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Concert Review: Austin City Limits Music Festival 2009: Day One

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Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL) is a three-day-long music extravaganza and general hippie-fest, located in Austin, Texas. It's a huge event, taking place in the 46-acre Zilker Park and playing host to hundreds of thousands of people (no, really, last year there were 218,000 people that attended). I'm going to all three days of this year's event, and bringing super-special coverage directly to you!

Here's how the first day went down:

11:15 AM – Nelo, BMI Stage

Nelo (pronounced like "jello") wasn't originally on my schedule of bands I wanted to see today. I'm mostly focused on the big names – there are a lot of great bands here that I've never had the chance to see live, and I don't want to waste that opportunity. That being said, I arrived at the festival a little earlier than I'd intended, and these guys sound pretty good. They're a fairly standard rock/jam band, not unlike the Dave Matthews Band, cranking out some very chill, relaxing music for the folks that have gathered in front of the stage. There's a definite country influence in their music – more Wilco than southern rock, and it comes off quite nicely.

Another thing – everyone in front of me is standing, but that's not what ACL is about. ACL is about sitting in the grass and pretending to be a hippie while listening to good music. That's what I think, anyway.

12:00 PM – The Bright Light Social Hour, Dell Stage

These guys were the winners of Dell's "Sound and the Jury" competition, earning the opening position at the Dell stage this morning. Technically they went on at 11:45, but I'm just now getting over here after grabbing lunch – a pulled pork sandwich from Stubb's, one of the many local restaurants to host a food stand over in the Eats section.

The Bright Light Social Hour has a heavy groove/funk rock sound, over which they like to combine falsetto backups with bombastic lead vocals. Playful instrumental combinations like a bouncy piano backbeat paired with a wailing guitar performance make their sound unique. There's probably some personality coming into play as well; at one point, the lead singer yelled, "Y'all got up early, make some noise!"

On a side note, my friend and I picked out a strategic spot almost directly situated between the Dell stage, where the Bright Light Social Hour is playing, and the Livestrong stage, where the School of Seven Bells is about to go on in a few minutes. When Bright Light finishes, we're rotating 180 degrees to watch SoSB. Couldn't be simpler.

12:30 PM – School of Seven Bells, Livestrong Stage

I don't have a ton to say about School of Seven Bells, other than that their performance was highly enjoyable in a quiet, almost meditative sort of way. They create waves of sound, complex and layered. Additionally, they make use of female vocals, which I think have something of a haunting tone to them. The song "Iamundernodisguise" was a standout, with absolutely fantastic vocals and a more energetic quality than other songs they played.

1:30 PM – Blitzen Trapper, Dell Stage

You know how I mentioned that all I had to do in between the Bright Light Social Hour and School of Seven Bells performances was rotate 180 degrees? I did the exact same thing for Blitzen Trapper, and that makes me a bit proud, if misguidedly so.

Blitzen Trapper is wide-ranging Americana that draws from a variety of influences and musical styles. They pull out harmonica and banjo on several songs, and always have great vocal performances, with boatloads of nice harmonizing. Fan favorites like "Gold For Bread" and "Lady On The Water" were played beautifully, and some newer songs like "Silver Moon" also made an appearance.

My favorite part? When this line was said: "We're from Oregon. We're going to do a song about Oregon."

2:30 PM – The Avett Brothers, AMD Stage

First of all, it should be noted that only two of the four men performing on stage are actually brothers. Scott on banjo and Seth on guitar are both Avetts, but bassist Bob Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon have no relation.

Secondly, I would like to point out that these guys are making some seriously good folk music. The lineup is pure strings – guitar, banjo, cello, bass – until it isn't. Then Seth might switch from guitar to keyboard, or maybe drums. Also, they are bouncing, and seem prone to bouts of uncontrollable hopping. If Seth isn't playing drums at the time, Scott is often stomping on the pedal of a bass drum that been set up next to him, pounding out the sort of pulse you can't possibly ignore.

I'm told they've got a new album that was just released this past week called I and Love and You. Rest assured I'll be getting a copy.

4:30 PM – Coheed & Cambria, Livestrong Stage

I had every intention of dropping by the Dell Stage again and seeing Dr. Dog, but the Avett Brothers' performance spilled over into the slot that Dr. Dog was scheduled to play and I couldn't bear to leave before they had completely stopped playing. Incidentally, that gave me time to grab a couple of fish tacos from the stand that the aptly-named Wahoo's Fish Tacos is running. The tacos are a bit cold, but that's actually welcome in the Texas heat.

I have no particular feeling of guilt in confessing that I didn't exactly pay close attention to Coheed & Cambria's performance. Simply put, the spot I laid claim to was far enough away that the sound was a little muffled. Pair that with a very warm sun, and I decided the best course of action would be to take a nap, which is exactly what happened for the next half-hour or so. I vaguely remember hearing them playing, and in particular woke up for "Welcome Home," which is one of those songs that anyone can enjoy without actually liking the artist who recorded it.

5:45 PM – K'naan, Wildflower Stage

I left Coheed & Cambria's performance twenty minutes earlier in order to get a better spot to see K'naan. Unfortunately, the tent in which the Wildflower Stage is located is already jam-packed with people. On the other hand, the man of the hour didn't disappoint, delivering energetic and heartfelt songs about life growing up in Somalia, his country of birth. Multiple songs were performed as acoustic-only pieces, lending to the cozy atmosphere that ACL already creates. The song "Somalia" in particular was performed wonderfully, both acoustic and in the original version from his first album The Dusty Foot Philosopher.

K'naan had such a hold on the crowd that at one point, we were all belting out the chorus to "Waving Flag," singing, "When I get older / I will be stronger / They'll call me Freedom / Just like the waving flag." That was a special moment, and it made K'naan's set easily the best of the day for me.

6:30 PM – John Legend, AMD Stage

This is where things get a little hairy. I missed the beginning of John Legend's set because of K'naan's running a little long, then ran into some friends who were going to grab dinner before the last two shows of the evening. Those two things meant that I only caught about fifteen minutes in total of John Legend's performance. Thankfully, they were a good fifteen minutes, filled with hit songs like "Ordinary People" and "I Can Change." I would've liked to have stayed longer, but by that point my stomach was demanding food.

7:30 PM – Them Crooked Vultures, Xbox 360 Stage

Seeing Them Crooked Vultures was a pleasant accident which only happened because of meeting up with friends. I'd intended to see Andrew Bird (and a small part of me still wishes I had), but Them Crooked Vultures were no poor substitute.

First of all, they definitely count as a super-group. Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters and Nirvana is on drums, Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal is handling vocals and lead guitar, and John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin is playing bass and keyboard. These guys have put together a seriously heavy-hitting sound, despite only officially existing for a few months now. If what I heard tonight was any indication, they've got something good going.

8:30 PM – Kings of Leon, Livestrong Stage

Okay. I've been at Zilker Park for something like ten hours now, and Kings of Leon is the headlining band for tonight. That means that everybody and their mom is cramming into one single section of the park, in front of the Livestrong Stage where the Kings are playing. Since I was over at Them Crooked Vultures, I'm standing approximately half a kilometer away from the stage. No joke, I've got a people-talking-to-band-playing sound ratio of about 80/20. Yes, that many people were still talking during a Kings of Leon concert. No, I didn't hear very much music. I tried – really I did – but after about half an hour of not hearing from much from the stage, I decided to call it a day.

That's how the first day went. I'm currently tired as anything, sunburned despite using SPF 70 sunscreen, and ready to crash. With tomorrow comes another day of ACL, this time with rain in the forecast and a 90% chance of mass insanity.

For more immediate news than these daily reduxes, follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/BrianMurff.

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  • Truth

    Really?? you fell asleep during coheed? DUDE you are so lame.. if you aren’t gonna try to get close go home and cry you suck at rating concerts

  • profadrock

    This review is mostly “I missed it” or “I couldn’t get close enough to hear it”…The best review was of the fish tacos…Lame…