Sunday, September 16, 2007

On the second day of Fest

My daughter brought to me:
One cup of cold beer,
two bottles of water,
three friends to hang with,
and a Hudson's crunchy chicken cone (cut the pear tree).

Festgoers, like cities, have their limits. Yesterday, for instance, my very intelligent husband realized that not only were the temperatures climbing way past his "outside unprotected" comfort zone, but the music acts listed were similarly outside any "I'd willingly sit in the heat to listen to these guys" parameters.

In the truly friendly spirit that Texans consistently demonstrate, my husband opted to give his wristband pass to my daughter to give to one of her friends, a younger guy with musical tastes and temperature tolerances better met by this weekend's forecast and schedule. This freed my spouse up to perform the invaluable drop off/pick up services, for which I hopefully have expressed appropriate gratitude.

Saturday found the Fest heating up, temperature wise if not musically. There were clouds, big ones, but somehow they all managed to hang around the perimeter of the park, rarely getting in between the sun and the fans. The bands listed were not such outright favorites of anybody's but that's partly the reason to be there. To find those New Favorites.

The first act we caught was on the Austin Venture stage, which neatly places the artists with the sun at their back, and yup, in our faces. The only reasonable thing to do under those circumstances, is to look at whoever it is up there for a few minutes and then batten the hatches, lower the umbrellas, sit back and listen.

Umbrellas are great at blocking most of the sun and don't hamper sound waves at all. So YAY for umbrellas allowing us to enjoy St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark, in the near triple digit heat-indexed afternoon. Annie is a singer/songwriter from Dallas who had her ACL debut this week. Annie's music is deceptively sweet sounding but when the lyrics begin to sink in, the depth and sometimes pain behind her light tonality can be a startling juxtaposition. Her sound is not as well served in the large open setting of the park, especially when competing with the pulsing bass lines from the other stages, but this young artist is a comer, and we will all be hearing a lot more from her in the future. Which is a very good thing.

After acclimating to the heat somewhat, and yeah, downing that first beer, we hit our water bottles and wound our way across the fields to the AT&T stage to hear the second Marley son offered this week, Stephen. Whereas Ziggy Marley sang his own tunes Friday, Stephen reprised a lot of their father's music and sounds uncannily like his Dad.

It came as no surprise then to see a heavy contingent of ElderHips up out of their chairs, eyes closed, arms in the air, bobbing and weaving to the tunes. It was a musical version of the WayBack Machine. What was a little surreal in the midst of all that elder bliss was watching a steady stream of middle and high school students who'd been way up in front by the stage, leaving 15 minutes prior to the end of the set, all apparently heading wherever to hear whoever, en masse. BabyHip wannabe lemmings wandering past their own ElderHip future selves, mutually oblivious.

[Sidebar: These middle and high school students looked painfully young. It was fascinating to watch them self consciously picking their way through the crowd. I'd have told them "It's OK - people are here for the music, nobody's watching you" but that wasn't entirely true. I was watching.

I always watch. People fascinate me. I don't think most people there yesterday were so much watching other people as they were there to be watched. Most of the crowd I saw behaved in ways that communicated a sense of oblivious isolation in the midst of so many others.

I am a little jealous of that ability. Honestly? Crowds rattle me. Walking in to ACL Fest there is always the point where I hit my personal anxiety hurdle, which I must confess is part of what propels me to the Bar Booth to get that first cold beer before finding a spot in what's left of the grass in front of any particular stage.]

So, the parade of pre-end of Marley set youngsters out of the way, we turned our attention, and shifted our spots in the grass, towards the Dell Stage, to enjoy Zap Mama.

At this point my daughter began a series of cell phone texts that were steps along the way to helping several of her friends find us in the confusion that is Fest.

Another protocol begins. There is the distant early warning text, indicating that they are "nearly in". There is the reply text stating the stage/act we are enjoying. There is the "we're here where are you?" text which garners the more specific coordinates meant to give anybody looking a high probability of finding our one laid out towel, pack, cooler and umbrella in the mass of chairs, blankets, standing and walking bodies around us.

There are folks all over Fest planting tall poles sporting various flags, some with large mylar balloons, part of that meant to be fun and most of it meant to help people find each other in the park. When you are directing somebody to where you are, you begin by lining yourself up with whichever of the 8 stages you are closest, to, and then any other stable landmarks around the perimeter. You fine tune that with descriptions of whatever flags/balloons you are closest to, in hopes there aren't duplicates to lead your friends astray.

This can be very interesting when the flags or balloons are not standardized university, NFL team or recognizable shape type offerings. Yesterday the folks closest to us had a flag that for all the world looked like what would happen if a United Farm Workers flag had been re-designed by a Michigan Wolverines fan.

We had a problem with that last year. Calling your friends in to within waving range requires cell phone conversations so you can transmit information in real time, a tricky thing when bands are playing, which they are more often than not. That is, after all the point of a music festival. Or mostly the point.

Texting is great when it works, but from time to time the system gets a little bogged down and you can go for a spell with nothing and then suddenly get 5 texts at once. So trying to talk over the music is required, and past that, if you are not thinking to be very specific, you end up with conversations that run like this...

"We are in front of the AT&T stage."
"OK - so am I".
"We're just to the west of the frog balloon".
"You can't be - I am standing next to the guy with the frog balloon and you aren't HERE.".
"Guy? What guy? It's a girl holding the balloon, not a guy."
"Wait - what color is your frog - this guy is holding a brown frog.."
"Oooooh - noooo - this frog balloon is GREEN - wait - I see the brown frog now - we are closer to the bar booths from your frog guy - I am waving - do you see us?".

Happy ending yesterday - everybody found us relatively easily, and we all enjoyed Zap Mama thoroughly. I'm hard pressed to describe her music, it is loosely classified as "world", but it is highly textured, very nuanced, elements of afro cuban, hip hop, a blend of urban and root music that really defies narrowing down. It was an intense sound that matched the afternoon's heat well. We had fun just listening, and then suddenly it was 7 PM and we realized we were starving.

For our second Fest Dinner my daughter had already made a food recommendation on advice from a friend so it was not a question of what, but rather of who would go. Long story short, two went out to procure the eats, another made a beer run, and I got to sit and hold down the towels, er, fort, and watch everybody's stuff. I enjoyed strains of the very mellow Damien Rice while doing so, and was simultaneously treated to the release and relief of the setting sun, along with the softer tones of his ballads.

My daughter's friend's food nod was right on and we were all totally impressed by the ballyhooed ACL Hot and Crunchy Chicken/Avocado Cones brought to us from the Hudson's on the Bend booth.

Yum. They were indeed hot, crunchy, and absolutely delicious. Add to that the opening strains of the Indigo Girl's set from the stage to our right in lieu of dessert, and I was much, much closer to fine.

So ended Day Two of ACL Fest 2007. More music, more friends, more beers, more heat, more fun food. What's not to like?

Sunday may include a run by Fest's souvenir shop for a T-shirt. As this is potentially my daughter's last September living in Austin for the foreseeable future, it feels some effort should be made to walk away from the Fest this year with something more than ringing ears and a sunburn to substantiate, materialize, embody our memories. I have always been a fan of the souvenir article of clothing to remember a fun time shared. Yes, there are photos, but you can't throw a photo on when you are living 8 states away and missing your family and your home town.

Whether or not we shop, we will be there for one last round of music, sun, fun and food. I'll be back sometime tomorrow with a report - a wrap up of sorts, and then we will settle down to the next serious business on our culinary horizon - determining a menu for my daughter's 24th birthday feast to be prepared by our familial super chef - her brother.

See that's the thing about shared food experiences. If you only work just a little bit ahead? The fun never has to end....

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