ACL Fest 2009 - Livestrong Stage

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.

ACL Fest 2009 - Sunset 1

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.

ACL Fest 2009 - Fish Flag

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.

ACL Fest 2009 - Sunset 2