street. I scoped out the new graffiti and finally found the Stevie Ray Vaughan memorial by Town Lake.

Furtive

The official website prohibited pro camera gear – no “big zooms”, tripods, etc. At the gate I was informed that “pro” means any camera with a detachable lens and my non-pro 135mm zoom was in violation. The crew being a pretty mellow bunch I promised to ditch the camera and ended up melting into the crowd anyway, the camera stowed out of sight in Melanie’s backpack. I left it hidden for a while, fearing the heavy hand of expulsion on my forearm if I tried to snap some shots in the open.

This is not pro gear for crying out loud! Those newspaper guys, the ones with the artillery pieces… the ones with the press passes… how can I get one of those passes?


I embedded myself deep in the crowd watching Steve Earle and pulled the 135 out, well beyond of reach of the heavy hand. I plotted how to get a press pass next time: change the name of the site to DolanBrau Monthly, maybe print up some letterhead. I want to be the guy in the photo pit next year. Oh yeah – if there is a next year. Temperature on Day 1: 101 degrees.

Sound Team: Rookie of the Year


These guys on the Austin Ventures stage stopped us in our tracks as we crossed the park to catch Spoon. They have a great ’70s-influenced power-pop sound, one part Spoon to one part Partridge Family.

And they’re welcome to use that description in their bio if they like.

No sign of Beatle Bob

At no point during the weekend did we spot the Bob. A disappointment; did he wear out his welcome last year?

From the Amstel-fueled notebook:

  • more humid and my shirt doesn’t breathe as well
  • Brown Lung
  • Hey Robert Randolph – the North Mississippi Allstars called and they want their college kids back.
  • light clothing shows off black bean ink
  • Beatle Bob would have died in that jacket
  • Get. Rickenbacker. Now.
  • business idea: $1 eyewash station
  • Baby A’s mexican martini – yowza!
  • Cloudless. Dammit.
  • missed a spot

The points where I thought I wouldn’t make it


Temperature on day 2: 101 degrees. About 5 PM on Saturday I was ready to call it a day and walk back to the hotel. Death Cab for Cutie had a huge, rapt audience at one end of the park but I could not muster any interest and sat down in the rising haze of dust. I’ve never felt dirtier or more wrung out. There would be an hour to wait for Jet, then another hour after their set before Oasis came on. I was inconsolable.

Consolation came in the form of a frozen coffee drink and a nice lie down on the awful ground. I rose with burrs in my hair and enough gas in the tank to make it through the rest of the night. It worth it to watch the rock & roll swagger of those two bands.


The second point came immediately on arrival late on Sunday. We dawdled indoors until 3 PM to try to escape the 108-degree heat; we didn’t wait long enough and walking the length of the park from the Doves to Rilo Kiley I just about lost the will to live.

We found a sliver of shade under one of the few trees and managed to rededicate ourselves to the mission. We were rewarded with the Kaiser Chiefs, Bob Mould and Black Keys later in the day.

The tally

Of the grand total of 133 bands at the festival we caught at least part of 25. The highlights: Steve Earle, deSol, Lucinda Williams, Sound Team and Allman Brothers on day 1; Split Lip Rayfield, Mike Doughty, Built to Spill, Jet and Oasis on day 2; and Kaiser Chiefs, Arcade Fire, Bob Mould and the Black Keys on the last day. There were a few big names that really didn’t connect as we expected, but the heat probably had a lot to do with that.

What it would take to get us to come back next year

I predict daytime highs in the mid-200’s next year. For us to go back we’d have to see something along the lines of a resurrected George Harrison on the bill, or at least two of the following three: Urge Overkill, a reunited Afghan Whigs, Lotion.

Of course a media pass would change everything.

Postscript: Beatle Bob speaks

A few days later my band played the Dewey Beach Music Conference, where last year we got to meet Beatle Bob in person. He was there again this year and graced our Thursday night set with his enthusiastic presence. After we played he explained that he was only able to make it to one day of the festival as he was busy with a Hurricane Katrina benefit in St. Louis that weekend.