Austin City Limits: Day Three

September 29, 2008

That's a big bunny, even for Tate

Ah the third and final day. The strangest thing about this year’s festival is that Friday and Sunday had the best lineup (in my mind) and yet neither day was sold out.

First up for the day was Priscilla Ahn. Will had seen her when she opened for Amos Lee a while ago and suggested we check her out. She was a last minute replacement for Adele which had to be somewhat difficult, especially given that it was just her on this huge stage. But she delt with the pressure really well, in fact she’s pretty damn funny. One of her songs in particular titled “The Boob Song” was really enjoyed by the crowd.

At the same stage after Priscilla was Tristan Prettyman. I’ve been a Tristan fan for over three years now and I’ve seen her in concert a number of times and always look forward to each performance. I was especially excited for this show because I wanted to get a recording. Things were going great, Tristan was playing some of her new material which I really enjoy, but when I looked down to check my levels I realized that my recording had stopped. I tried to start things back up but it would immediately stop recording once it started. What the hell. After a few moments I realized that it was out of space. So I abandoned the recording process for the rest of the set and simply enjoyed the set.

I suspected the problem with the recorder was that when I deleted the old files from the CF card that they really didn’t get deleted. Sadly I needed a computer to remove these old files and Dell and AT&T had a booths setup with laptops so I figured one of them might have a USB cable. No such luck. My only option was to reformat my CF card to free the space but that meant I’d loose my Tristan recording. Given that there was two more shows that I wanted to record, I saw little option.

With free space at hand, we headed over to see Neko Case. When buying some cables for my recorder I started talking to this fantastic guy that works at Gleb Music and along the way I mentioned that I was going to ACL. He immediately stated that he’d love to get his hands on a Neko Case recording and told me stories of how he’d traveled from California to Washington to see one of her shows. How couldn’t I check her out after hearing a story like that.

We then hung out for an hour, keeping our spots a few feet from the stage to see The Raconteurs. Their show was amazing. As much as I love Tristan, I think The Raconteurs edged her out just a little bit. Unfortunately Jack White (lead vocals) had a slipped disc in his back but somehow managed to pull himself through the show. Their studio albums most definitely have a rock feel to them but their live performances are much more intense, but how couldn’t they rock with a guy like Brendan Benson on guitar?

Initially I wasn’t sure about this years lineup, but thankfully those feelings were unwarranted because in the end I had just as much fun this year as I did the last two. Plus, this year was a lot cooler (temperature wise) than previous years and the grounds were much more enjoyable thanks to volunteers picking up bottles in exchange for t-shirts. I was really glad that Tate could join us this year and am hoping that we can have an even larger group for the next festival.

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Austin City Limits: Day Two

September 29, 2008

Clothing Optional Area

Clothing Optional Area

Tired. Very Tired. We got a bit of a late start on Saturday which actually worked out pretty well because there wasn’t anyone on the schedule in the morning that we really had our hearts set out to see.

Will and I checked out Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings while playing a little game of Hot or Not. Neither of us had ever heard any of their music but really enjoyed how much fun they had interacting with the crowd. After that set we checked out the merch table, I got a fairly cool recycling themed shirt but sadly the posters this year weren’t all that appealing.

We then wondered over to the stage where Erykah Badu was going to perform. I haven’t listened her since 1998 so I can’t exactly say that I’m familiar with much of her music. But she’s got a fun sound so we figured we’d check it out. Sadly she started the set 10 minutes late and then decided to spend five minutes telling the crowd a story. I’m all up for artists telling stories during their set, but spending 10% of the set on a story is a bit excessive. We headed out to meed my Dad and Tate at the WaMu stage to see The Nachito Herrera All Stars.

None of us had herd the Nachito Herrera All Stars before but apparenlty a couple of Tate’s friends had actually seen them the night before in the Twin Cities and were impressed. Apparently the group had only played together for a few shows which is quite impressive. They didn’t have a whole lot of lyrics to their songs but that’s pretty understandable. I was just impressed with how well Herrera conducted the group while playing they keys.

By 6:30 the day was really starting to roll. We all checked out John Fogerty (front man for Credence Clearwater Revival). I started listening to CCR when I was in junior high which surprised my Dad at the time, so I’m quite familiar with Fogerty’s earlier work. I wasn’t sure how much of his older stuff he’d play but happily he had a good mix. It’s always interesting to watch someone as legendary as Fogerty.

The highlight of the day for me was Iron & Wine. When I started working at O’Reilly a coworker named Matt introduced me to their music. I listened to the album a bit but sadly didn’t spend much time with it. This is a decision that I’ve regretted after circling back around and hearing their latest album, The Shepherd’s Dog. Iron & Wine continues to develop a more complex sound which is especially present in their live performances.

This was the only show that I recorded in its entirety on Saturday and I’ll post it if I find out if they are cool with having their shows recorded. As a side note, for all of you in the bay area, Iron & Wine is going to be playing at this years Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival on October 5th. The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival is a free festival in Golden Gate park and I’d highly recommend checking them out.

We closed out the day with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss and happily walked back to the downtown area feeling a bit more energetic than the night before. Plus, we had the pleasure of being informed that we’re sinners by some religious folks outside the park, always a good time.

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.

Outside Lands: Day Three

August 26, 2008

I intended to write this post yesterday but the three days of fantastic music soaked up all of my energy. I still can’t quite get over how special this festival was and I’ll be amazed if they can get as impressive of a lineup next year (hopefully San Francisco won’t object to having the festival again either).

I busted my ass Sunday morning to make sure I had enough time to blog about Saturday and still be able to get to the park before ALO started at 1. I managed to get there around 12:30 which was early enough to land me a spot right up by the stage. I first saw ALO when they opened for Jack Johnson at the Greek Theater, same concert they filmed A Weekend at the Greek at. Based off of the audience participation and how many people showed up for the show it seems like the band is building a good fan base, including myself.

Next up was Stars. I haven’t spent much time listening to Stars but they were at the same stage as ALO so I figured I’d give them a listen. There was a bit of conflict inside me because The Mother Hips were playing at the same time and I’m a fan of them and their lead guy Tim Bluhm. The Stars show wasn’t bad but in hindsight I wish I would have gone to The Mother Hips. But I did head out a bit early to get to the next show, Bon Iver.

Bon Iver (french for “good winter”) is one hell of an artist and performer. He wrote and recorded most of his first album during a four month stay in a hunting cabin in Wisconsin and it generated a very unique and fascinating feeling for the album. His shows feature a massive amount of percussion, sometimes played by every member in the band. I was shocked at how big the crowd was for his show and even more shocked at how involved they were.  I’ve never heard an audience sing like they did during the song The Wolves, it was really very amazing and something that will be difficult to experience again.

Because of Bon Iver I wasn’t able to catch the opening of Andrew Bird which is a bummer but a conscious choice. I’ve been listening to Andrew Bird since the release of Swimming Hour. His music is probably difficult for most people to really get into but it is well worth the effort. At his shows, Bird plays both a violin and an electric guitar, mixing them together quite skillfully with a looper.

After the Andrew Bird show my day hit a bit of a Lull for a while. Jack Johnson was the closing act for the day and I’m such a huge fan that I couldn’t stand the thought of not having a good spot, this didn’t come without some costs.

I was going to miss out on most of the Broken Social Scene set as well as all of Wilco. I’ve seen Wilco a number of times so I was able to deal with that loss. So I headed over to the Lands End stage where Jack would be playing in 2.5 hours. I was actually able to get shockingly close to the stage, especially when the act before Jack started to play and people shifted around. That act was Rodrigo y Gabriela and honestly I could have done without them.

Their set started out quite impressive and it’s obvious that both of them are quite talented but in my mind their set lacked depth. It was just the two of them on stage with acoustic guitars and it’s essentially an hour long jam session between the two of them. It’s an impressive jam session but that’s all it was. No lyrics and highly repetitive. The crowd was the most energetic when Rodrigo would work in some familiar chords from popular songs. I’m not sure, but this might tell you something about what sticks with people and what they want to hear. But don’t get me wrong, I respect their talent, it was just a bit much for me after 30 minutes.

After their set we had a 45 minute break until Jack came on. It was so crowded up in the front that during this time I couldn’t sit down or really even move but somehow the time managed to fly by.

Anyone that knows my musical tastes probably knows how much I love Jack Johnson. I’ve been listening to him since the beginning of his career and no artist resonates with me more than he does. His music has this fantastic ability of being laid back while delivering an amazingly powerful message and that mood is paralleled perfectly in his live performances.

Jack Johnson breaking out the electric guitar

Merlo Podlewski doing some freestyle rapping

Merlo Podlewski doing some freestyle rapping

Zach Gill up front with his accordion

Zach Gill up front with his accordion

This mood makes for a show that has a hard time going wrong. During the performance on Sunday there was this spider on Jack’s microphone that simply wouldn’t go away and as you can imagine, Jack was finding it hard to sing into this mic. But instead of letting it bother him he simply shared with us (in the middle of a song) what he was seeing and we all had a laugh. Being this playful with the crowd really seems to get people involved.

This involvement is what makes the live shows so powerful. Everyone sings, even those that truly suck at singing and it’s great. To have that many people together singing songs about what’s gone so wrong in this world as well as all the things that are so right is something that I find so comforting that it’s hard to express in words.

For me this is what life is all about, weekends like this. Like so many other things in our lives, most days go by without leaving any imprint in our memory. They tend to blur together into a stream of events rather than individual moments. But it’s the points in life that are jagged that you can’t forget. Moments that break your cycle and put you somewhere totally different for a while. This festival is one of those moments and because of that it’s something that will stay in my memory for as long as I have one. Thanks to everyone involved in the festival for breaking my cycle and the tens of thousands of others that also attended.

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.

Outside Lands: Day One

August 23, 2008

Yesterday was the first day of the first ever Outside Lands music festival and so far I’m having a blast.

I talked Evan into joining me for the day so we left for Golden Gate Park around 4pm.  Given that parking around the park is hard enough on a regular weekend we figured it would be exceptionally painful for this event.  However, we easily found a spot just four blocks south of the park off of 19th street.  That left us with about 20 blocks to walk but I was honestly expecting things to be worse.

As soon as I took my bag out of the car I realized something, I forgot my pass! How could I do such a thing. I managed to remember sunscreen, a flashlight, a blanket, two cameras, extra batteries and a water bottle but not the most important item. At first I wanted to drive back to my place and pick it up but Evan talked some sense into me. We figured it would be better to just buy a new ticket for the day and not miss two hours of the festival going to get mine.

During our 20 block walk, we thought up a few other ideas as well. The show wasn’t sold out so maybe I could pick up a ticket for less than face value. It’s also a big park so maybe there is a chance that I could sneak in, after all it wouldn’t even be stealing. But before we tried anything the plan was to see if they could just reissue my ticket.  After about 30 minutes waiting in line, a new ticket was in hand. Smiles all around.

First up we caught the end of Black Mountain who I’d never heard of but was really quite talented so I’m kind of disappointed that I didn’t get to see more of them. Next up we headed over to check out Manu Chao, another band that I didn’t have a chance to check out beforehand. We stuck around for a while but cut out early because Lyrics Born was going to be playing at the stage next door.

I love Blackalicious and Lyrics Born has worked with them and others on many occasions so I was excited to check them out. The show was fantastic, loud, packed with people, very energetic and all around entertaining. I was quite pleased that we cut out of Manu Chao early to get a good spot.

Next up was Radiohead, the headliner for the night. I’ve listened to Radiohead off and on but have never called myself a fan. But when I learned that they would be at the festival I figured that I needed to really sit down and listen to their albums. In the process I found myself really enjoying a number of the tracks from In Rainbows so I was quite excited to see them in concert.

Because we checked out Lyrics Born beforehand, we weren’t all that close to the stage which is a bit of a bummer because it was a pretty cool show. But the biggest bummer was that during the performance the audio completely cut out, twice. I’m curious what the cause was but thankfully the problem was resolved both times and the show continued.

Overall day one was a ton of fun and I can’t wait to get there today.