ยป Gallery / 2004 /

Austin City Limits Music Festival 2004

Three Days of Peace, Love, and Heat Exhaustion

This little expedition was our good friend Mike Murphy’s idea. With the collapse of the big touring festivals like Lollapalooza and the miserable state of the local HFStival it was worth a nonstop ticket on Southwest to check out the third Austin City Limits music fest, with what looked like a thousand solid bands (Elvis Costello, Spoon, Modest Mouse, the reunited Pixies) in a town we’d been meaning to visit anyway. Three days of music, eight stages spread over 350-acre Zilker Park on the south side of town.

Late September is a great time to hold outdoor events. In the mid-atlantic. In the middle of Texas it’s still kissing the underside of 100 degrees with a full dose of humidity.

Zilker Park could use a few more trees. People huddled together in the limited shade for protection from the merciless sun.

The stages are arranged over a large enough space that three or four bands can play at the same time. As one band cranks through a set the closest stage nearby changes band equipment, getting ready to take over once the current act wraps up. Some groups took liberties with the set times, leaving bands like Franz Ferdinand on the little Bank of America stage little choice but to battle PA-to-PA with the giant Cingular stage towering over the ridge behind the crowd. There was some booming crosstalk in spots, but overall the layout allowed for a lot of music in a manageable space.

The Curious Case of Beatle Bob

We spotted the guy by the side of the stage during Sloan‘s set – George Harrison hair, vague Elvis moves, black slacks and a uniform jacket on a 97-degree afternoon. He walked around like he owned the place. That Friday he looked like something off the cover of Sgt. Pepper.

He has about a half dozen moves, a double right hand crossing snap followed by three lateral egg shakes with the left hand… there’s something I call The Squirrel, triggered by snare fills, where he hunches forward and bunches his hands hands tight in front like a rodent excited over a nut. The hip shakes and spins are a big hit with the ladies. Often he’ll point to a band member to empasize an accent – only a beat and a half too late.

We found him again in front of the stage for Soundtrack of our Lives, then Melanie thought she saw him to the side of the Old 97’s set.

He made a big showing in front of My Morning Jacket.

Beatle Bob they call him, and there’s a charge that goes through the crowd when he appears at the side of a stage. He’s like the magic red pin at Saturday night cosmic bowling – you’re at the lucky lane.

We love this kind of thing. We figured A) he was an Austin fixture and B) he was a booster for the music scene – given all the access he had he must’ve been a promoter or DJ or something.

Turns out C) he’s from St. Louis and D) to a number of bands and music fans he’s an annoying weirdo. Sounds like he doesn’t contribute much more than the crowd buzz, and given his penchant for fake press credentials and unannounced stage appearances he’s outworn his welcome in some circles.

Even though he has a dark side we still think he’s net positive for the scene, at least a scene that’s not in our town. I can see him getting tedious after a while… but it’s fun to have a kind of Pop Fairy flit by and bless bands, and it seems like Bob does his homework. Whose opinion can you trust anymore anyway? Robert Christgau with the Voice? Christgau hates every band you like, and he makes you feel stupid for not liking the stuff he recommends. Nobody feels stupid when Bob approves.

We last saw Bob in a bright orange checked jacket, dancing by himself as the members of Cake ceded him the whole stage and gathered by the drums to jam until he tired.

Update – October 3: Beatle Bob digs my band

The Teeming Millions

I didn’t get close enough to the bands to get any good photos, so I turned the camera on the crowd instead.

Good stuff – the official ACL photo gallery

Nobody paid the grounded weather balloons any mind during the daytime. As night fell and the question of how the hell we’d be able to see our way out of this park came up the balloons caught our attention.

GUESS WHO I’M LISTENING TO! WHAT? I’M AT G. LOVE! GEEEEE LOVVVVVVE! (holds open clamshell phone toward stage) YEAH! WHAT?

People used to have to shut up around strangers. Now if you can’t stand not talking for a full hour you can include your friends who can’t shut up either. They don’t have to buy a ticket like I did to be part of the crowd.

shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up

That said, cellphones are great for coordination at one of these events. Well, almost great – so many people were yakking in that small area that the lone cell tower servicing the park overloaded pretty quickly. The event was heavily sponsored by Cingular and SBC and the irony of the crippled phone service was not lost on Cingular customer Mike, who almost blew a gasket trying to contact wife Jill who was flying in from Oakland. All of Jill’s messages flooded to our phones about an hour after the first night’s music ended.

We’d like to hit Austin again sometime when the weather isn’t so oppressive. It’s a pretty weird place, something like Seattle but with a climate that will probably do a better job of controlling the population than the rains did in the Pacific Northwest. We didn’t get a chance to see the Congress St. bats this time, even though our hotel was a block away from the bridge. Perhaps we’ll finally check out South By Southwest, like we keep saying we will…