Austin City Limits: Day One

September 29, 2008

Last Friday was the first day of the Austin City Limits Music Festival and the beginning of my third year in attendance. My goal was to write about each day immediately after the day ended, but it didn’t take long to realize that this goal would not be met. But better late than never and I’ve got a few hours to kill before my flight back to San Francisco.

Part of the reason I didn’t have time to write at the end of each day is because my Dad, my brother Tate and one of my best friends Will made it to the festival as well and we were simply having too good of time hanging out together (wish you could have made it Alex and Amanda). This was the first year that my brother came along with us and I was excited to see what he thought of the experience.

Given how exhausted we all were from traveling to Austin, I was very proud of us for getting to Zilker park a bit after noon. The first show I wanted to see was Yeasayer at 1:30. I first heard of Yeasayer last January from Liz and I’d listened to their album All Hours Cymbals a few times but didn’t give it a whole lot of attention until leading up to the festival. However, in the last few weeks the album has really been growing on me. Their lyrics can be a little hard to follow along to sometimes so I wasn’t sure what the others would think of the show.

They played most of the songs off of the All Hours Cymbals album but without a doubt, Sunrise and 2080 were two of my favorites. My only complaint is that the base guitar was driven into distortion which cast a lot of the delicate and intricate details into the shadows. But that’s fine, it gives me a good excuse to see them again the next time they are in San Francisco.

Next up was Jakob Dylan, son of Bob Dylan. Last year Bob Dylan was the closing act on Sunday and lets just say I was disappointed with how he interacted with the crowd. Thankfully his son Jakob seems to have plenty of energy and spark in him to say hello to all of us. Knowing that it would be a fairly long day, Will and I kind of relaxed a bit during his set but still found it quite enjoyable.

At 3:30 we made our way over to see Del tha Funky Homosapien. I love Del. He is by far one of the most innovative and talented artists in the Rap/Hip-Hop world. Many people aren’t familiar with him under this name but chances are you’ve heard him without knowing it. His most well known work is likely on the song “Clint Eastwood” with the Gorillaz. But for me his greatest work is the Deltron 3030 album. We didn’t get very close to the stage which is a bummer because there was clearly a ton of energy in the crowd.

Going off of a recommendation from someone that Will chatted with on the flight to Austin, we decided to check out Patty Griffin. She didn’t seem too bad but given that we didn’t know much about her, it was kind of hard to really get into her set. So we headed out halfway through, got some food and then listened to the first half of the Slightly Stoopid set. I was hoping that G. Love would come out and join them for Mellow Mood and in fact G. Love did come out, but they sang a different song. Will and I decided that we’d leave early and get a killer spot for The Swell Season.

If you aren’t familiar with The Swell Season and you like folk music, make sure you do something about that. Many months ago Will suggested that I check out the soundtrack for the movie Once and that was the best music recommendation Will has ever given me. The soundtrack for the movie was written and performed by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (they also starred in the movie). So when Will informed me that The Swell Season was made up of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, I was very excited. We managed to get some spots a few feet from the stage and the show firmly cemented the desire to see the two of them in concert again. Especially because we headed out fifteen minutes early to see Donavan Frankenreiter.

If you follow my blog, you may remember me blogging about how amazing the Donavan Frankenreiter show was at the Outside Lands Festival and that was an experience I wanted to duplicate, so I was very motivated to get a good spot for the set. My Dad and brother didn’t feel the same need so they hung out a bit further back in the crowd while Will and I managed to be close enough to touch the stage. Once again the show did not disappoint. Donavan was as fantastic as always and clearly seemed to be enjoying himself.

But what made this show special for me was when G. Love joined Donavan on the stage. I passed on seeing the G. Love show in favor of The Swell Season, a choice that wasn’t easy to make. So it warmed my heart to be able to see him join in on both “What’cha Know About” and “It Don’t Matter”.

Normally at shows I spend a good amount of energy taking photos. But for this festival I took a grand total of 15 pictures, 15! Last year I took ten times this many photos and frankly it felt very strange to not have a camera in my hand the entire time. But I have a good excuse, I promise.

Shortly before the festival this year I went to a JJ Grey & Mofro concert and during the concert I was wishing that I could share what I was hearing with others. Then it hit me, I could totally share what I was hearing if I got some recording equipment. I did some research online, got myself a portable recorder and I already had a mic so it was easy to get something simple going (I’ll share the details of my setup in a later post).

I played around with the recorder and various mic positions earlier in the day and by the time the Donavon show came around I was feeling fairly confident that I could get a good recording. So Will and I stood right up front, me grabbing the audio and Will grabbing some video. Not only was the set better than I expected, the quality of my recording exceeded every single expectation I had, almost to the point of tears :). Here’s the video of “It Don’t Matter” that Will shot:

Friday ended up being a very long day for all of us and we were all ready to get back to the hotel for some much needed rest. Between the sun, moving about and the music, one tends to feel pretty drained at the end of the day. But that’s actually a pretty good demonstration of exactly how amazing these festivals are. It’s the memories that are made hearing so many amazing artists with such amazing friends that makes it all so worthwhile.

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Outside Lands: Day Two

August 24, 2008

For the last couple years I’ve been going to the Austin City Limits Music Festival and I’ve been fortunate enough to have my best friends there with me. So being at the Outside Lands festival without them makes me a bit sad, especially with the amazing lineup that they have.

The beginning of the day didn’t feature any artists that I was hugely familiar with so I decided that I’d do some live music browsing. This is one of the greatest things about large music festivals, with three bands playing at any given time you can sample a bunch of new artists and see what they are like in their element. I checked out a couple songs from Dredg then made my way over to long time locals The Coup. The Coup was playing at a stage right next to the festival merchandise area and I wanted to pick up one of the festival posters, so I ducked out a little early to go pick one up.

This is where I have my only complaint of the festival, merchandise. Tons of people want to buy t-shirts and other memorabilia at these festivals but it appears like they didn’t plan all that well for this one. Granted it is the first time they are putting on this festival so I will cut them a little slack, but there’s plenty of other festivals to model things after.

All I wanted was a poster, simple enough. I had seen them on Friday but got so annoyed with the people running the booth that I gave up and decided to come back early Saturday. I was shocked and very disappointed when I learned that the posters had already sold out! How could they be running out of things when it’s just a couple hours into the second day of a three day festival? I’m not sure but I wish it wasn’t the case.

Fortunately there is plenty of good music to cheer me up and I was going to go check out Liars. I listened to their opening song and honestly wasn’t feeling them so I moved on to see what Sean Hayes was like. Good choice on my part, Hayes was fantastic. He had a really playful and fun mood about him and it was clear that he was excited to be there.

M Ward was playing right next door after Sean Hayes closed his set so it was a no brainer to go check him out. His set was very easy to listen to, even if you aren’t familiar with his music but I only stuck around for the first half of it. Donavon Frankenreiter was playing shortly and I needed to be up front for that show.

Donavon Frankenreiter

Donavon Frankenreiter

I got to Donavon Frankenreiter’s set about an hour early and people were already starting to gather. Fortunately I was only a few feet from the stage and incredibly excited to be there. My best friend Alex turned me on to his music a few years ago and somehow I hadn’t managed to see him in concert yet, a problem that would soon be resolved.

During the 35 minute set he managed to play songs from both of his full length albums including two of my favorites “Free” and “Move By Yourself”. I love artists like Frankenreiter because they have passion for the songs that they sing and respect for the people that listen to them and it’s never more evident than when they are playing a live show.

About to hand the mic to the crowd

About to hand the mic to the crowd

On many occasions I’ve tried to explain to people why I love going to live shows where I can be right in the front of the audience, especially smaller venues and artists that aren’t mainstream. This show by Frankenreiter is the prefect example of why I am so addicted to these types of concerts. He closed his set by playing “It Don’t Matter”, not only is this a fantastic song, his performance was truly amazing. The chorus of the song goes “If it don’t matter to you, it don’t matter to me” and at the end of the song Donavon climbed down off the stage and into the crowd bring along the mic. He then gave the mic to the crowd and allowed us to sing into it. This was one of the greatest moments of my life because I was right there, singing the chorus into the mic at a Donavon Frankenreiter show. The trust that you have to have with your crowd to do that is something that you simply don’t find with larger artists. Simply amazing. I just hope our singing didn’t suck.

I was so excited that I immediately had to call Alex and share the experience with him while walking to the Ben Harper show. I’ve seen Ben Harper a number of times so I hung out in the back of the pack for the first few songs then made my way over to the Sutro stage because Cake was performing shortly. I became a Cake fan after the radio stopped over playing “The Distance” but I’ve also never seen them in live.

I got to the stage where Cake was playing early enough to once again be right in the front. Cake has such a deep bench when it comes to great songs to play and they had no problem filling the hour with a crowd pleasing set. They even took a moment during the show to give away a potted tree to a fan that was able to tell them what type of tree it was. In exchange for this tree, the person had to plant it and send Cake a picture of the tree to put on their website every couple years. I personally think this is such an awesome and creative thing for them to do.

The crowd was so pleased with the set that at the end of it almost nobody left. We all stood there cheering and chanting, trying to get them to come back on the stage. This almost never happens at a music festival because they have to adhere to such tight schedules and I think it made some people kind of nervous. Here we had at least 10,000 people all wanting the set to continue but the sad fact is that it can’t, and it didn’t. But it was still a fantastic show and a fantastic crowd.

The last act for the day was Tom Petty. I like Tom Petty but I don’t love him, I can listen to his music but I won’t buy any of it. Mostly because he’s too popular and that makes it really hard to get up close and interact with the performance. So with 30 minutes left of the set I decided to beat the crowds and head out early.

Even though I didn’t have my best friends around to enjoy such an amazing day, it was still exactly that, an amazing day. The only thing that I expect will beat it is day three: ALO, The Mother Hips, Bon Iver, Andrew Bird, Broken Social Scene, Rogue Wave, Widespread Panic, Wilco and best of all Jack Johnson.