Words by Tim Dwenger :: Images by Tony Stack

Austin City Limits Music Festival :: 09.15 - 09.17 :: Zilker Park :: Austin, TX

Friday :: September 15th

Buckwheat Zydeco :: ACL 2006
Austin City Limits. It has been a Public Television program showcasing some of the best musical talent our country has to offer for 30 years, and for the last five it has also been a major popular music festival. This year the Festival was held September 15th - 17th in Zilker Park, just a couple of miles from the 6th Street music scene. With over 160 performers, Austin City Limits Music Festival brings an eclectic variety of music to the eight stages set up in the massive park.

Since I returned from Austin, several people have asked me what the "highlight" of the festival was. Let me tell you, I haven't been asked a harder question since "What's your favorite band?" The reality is that there were many, many highlights, and singling out just one wouldn't do this festival, or my memories, any justice at all. So I am going to share as many as I can.

Gnarls Barkley :: ACL 2006
For instance, I couldn't go without mentioning Cee-Lo, Danger Mouse and the rest of Gnarls Barkley, who played the main stage Friday afternoon. Dressed in lab coats and plaid shirts, they introduced themselves as John Nash and the Beautiful Minds while their 13-person band covered Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me With Science." It wasn't long before the 90-plus degree heat forced Cee-Lo and the rest of the band out of the lab coats, but the band never turned down the energy, pounding out nearly every track on their breakout debut album St. Elsewhere. Unfortunately the crowd thinned out significantly after summer anthem "Crazy" came to an end, so many didn't catch the three songs that rounded out the set, including a set-ending version of "Smiley Faces" that did indeed bring smiles to the faces of many. These guys have made me believe soul music can once again make it in the mainstream.

Later the same afternoon, Thievery Corporation provided just the pick-me-up I needed after a mellow Cat Power set (during which she did a stripped down cover of "Crazy"). Their dub-infused beats, live horns, and highly energetic vocals had people dancing in the late afternoon sun more than a hundred yards from the stage.

Cat Power :: ACL 2006
Traditional Irish soul was featured Friday evening when Van "The Man" Morrison took the stage clad in his trademark dark suit and pork-pie hat. Over the course of his 90-minute set, Morrison proved that he is still every bit that musician that he was when he rose to fame in the 60's. Though he had a full band with him, including a string and horn section, it was the man on Hammond B3 organ who stole the show. It was refreshing to hear Van play so much material from recent albums such as Pay The Devil and Back On Top and not rest on his laurels as so many of his generation have. Maybe it would have been nice if Morrison had scattered the "hits" throughout the set a bit more, but he did run through "Bright Side of the Road" and "Moondance" before wrapping up the evening with "Wild Night," "Brown Eyed Girl," and "Gloria" to send everyone out into the humid Austin night.

Saturday :: September 16th

Deadboy & the Elephantman
Saturday began with Centro-Matic, a local band that made it to the "big stage" for the first time. Being the first band on the main stage isn't easy as the crowd doesn't really fill in until later in the afternoon, but several thousand people came out to support the local boys as they played their hearts out. Their fuzzed-out, bar-room rock highlighted by Will Johnson's warbling tenor was a great way to kick-start the day as they rocked through "Mighty Midshipman," "Flashes and Cables," "Calling Thermatico," and "Patience for the Ride" during their 60 minutes of "outdoor, mother fucking, big stage, rock music!"

Speaking of big stage rock music, The Secret Machines rocked the Heineken Stage later Saturday afternoon. From the opener, "Alone, Jealous and Stoned," their afternoon set was a who's who of classic rock influences that ranged from Rush to Pink Floyd to Led Zeppelin while somehow managing to maintain a sound that was uniquely their own. These three extremely talented musicians worked together seamlessly to become one of the tightest bands of the entire weekend.

The Raconteurs :: ACL 2006
I've got to admit I skipped most of The Raconteurs to check out Iron & Wine who went on right after them. I could hear bits and pieces and was told by reliable sources that Jack White, Brendan Benson, and company put on a screamer of a show. They front-loaded their 60 minutes with "Level" and "Steady As She Goes" and then settled down into their groove. This is the one set I really regret skipping.

Known for stark arrangements and a very mellow vibe, Iron & Wine surprised the crowd on Saturday night. After opening with "Sodom, South Georgia," a shaggy Sam Beam called on his band to ratchet things up a bit for this "big festival crowd." Apparently afraid he couldn't recreate the intimacy for which he is known in such a huge setting, Iron & Wine proceeded to rock out. While it was great to hear songs like "Freedom Hangs like Heaven," "Evening on the Ground," "Jezebel," and "Naked As We Came," it seemed clear that many prefer the original arrangements to the ones that dominated the ACL set.

Willie Nelson :: ACL 2006
The crowd at the festival in general reflected the eclectic nature of the music with just about every demographic being represented, but it was probably Willie Nelson who drew the most diverse crowd of the weekend. His Saturday night performance on the AMD Stage was so crowded that getting within 100 yards of the stage after he came on was next to impossible. He opened his 75-minute set with "Whisky River" and sprinkled hits such as "Crazy" (no, not the Gnarls Barkley song), "Beer For My Horses," "Always On My Mind," and "On The Road Again" throughout his performance. It was simply too crowded to hear or see well, so we decided to head off toward downtown for the late night String Cheese Incident show at Stubb's BBQ.

String Cheese Incident :: ACL 2006
After waiting outside Stubb's for 45 minutes in the worst line of the weekend, we finally got inside midway through String Cheese Incident's second song, "Sittin' On Top of the World." While the band members claim Stubb's as one of their favorite venues, they hadn't played there in more than six years since its capacity of only 2,300 is simply too small for most of their tours. The venue itself is a small outdoor stage in the backyard of the famous BBQ joint, right on the edge of downtown Austin. In a set dominated by instrumentals such as "Rhum 'n' Zouc" and "Rivertrance," SCI also covered Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride" and closed out the evening with a monster version of "On The Road" that segued back into opener "Way Back Home."

Sunday :: September 17th

Los Lonely Boys :: ACL 2006
Sunday afternoon brought one of the rawest rock 'n' roll performances of the weekend. Sam Roberts Band came onto the Heineken Stage about 15 minutes early (a rarity at ACL) and was covered in sweat midway through their raucous opener, "The Resistance," from recent release Chemical City. This band has captured the essence of rock. The band consists of two driving guitars, bass, keys, and big huge Bonham-style drums, and Roberts himself plays the part of the charismatic front-man as well as anyone today.

I split my mid-afternoon time between Ween and Matisyahu. You really couldn't get two more different bands, but both were thoroughly entertaining. Ween came out to a thunderous ovation and opened their set with "Exactly Where I'm At." The brothers Ween were in good spirits and even covered the Paul McCartney penned "Let Me Roll It." Apparently surprised by all the blank stares from their devoted fans, Gene leaned over the mic and shouted, "It's a Wings song people. Wings." Their 17-song set included "Touch My Tooter," "Spinal Meningitis Got Me Down," "Bananas & Blow," and closed with "Doctor Rock" from their 1991 album The Pod.

Matisyahu :: ACL 2006
Matisyahu, on the other hand, wasn't singing about touching any tooters, Spinal Meningitis, or blow. The Hassidic Jew was focused on a decidedly more religious direction. Opener "Lord Raise Me Up" set the stage for a show ideally suited for its Sunday slot. It was as if he was channeling Eminem and Bob Marley at once to create spitfire reggae songs that pay homage to both his religious and musical backgrounds. His passionately energetic performance had the entire main stage crowd on their feet right through his finale "King Without a Crown," first featured on Matisyahu: Live at Stubb's, which was recorded in Austin and became the song that really put him on the map.

The Flaming Lips :: ACL 2006
The sunset slot on Sunday evening welcomed one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend: The Flaming Lips. As their set began with the sun beating on the stage, Lips front man Wayne Coyne climbed into an enormous plastic bubble which was then rolled off the front of the stage into the crowd. He proceeded to walk and crawl on top of thousands of hands while an army of Santas took its position stage left and an army of aliens took its position stage right. The highly interactive and slightly insane set saw confetti launched from massive cheerleader-style bullhorns, huge exploding balloons, giant inflatable aliens, Santas and spacemen, and of course Coyne doused in fake blood. As day yielded to night and the festival was drawing to a close, The Flaming Lips finished their memorable set with their melancholy mega hit "Do You Realize."

Tom Petty and Heartbreakers :: ACL 2006
The weekend wrapped up with summer festival stalwarts Tom Petty and Heartbreakers proving to the ACL crowd they were back with a vengeance. They tore through such hits as "Mary Jane's Last Dance," "I Won't Back Down," and "Free Falling" before a huge storm ripped through the park, dumping rain on the sixty thousand plus in attendance. The band was forced to take a 30 minute break to allow the lightning to pass but returned to finish their set for those that stuck it out. The drenched crowd sang along to "Don't Come Around Here No More," "Refugee," and "American Girl" with such passion that Petty commended us for our efforts before careening through "You Wreck Me" to close out the 5th ACL Festival in true rock 'n' roll fashion.

So there you have it, a quick glimpse into three days spent running around a huge park in Texas trying to catch as many bands as possible. Sure it was hotter than hell, the food could have been better, and at four bucks a can, we all spent a hell of a lot of money on beer, but rest assured, we'll all be back next year. All sixty-five thousand of us were there to soak up live music, and The Austin City Limits Festival is clearly one of the very best festivals the music industry has to offer these days.

JamBase | Austin
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[Published on: 10/3/06]

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Zapzapa star Tue 10/3/2006 09:40PM
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SCI played Stubbs in 2003

luchingo starstarstar Tue 10/3/2006 09:55PM
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ACL brought me to austin with it's line-up but sent me home dissapointed...sound at the festival was literally embarrassing I think they just tried to squeeze to many stages into the park and wound up having to dial all the sound down till it was just a muddled mess. That being said, I saw Massive Attack tear the roof off and that almost made it woth it...

All Loving Liberal White Guy Tue 10/3/2006 10:20PM
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All Loving Liberal White Guy

no mention of austin's own black angels?!! whats with dat? and matisYAHOO gets a whole paragraph? why not just write a review of 2 days spent watching paint dry?

hatfieldsbro star Wed 10/4/2006 06:29AM
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jvhalley starstarstar Wed 10/4/2006 09:44AM
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Not to jump on the bashwagon here, but Gnarls Barkley played "she blinded me with SCIENCE", not Silence. Thats why they were dressed in lab coats, dude. Joke, man, joke.

As for ACL, if you didn't have fun, you're nuts. I had a complete blast checking out 6th street at night, hitting up Barton Springs(the most badass swimming hole of all time a mere 200 yards from the front gates), and simply just revelling the scene that is Austin. What a freakin cool city, and in the middle of Texas, no less. Stubbs is incredible, chillin latenight at the Hotel San Jose listening to DJs spin, all of it was great. Luchingo, I couldn't agree more that Massive Attack blew the place up. Awesome show from a band I'd never seen stole the fest for me. The Racontuers tore it up too. All in all, believe the hype, ACL is the shit. Just don't count on being able to get a cab within three hours of calling for one or you'll end up missing your plane. (deh)

LewisIsGood starstar Wed 10/4/2006 07:14PM
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This is a pretty terrible review. No mention of Galactic, the ACL SCI show, Los Amigos Invisibles, and hardly Thievery Corp. Those were my top 4 shows for sure. Pretyy uninsightful overall. As for the lineup, I'd say it was the weakest I have seen in my four years of attending the festival. Even after IndieFest last year, this was just a random assortment of bands that tried to please everyone but didnt really do so. I miss the second and third years of jsut sticking to the jamband scene as headliners and some local Austin stuff; the fest sold even more tickets those years come on. Don't get me wrong, I had a great time and loved the Particle aftershow, but ACL with its money could have a really incredible festival and does not do what it should with scheduling bands for the atmosphere of the fest. Did I mention Tom Petty is terrible? Bad at Bonnaroo, bad at ACL, and I can only predict the same at Vegoose. Why is he at all of these festivals? I know he is famous and probably helps attract a crowd but seriously he is old and boring. And taking SCI down to one one-hour set at a lesser stage from two longer sets at the main stage is just a crime. Come on. Oh yeah and I like Granls Barkley, but their show was atrocious. No joke.

All Loving Liberal White Guy Wed 10/4/2006 07:58PM
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All Loving Liberal White Guy

i think instead of going next year, we should all just count and name our ball hairs for two days. it'll be more fun!

RedMule starstar Wed 10/4/2006 11:24PM
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The article was well written. Good job on that. The festival itself is more of a blah...
First off, Austin is a really hip town, but the festival was more of a townival. With no camping and a real emphasis on dropping money into the local economy, I felt that at least they should bless us with a better lineup.
1 hour of SCI, 40 minute New Monsoon set? come on!
There were times throughout some of the days that I wandered around aimlessly wishing there was some music that was worth beating the heat for. One of the pleasent surprises of the festival was the Brazilian Girls. They totally rocked the tent down!
The late nights was where it was at!
JFJO on Thursday, Particle on Friday, SCI/New Monsoon on Saturday, and to finish it off, Travis and Jason Hahn played a real intimate show for all the spunions, wookies, and twaked out ragers to finish off the festival.
All in all, if you were there for a jamband festival, ACL wasn't the place to go. Thats why I went to Oregon Country Fair, 10K, 3 night SCI in Eugene, and moe.down.
ACL was the last festival of summer tour. Although it was $4 a can, "you sure can drink a lot of beer, undearneath that Texas sun!"

soulgrass Thu 10/5/2006 10:19AM
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ACL is definitely not a Jam band festival. I actually think the line-up has really gone down hill since the first couple of years. Missed sunday though, couldn't take the heat. Saturday was Galactic->Los Lobos->SCI->Willie. That was a nice run.

phishdrum starstar Sat 11/4/2006 05:31PM
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This festival gets worse and worse every year. First year was the best and the third year was pretty close because of Trey's headlining set . . . but other than that each year it becomes more and more crowded with the same amount of space. This year, as the article touched on, it was impossible to get a good spot for Willie -- and yes, that is due in part to his popularity but it is also due in large part to ACL's obsession with making more and more money at the expensive of the festival experience. Massive Attack was the surprise of the weekend for me, and yet the article didn't even mention this band and their awe-inspiring performance. Also, Gnarls Barkley did a prett cool Doors cover. New Orleans Social Club was a terrific set too, and shouldn't have been omitted from the article -- Ivan Neville, Leo from the Meters, and Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsy's dummer Buddy Miles sitting in for a jam . . . you're right, definitely not noteworthy in your review . . . Unless ACL's line-up is killer next year, you're better off going to another festival with half the people, and even then you'll only be in the Bonnaroo crowd figure.

Zapzapa is right . . . SCI played Stubbs in 2003 for their Untying the Knot album release party . . . that is only three years since Stubb's and not six! And if you saw that show, you'd know exactly why Nershi is calling it quits.

brokenlight Sat 11/11/2006 09:36PM
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words can't even describe how i feel about my first acl trip this past year, so how soon is next years, you know, i heard the smashing pumpkins got back together,