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The inaugural Austin
City Limits Music Festival created a considerable surge of excitement
in an already bustling music scene September 28 and 29, with over 40,000
in attendance and local clubs catching any spillover by booking some of
the non-headlining talent throughout the weekend. Minor logistical flaws
aside, the festival went off without a hitch, and the promoters and sponsors
seemed confident and enthusiastic that the event will take place annually.
Terry Likona said in a press conference that he would love to see the
festival establish a reputation as one of the country's premiere musical
events, eventually rivaling the television program upon which it was based
in duration, popularity and importance.
As it turned out, the festival attracted a cross-section of fans rarely
seen at musical events these days. Six stages were devoted to different
musical and regional styles, so audiences could see everything from the
gritty Austin sound of The Arc Angels (with members formerly of
Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble) on the Feature Stage, to blues
guitarist Joe Bonamassa on the American Original Stage,
to rockabilly's newest hero Pat Green on the Texas Stage, to the
diverse stylings of Bob Schneider formerly of Ugly Americans and
The Scabs on the Heritage Stage, to acoustic virtuoso Monte
Montgomery on the Austin Stage. Certainly a family affair,
there was even a mini-stage with different bands playing children's music
- appropriately dubbed "Austin Kiddie Limits."
the most surprising attraction at the festival was the Jam Stage,
which represented an area of American music that Austin City Limits has
recently delved into more heavily - with episodes featuring Phish, Widespread
Panic, The String Cheese Incident and Bob Weir's Ratdog airing since 2000.
Coincidentally, the Allman Brothers
Band, which also once performed on Austin City Limits, was playing
at The Backyard the night before the festival kicked off. The band used
its marathon single set as a sampler of some of the guitar prowess that
was in town for the festival, including The Jayhawk's Gary Louris
and Austin guitarist Eric Johnson, who joined the band for a meaty
version of "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed." As Warren Haynes
commented about the unusual number of great guitarists in Austin, the
audience cheered in anticipation of the action ahead.
The weather was clear and hot throughout the weekend, but it was easy
to track down a shady place to rest in Zilker Park's lush surroundings.
The music started early both days, with over 70 acts staggered throughout
the 15-acre parameter.
The Blind Boys of Alabama got
things going Saturday on the Feature Stage, but more people had trickled
into the grounds by the time Los Lobos
started playing. The first band to amass a standing crowd at the Jam Stage
was The New Deal. Keyboardist Jamie
Shields' hypnotic chops layered over a pulsing rhythm got the crowd
moving, but the band only scratched the surface of what it can do musically.
was a recurring problem at the Jam Stage throughout the weekend, as several
of the daytime performers fall into the techno/electronica spectrum of
the genre, which translated only so well to the open space and berating
Wilco pulled in a sizeable crowd
at the Feature Stage, but they were mixed a lot more softly than other
bands on the big stage, which made it difficult to hear from the back.
Moreover, the band went over its time limit, so there was a lot of clashing
sound when the Jayhawks started playing at the nearby Heritage Stage.
Sound Tribe Sector 9 had undivided
airspace at the Jam Stage, and kept the trancejam dance beats churning,
driven largely by Zach Velmer's impressive drumming. The band thrives
in its ability to slide in and out of frenzied excitement and intoxicating
interludes, and they got bigger timeslot to freestyle during their late
night gig at La Zona Rosa with
The New Deal.
At this point the crowd at the Jam Stage split, as some rushed to hear
the String Cheese Incident's first
set across the park at the Feature Stage, and others moved to the nearby
Texas Stage to check out bluegrass revivalists Nickel
String Cheese Incident was Saturday's headliner, and the only act on the
bill that got two sets to stretch out. Fusing many musical styles, the
band took advantage of the extra time to tackle ambitious, multi-faceted
improvisational sections - perhaps most notably in the second set's closer,
"Rollover." Kyle Hollingsworth's keyboard work was notable
throughout the show, and the always-impressive Michael Kang led
the band through its more exploratory moments.
SCI attracted Saturday's biggest turnout during both sets, which illustrated
the popularity with fans across the board of combining traditional lyricism
and instrumental experimentation. After the press conference, Cheese bassist
Keith Mosely mentioned that the new wave of jambands is a somewhat
natural progression in ACL's distinguished history of covering American
"The improv that we do is based on roots music," Mosely said.
"That's what I grew up listening to - Americana, country music, classic
rock - that's really the basis for my musical education, and it's still
really what I enjoy listening to. So it feels pretty normal to be part
of the Austin City Limits scene, and we loved to be able to play on the
show last summer. We've played with some of these bands before and I listen
to a lot of the others, so it doesn't feel like much of a stretch. We've
got broad tastes, and we're happy to be here."
the Cheese took its break, a big crowd gathered across the park for Soulive's
short but sweet set on the Jam Stage. The band came out strong, and managed
to maintain a high level of synergy between themselves and the crowd,
despite technical difficulties early in the set. The band was warming
up for a later show that night at the Mercury.
People started filling in earlier on Sunday, and Karl
Denson's Tiny Universe brought a respectable crowd to the Feature
Stage early in the day. Sticking primarily with tunes from his new release,
The Bridge, Denson maintained an impressive stage presence with
his masterful playing and amusing stage banter.
crowd at the Feature Stage only continued to grow between Denson and the
next act, G. Love & Special Sauce,
who put on one of the most entertaining and overall crowd-pleasing sets
of the night. About as cool a cat as you see onstage today, Love has developed
a unique style that meshes a folk sensibility with a hip hop flavor, accented
with deft but subtle musicianship. To a backdrop of the trio's infectious
and surprisingly tight grooves, Love touched on old classics and newer
tunes, occasionally trading rhymes with drummer Jeffrey Clemens,
also known as "The Houseman."
drew a large crowd to the Jam Stage and played a set loud enough to reach
the crowd assembled at the Texas Stage waiting for Emmylou
Harris. Keyboardist Steve Molitz, shows equal enthusiasm whether
the band is drifting pleasantly through harmonic noodling, or raging through
raunchy thrash beats.
At the same time, Ryan Adams was demonstrating his guitar-driven
alternative pop style on the Feature Stage. Although Adams used much of
his set to break out tunes from his recently-released third solo album,
Demolition, he also covered tunes by The Grateful Dead and The
at the Heritage Stage, Robert Randolph
& the Family Band tore through a blistering set of steel guitar-driven
power. Always the showman, Randolph brought a crowd of fans onstage to
teach the dance to "The March," and teased Black Sabbath during
his searing cover of Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile." He invited his
childhood guitar instructor Calvin Cooke to sit in for a few tunes,
as he would again the next night at his Austin City Limits studio taping
with The Blind Boys of Alabama, which will air December 21. Check with
PBS affiliate to find out exactly what time the episode will run.
Overall, the festival was an outstanding first effort, and one that will
certainly continue to elevate the program's reputation providing future
events can boast the same kind of talent in so many different musical
spectrums. If the lineup of musicians in this year's festival was an indication
of things to come, then expect the producers of television's longest running
music program to keep incorporating bands with a knack for improvisation
into the show's illustrious tradition of great artists.
Words: Travis Langdon
JamBase | Austin, TX
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