Friday, September 14, 2007

Fest!


This weekend is the Austin City Limits Music Festival. It is a nearly all day affair running Friday, Saturday and Sunday, featuring multiple stages, a wide variety of musical acts, and of course, food.

What can you safely prepare, quickly sell and serve to 65,000 people who are likely to decide that THIS break between the 40 plus bands playing on 8 different stages is THE break to get lunch/dinner/a snack on any given day?

There are obvious limits. The restaurants featured vary from year to year but they are all local - no national chains. There are always burgers and some form of Tex Mex, generally one or more vegan offerings and always one place that is serving "healthy" fare.

Healthy? If you want to assure your health you stay the hell home in the first place.

The weather is hot - mid 90s at a minimum. You are in full sun most of the day. By Saturday afternoon, the park gets pretty dusty. You are allowed to bring in 2 liters of water to last you all day, and past that you are at the mercy of the assembled vendors. People are smoking all around you. Some cigarettes, some marijuana. If there is a breeze, no worries. If not, you are at the mercy of the strangers around you and how they choose to indulge their various habits.

The shaded seating area is a VIP only affair, which you can pay to qualify for, but it is away from the music stages. In years past there were some tables provided in the food vendors area, mostly of the Stand Around This variety - a platform for plates more than anything else, but nothing is available, much less possible to seat 65,000 at once.

There is one small stage out of the sun most of the day, and it provides gospel, funk, and a variety of world music and acts that defy easy categorization, but it is close to a wall of portapotties and off to one side of the food court, so it is more a travel-through space than a place to hunker down and enjoy.

There are two misting stations - giant oscillating fans with spray nozzles attached. These are naturally very popular, and I've been pleased to note a wonderful form of etiquette has evolved there. People, maybe because they are suddenly really COOL for the first time in hours, take their turns in the mist very politely. I've never noticed anybody seriously hogging a spot in front of a fan. The stations are whimsically named "Mister Mister" and "Sister Mister". Gotta love Austin, yeah?

A Fest experience for my family begins as whoever is attending tries to get a ride to the drop off point in our neighborhood, cutting the distance between here and Fest by fully half. This is followed by a saunter down towards Zilker Park - now within reasonable walking distance. You are gradually accompanied by more and more people, and you establish what personal space is tolerable in the heat with various carried chairs and packs. Depending on time of day and overhead sun, the point is not to melt before we can get inside, open our Approved to Bring In "factory sealed" water bottles, and pony up to buy that first cold beer.

There are Festival Protocols for acquiring beverages as well as food. Everyone in a group has to take their turn standing in line or sitting with all the stuff and waiting. Cell phone texting has made last minute inquiries (cherry lemonade or peach?) a snap. Pacing is crucial, and the Water/Beer/Water/Beer protocol is one my daughter and I developed the first year.

The beer lines are always long in the early to mid afternoon. The trick is to bring your water in, open a bottle immediately, so by the time you get your printed schedule, choose a stage, ride the line, score your beer and head out to claim a place to listen to whoever is closest to a favorite band or hopeful new favorite? If timed well, your first bottle of water finishes just as you are ready to sip that still cold beer and enjoy the first act you catch.

We determined a rotation between bottles of water and cups of cold beer will generally keep you happy and reasonably well hydrated without overly compromising your abilities to navigate ACL Fest's shifting Land of Counterpane. A challenging course of uneven park field covered by a constantly evolving haphazard human quilt of chairs, blankets, and towels, it requires skills similar to a crowded city sidewalk traverse. All that, with a full cup of precious cold liquid in hand subject to whatever spontaneous boogeying maneuvers the music calls out of you or your fellow walkers.

The inevitable food run requires Venn diagram coordination. You idle by Food Row early on to see what the choices will be. Out of those choices, you establish what folks WILL eat, and of those, you subset the lines moving reasonably quickly. If you are smart you have chosen food that is stand alone, temperature neutral and carried easily. The final criteria has to be how well it will sit in your stomach in the heat for the rest of your planned Fest stay because the prospect of portable restrooms shared amongst 65,000 people? Well, you can figure those hazards out on your own.

I will be back later in the weekend with a report on our food/beverage choices, as well as the bands we heard. I'll let you know if we are able to match up a meal with a particular act, like, say, gumbo with Garifuna. It's not easy, but we are a determined bunch in my family.

And, as we say here in Texas in response to anything we really like? WHOOOOOOOO!! See y'all at the Fest.

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