I’ve been eating at Chuy’s as long as I’ve been living in Austin. What do I eat? More often than not, the chile relleno-enchilada combo: cheese relleno with Hatch green chile sauce and a boom-boom enchilada. Green chile rice. Refried beans. Creamy jalapeno dip. Iced tea.
I’m not sure I could live outside the southwest anymore.
Another year, another Austin City Limits Music Festival, but this year’s ACL Fest was probably my favorite. A large part of that was the weather, which was October gorgeous. Warm, but mild days with cool nights. Fall is one of the reasons I live here. The ragweed was a problem for me, but that was far better than the year of dust, the year of extreme heat, or the year of mud. For once, the festival didn’t require any real feats of endurance and that made for a great weekend.
We arrived in the afternoon on Friday and saw a little bit each of Beach House and Spoon, but the next two bands were, for me anyway, the highlight of the festival: Sonic Youth and Phish.
Sonic Youth is my favorite band. I’ve seen them a number of times and Daydream Nation is my favorite album. Needless to say, I was thrilled to see them on such a glorious day. Their set was largely material from their recent album The Eternal, which hadn’t really grabbed me until I heard them play from it on Friday. I kept thinking, my god, this is good stuff, so I’ll certainly be giving that record a more careful listen. The highlight of the set was the two closing numbers, both from Daydream Nation: “The Sprawl” and “’Cross the Breeze,” the latter being my favorite SY tune.
Sonic Youth is one of those bands whose music requires careful attention, especially when they tear away from what most folks call music and venture into those dissonant soundscapes where chaos sounds so savagely beautiful and fearsome. These are moments when time can stop and the music truly transports me. Then the noise begins to coalesce and it seems as if I’m waking up inside a song, the one we left, but different now. Changed the way maps look different after you’ve explored the ground they represent. Listening to Sonic Youth is to remember that anything is possible and worth risking when it comes to art. It is freedom and energy and life played loud.
As if Sonic Youth wasn’t enough, just as their set ended Phish was getting started over on the other side of the park. We hustled over and were treated to the kind of show where it’s impossible not to dance. We used to see Phish every time they came through Austin back in the ‘90s, but it’s been at least ten years since they’ve been here, and I’d almost forgotten just how much fun a Phish show is. The played some of their classics (“Chalkdust Torture” and “You Enjoy Myself”) , “Backwards Down the Number Line” from Joy and some crowd-pleasing covers of Talking Heads and Velvet Underground tunes as well as a wonderfully funky “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” also known as the 2001 theme. After Phish, we called it a day.
Saturday we went down late as my allergies were really doing a number on me. The highlights for us were Silversun Pickups, a band we caught back in 2008. I really liked them then and they were even better this time out, especially since I’ve gotten to know their music over the past few years. After Silversun Pickups, we heard a little bit of The XX and then LCD Sound System came on and played an electrifying set as night settled over the park. We went home shortly after that, having decided that this was already the best ACL Fest ever (and I’ve been to all but the first one).
We went down late again on Sunday, which was for our group the least interesting day. The only must-see for us was The Flaming Lips. This was the first time I’ve seen them play, and it was a fun show, the band reveling in its weirdness, perhaps at the expense of the music, but it was still fun. Singer Wayne Coyne came out and rolled over the audience inside a giant beach ball during the intro. He sang one song while sitting on the shoulders of a guy in a bear suit. There were sing-a-longs and audience participation. The highlight, though, was the closer, a wonderful rendition of their song “Do You Realize” which opened the song up, expanding it and letting it fly, making it all the more moving and celebratory. As the song says, “happiness makes you cry,” and I’d say it could have possibly moved me to tears it was so good except the ragweed had already done that.
After the Lips finished, we turned our chairs to the Honda Stage to watch The National. They didn’t play the one song of theirs that I know (“Lemonworld”) but I enjoyed their set anyway. When they finished, we could hear The Eagles on the big stage across the park. I was torn about this. Our friends had an early flight back to St Louis, R and I had to work in the morning, and my allergies were shutting down my nose again. But it’s the Eagles. So we listened to a few tunes. “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Hotel California,” “Witchy Woman.” They sounded great and as a festival closer, they were a good choice, though I still say, Austin City Limits needs to get ZZ Top in here one year to close this thing down.
This was my eighth ACL Fest and it was probably my favorite. The weather was the best it has ever been, and Sonic Youth, Phish, Silversun Pickups and LCD Sound System were all phenomenal. Did I say the weather was amazing? It’s a shame they scheduled it for September next year. Oh, well, I’ll be there. It’s too good a weekend to pass up.
As much as I love fall in Austin, there’s still one part I never look forward to: the ragweed/fall elm gauntlet that gets me every year. Just as the weather turns nice and I’m ready to get outside and enjoy it a little, the autumn allergies have me running for the indoors. Some years it’s not so bad, but this year has seen especially high counts. According to the Statesman, yesterday’s count was the highest it’s been since they started keeping records in 1997.
It was back in the late ‘90’s that the Austin allergies finally got me. They get most everyone eventually, but for most people it’s the December/January cedar that gets their noses running and their eyes itching. I typically don’t feel the cedar unless it’s especially high. Still, live here long enough and you’ll develop allergies to something.
I visited an allergist about 10 years ago and got the full battery of tests. I asked, “What would be the most effective thing for me to do?”
He pulled down a map and pointed to Alaska. “Move,” he said. “Your allergies won’t give you problems in Alaska or…” He considered it a moment and then pointed to Florida. “Key West.”
I’m still in Austin, obviously. It’s only a month. Mid-September to late October and then just as fall really hits, my nose will clear, my eyes will dry and all will be good. I can’t win these battles with Mother Nature and so I just hibernate, limiting my outdoor time to short walks with the pups. And, of course, ACL Fest for which I will pay a hefty price next weekend when the ragweed gods will claim their pound of snot.
Well, look at that. We made us some art.
Last Friday, R and I took a painting class for adults at Marmalade Skies here in Austin. The class is called Pinot Picasso and it’s geared toward people who have never painted before. People like R and me. Actually, I have painted a few houses and I’m pretty good at it, but I don’t think it’s the same thing. At all. For one thing, this was fun.
The instructor was great, letting us explore and helping us out of holes all while talking about Roy Lichtenstein and his technique as well as general painting technique. We started with photographs—everyone else did people but she let us try dogs, which was new for her. In the end, much to our surprise, R and I had a couple of cool looking paintings of 2 of our favorite people (though I’ll need to go back and do one of Simon some time before he gets jealous).
What amazed me was how quickly the time went. How lost we both were in what we were doing. The instructor said, “We’re closing in 15 minutes,” and I looked around saw that it was dark outside and I had a nearly finished painting and an empty bottle of TopoChico in front of me.
I love making things, and even more, I love the act of making them. Most of what I make comes out in the form of pixels or food, but it was a thrill to make something I can hold and hold on to as I don’t do enough of that.
It’s the most fun I’ve had going out on a Friday night since I can remember, and I couldn’t wait to get home and show the dogs who weren’t interested once they realized they couldn’t eat the paintings.
The Pinot Picasso classes at Marmalade Skies at 183 and Anderson Mill in northwest Austin are held every Friday from 7-9:30, and each week they teach a different style of painting. We’ll be going back.
Want to make a fast friend by saving a greyhound in Central Texas? Check these pups out. Or go here to find a greyhound near you. You can also go here to find out why greyhounds are running for their lives.
If you have dogs who need proven leadership, go here to find a cat.
Most Wednesdays, Matthew over at Lonestarters posts an interview with a different Austin blogger. He recently asked me to respond to some questions and today, you can read my responses. The questions were really interesting and got me thinking about this whole blogging thing I’ve been doing these past few years as well as the history of Coyote Mercury—how I started and how it’s changed—as well as about writing in general. Go read it and while you’re there have a look around. Matthew is new to Austin and Lonestarters is the ongoing tale of his adventures of discovery within this wonderful town and it’s good stuff all around. Go say hi (or howdy).
The pictures are all from Friday evening and came off my iphone, so make of them what you will.
Friday – The Perfect Day
This was my 7th ACL Fest, which means I have spent 21 days at ACL Fest, and in all those days, last Friday was hands-down, the nicest day ever. We arrived around 2:00 to catch Medeski, Martin and Wood, and we were immediately thrilled by the sight of the gorgeous new lawn, all soft and green under our feet.
After some meat pies from Boomerang’s, we heard MMW’s set, which was as good as I had hoped it would be. That was the 2nd time I’ve seen them at ACL, and it was cool to see they warranted a larger stage this time out. After that, we headed over to see The Walkmen, who were good and then Phoenix, a band I really enjoyed. It was the largest crowd they’d ever played for, and the singer was very appreciative of the audience’s enthusiasm.
Afterwards, we were stopped in our tracks by Bassnectar opening with Pink Floyd’s “One of These Days (I’m Going to Cut You Into Little Pieces)” and stayed for a bit of his set. After that I caught a few songs of Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3’s before heading over to Thievery Corporation, which was the high point for Friday.
Post-Thievery, we caught the end of Them Crooked Vultures hard-rockin’ set before the Yeah Yeah Yeahs came on. I thoroughly enjoyed the Yeah Yeah Yeahs dramatic set and consider them the big discovery (for me) of ACL 09.
Saturday – The Day of Rain
Yup. It rained. It hasn’t rained at ACL Fest since 2003, and it wasn’t bad. I don’t mind standing out in the rain anyway as long as I’ve got my poncho. We arrived in time for Citizen Cope, who I liked, but when we went to the other side to see …and You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, I caught the end of Flogging Molly, a Pogues-ish Irish folk punk band, I wished I had come over earlier.
I was excited to see Trail of Dead as this is a legendary local band whose CDs I have and whose live show I’d never seen. They rocked as I hoped they would. Next up was Mos Def who came on half an hour late, but still put on a terrific show, rapping from behind a drum kit. The set culminated with some break dancing on the edge of the wet stage.
After Mos Def, the rain started coming even harder, triggering an exodus from Zilker Park. It let up shortly thereafter, a good thing since Sound Tribe Sector 9 turned out to be so good, jamming from the very back of a soggy stage so as to avoid electrocution. They were as good and electrifying as I remembered them from a few years ago, though with a little less funk and a little more hard-edged jazztronica along the lines of Particle. This is a good thing.
By the time Ghostland Observatory started, we had had as much rain as we could stand. We stuck around for a few tunes underneath the twisting Lasers, but left long before the Longhorn Band joined them onstage and went home where chili had been simmering in the crock pot all day long.
There is absolutely nothing in the world to make standing in the rain all day worthwhile like a few hot bowls of fresh homemade chili.
Sunday – The Day of Mud
I guess we were lucky. All the shows we intended to see were on the hill where there was still grass that hadn’t been tromped down to mud by the combination of 65,000 people and steady rain.
When we arrived on Sunday afternoon in time for the B-52’s, the weather was pleasant if a bit humid, but not enough to get in the way of enjoying the B-52’s who rocked their set and closed with a “Love Shack,” “Planet Claire,” and “Rock Lobster” trifecta.
I could have gone home after that, but we turned our chairs to the XBOX stage to listen to White Lies after which we turned the chairs again for Arctic Monkeys and then one more time for Passion Pit. All three of those bands were new to me and enjoyed them all, especially White Lies.
By now, it was time to go to the lower part of the park for Jack White’s latest project The Dead Weather. That’s when we saw the mud and, good lord, it looked awful. The lovely green beautiful grass from Friday was covered in an oozing sea of mud. Rather than venture out over that expanse we parked ourselves under a tree with some grass and listened to The Dead Weather from all the way back there. They were loud enough to hear. I enjoyed their heavy blues sound, and decided that The Dead Weather is probably my favorite of the various Jack White projects.
Being neither fans of mud nor Pearl Jam we left and called it a year.
On balance, this was probably once of my favorite ACL years. Weather-wise, I’ll take mud and rain any day over heat and dust. As to the music, once Sonic Youth and the Beastie Boys dropped out of the lineup, there wasn’t anything I was dying to see, which made it easy to just enjoy whatever was happening while discovering new things.
My favorites for the year? Thievery Corporation, The B-52’s, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, STS9.
There’s been a lot of griping about the mud and ruined grass and how long that part of Zilker Park will be closed for repairs to the lawn, but it will get repaired and the ACL Fest sponsors have said they will cover it. Had it not rained, the grass would have withstood the weekend. As it is, it’s probably still alive under that mud and soon The Great Lawn will look as gorgeous as it did on Friday.
After my visit to Hornsby Bend yesterday, I had a few minutes before meeting R for lunch.
I parked at Auditorium Shores, which is a good place to walk around and look at the ever-changing skyline except for the fact that the whole area smells like dog crap. Why can’t people just pick up after their dogs?
Avoiding the mines, I walked to the Stevie Ray Vaughn statue where I took this obligatory Austin photo.
Hard to believe I’ve been here longer than that statue and I’m only just now doing the Stevie-Ray-and-skyline shot. Maybe there’s something to be said for leaving things for oneself to do.
After the statue, I followed a small flock of Red-winged Blackbirds west for a few yards trying to get a closer shot of one.
I was pleasantly surprised to see them as I had hoped to see more than just the one at Hornsby.
Then one came right at me!
Aside from the red-wings, I also saw some Gadwalls, American Coots, Great-tailed Grackles, Rock Doves, and a Yellow-crowned Night Heron fishing on the far shore.
High above the night heron, one of the new condos was also visible.
Not bad for 20 minutes waiting around.
I left early this morning hoping that it wouldn’t be raining at Hornsby Bend, and despite a few quick showers on the toll road, it turned into a nice day with overcast skies and a steady cool breeze.
The egrets, herons and other waders I’d watched over the summer had all moved on, but the ponds were filled with ducks.
I saw hundreds of Northern Shovelers as well as a few Blue-winged Teal, Ruddy Ducks, and some Lesser Scaup. Along with the ducks, there were numerous American Coot and even a couple of Least Grebes.
I drove along the ponds, studying the ducks. The male Northern Shovelers are transitioning into their breeding plumage, which they do in November, so some of their breasts were a bit streaky.
Other than the ducks, I saw some flocks of some kind of sparrows (I think) that I couldn’t ID and a single Red-winged blackbird, which surprised me after the huge flocks of them I had seen over the summer.
Eventually, I decided to hike down the river trail to the lookout over the Colorado. I could hear Northern Cardinals and Carolina Chickadees, though I didn’t see either.
Walking along the trail, I spotted a few Carolina Wrens and a Northern Mockingbird as well as small brown birds that darted about, defying easy identification.
I watched the sky for hawks and eagles, but saw only vultures, both Turkey and Black. When I reached the river, a Double-crested Cormorant noisily flapped off away from the bank.
I didn’t see many more birds, but the trees looked especially good. There are three amazing trees that I always have to stop and look at and today, I had all my gear so I took a few pictures.
These are some of my favorite trees in Austin.
After taking this last picture, the wind picked up along with the kawing of a crow. I listened and a few more crows picked up the cry. I watched the sky and saw 3 American Crows hurrying towards a spot behind the tree I had been photographing.
Assuming they were mobbing, I looked around for a hawk and sure enough, I caught a fleeting glimpse of a hawk’s silhouette as he swooped out of the tree and towards the river.
By the time I got back to the car, the wind had picked up and it looked about to rain so I called it a morning and a good one at that.
I dragged myself away from (endlessly) hitting refresh on 538 long enough to enjoy last weekend’s ACL Fest. It was a good time. Our Galveston friends came in as usual, though they’d already been here most of the previous week due to Hurricane Ike, so in a way, ACL was kind of the last weekend of a good old fashioned hurricane party.
For once the weather was great. There was dust, though not like the lung-blackening filth permeating the air of 2005. It even got a bit chilly at night! The afternoon highs barely topped 90 making the whole thing so much easier than it has been in years when it gets to 108 and lingers in the upper 90s after dark. Here’s to the festival running a few weeks later in the month.
Offsetting the perfection of the weather was a lineup that was a little less exciting than previous years’.
On Friday we saw The Freddy Jones Band, M. Ward – both at the WaMu tent, though I guess by the time we showed up it had become the JP Morgan Tent if not in name than in fact. Hot Chip was next, an upbeat group that sounded like they’d grown up on New Order. That is high praise.
The highlight of the day, and for me the festival, was David Byrne. I grew up on the Talking Heads and they’re still one of my favorite bands, though I never got to see them except for a performance in 1991 when they played without Byrne – good, but not right. Byrne was amazing. He played some new material, but what really got the crowd excited were his trips back to Fear of Music and Remain in Light. Not just two of my favorite Heads albums, but two favorite albums. They played “Life During Wartime,” “The Great Curve,” “Houses in Motion,” “Once in a Lifetime,” “I Zimbra,” and my favorite, “Crosseyed and Painless.” I couldn’t have asked for a better show. With the sun setting at my back and the cool night settling over Zilker Park, I was in Heaven, amazed by how brilliantly those tunes, that style, hold up after all these years.
After Byrne, we caught Alejandro Escovedo’s set, which made me wonder why on earth I’ve never gone to one of his shows before. We ended with Manu Chao.
Saturday was good. Had I skipped it to watch UT paste Arkansas, though, it wouldn’t have been a loss. For me. It still would have been a loss for Arkansas. We saw The Nachito Herrera All-Stars, who were quite fun. Then John Fogerty for the CCR love, the Black Keys and finally Robert Plant & Allison Krauss, a good set, though I had to be told which songs were the Led Zep ones.
Sunday we enjoyed Gillian Welch, the Silversun Pickups, a taste of Blues Traveler, a band I’ve tried to like many times, but never quite “got:” A little of The Raconteurs and finally Galactic, whose set started late, but was, as usual, very good. We left before the Foo Fighters. I’ve seen them before and as a friend remarked after that show, “Oh, well, whatever, never mind.”
All in all, a good year. It was too light on good jazz and jam bands, and there were no great revelations like Gotan Project, Husky Rescue, Black Angels or Calexico, all bands I had discovered in years past. Still fun, though, and the weather was mercifully cool.
Next year, it’s in October. How cool is that?