In a rare display of spontaneity, Thane and I bought tickets to the first weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival. He'll tell you that it was a matter of him expressing mild interest and me running with it, but the truth is, he was fully on board. Honestly, all I was doing was trying to satisfy my curiosity about how to get tickets to the ACL TV show tapings. When I saw there was not only a whole music festival, but that it coincided with our 22nd wedding anniversary, I couldn't resist. I contacted a friend who had the inside line on cheaper weekend passes, reserved hotel rooms, bought plane tickets, and voila - all we had to do was wait six months.
Fast forward to October 1st and see us aboard flights to Austin, Texas, our first trip to the second-largest state. I have to admit, I kept wanting to have Alaska paraphernalia on display - a "Tough Alaska Chick" t-shirt, an Alaska flag, anything that indicated Texas is the second largest state.... It's probably a good thing I didn't such items. Alaska's making it's inroads, nonetheless - we were surprised to see Alaska Brewing Company beers frequently for sale, including as one of the featured beers at ACL.
I'd planned a free day before ACL started to poke around Austin a bit, or, as Thane likes to say, dragging him on a death march all over Hell's half acre. At least this time the image was partly right - at 92+ degrees, it felt a bit like Hell to us poor Alaskans. I firmly reject the notion, however, that I ever drag him on a death march. Leisurely strolls are more like it, even if they do last for miles.
We took a hotel shuttle into downtown Austin to the capitol buildings. We strolled (no death marching) around the grounds for a bit looking at the variety of monuments and inexplicable plaques. Apparently a restoration of the grounds was completed in 1996 which took them back to how they supposedly looked around the turn of the 20th century. Monuments and landscape alterations which had been placed after that were removed. I found it more than a little odd that rather than just leaving the monuments, they were instead replaced by plaques which tell visitors what used to be at that site. What's the point?
One monument in particular caught my attention, not because of how it looked, but because of what it said. It had been erected in honor of Confederate soldiers who'd died during the Civil War (as the victors called it). The plaque below (you should be able to click on the second photo to enlarge it so you can read it) presents views of history, characterizations of the North and South, and a picture of the conflict that separated them which were certainly novel to me. I love running into random things like this that give me cause to pause and think. How different my world view would be if I hadn't had the privilege of living my whole life in Alaska.
After an hour in the Capitol Visitor's Center learning about why the current capitol building was constructed in the mid-1800s (primarily a matter of Texan pride as politicians were embarrassed by their plain little capitol after visiting those in other states), how it was paid for (a land grant as the state had no cash but had lots of land), and why it was built of local red granite rather than Indiana white marble (more local pride, not to mention cost savings) we were museumed out. We didn't even actually to into the capitol building. We considered walking north a mile or so to the LJB Presidential Library and a couple of other local-history museums, but hunger and heat got the better of us. Instead, we wandered south towards lunch and the Congress Street bridge.
The area south of the bridge over Lady Bird Lake is now known as SOCO - South Congress. The area had been recommended to us as a place to get a feel for "old Austin," as well as find cute shops. Maybe we missed something vital, but what I mostly saw was a run down neighborhood that didn't have much to offer this tourist. We did indulge in fabulously rich ice cream at Amy's, a place that had been recommended to Thane, and spent some time poking around in a gift shop that specialized in stone jewelry (turquoise, jade, etc.) and Mexican art that leaned heavily toward Dia de los Muertos. We also laughed at the suggestive Austin Motel sign, and looked longingly at the ivy-covered grounds of another little hotel whose name I missed. With not much else to see, we were more than ready to join friends for excellent barbeque and beer.
Finally, it was Friday - time to enjoy some music: 130 bands on 8 stages for 3 days. What more could we ask for?
Going into this extravaganza, we had tried to peruse the list of acts and choose some we wanted to hear for sure. Unfortunately, of the 130 bands, we'd heard of maybe three: Eminem, Pearl Jam, and Beck. Not entirely our cup of tea, although we did end up enjoying the Beck concert. As a result of our ignorance, we were forced to make choices based on written descriptions and occaisonal sample soundtracks. More than once I commented that it was like the line from Billy Joel's "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me": There's a new band in town/But you can't get the sound from a story in a magazine...
Luckily for us, the Zilker Park grounds were compact enough that we could wander from stage to stage easily. Don't like Iggy Azalea's brand of pop? Squeeze your way through the crowd (the one around her was the worst we had to push through) and settle in to listen to Asleep at the Wheel or Trombone Shorty. I tended to veer away from the groups whose driving bass beats threatened to forcibly change my heart rhythm, and instead focused on the ones to whom I could boogie. While there were a lot of bands we didn't care for, there were enough we liked that we always had something to listen to. We managed
Honestly, though, my favorite part was the people watching. Holy cow, I haven't seen so much bare skin in one place ever, even on a beach. Mostly it was the women. Girls in shorts so short their butt cheeks hung out. And I know Madonna made a statement with it, but since when did it become okay for one's bra to be an integral part of one's fashion, sometimes the only other clothing accompanying the butt cheek-showing shorts? It still bothers me if my bra strap shows. I guess I'm just showing my age.
I stopped at one point to just look around and be amazed by all the colors massed together. I especially loved the variety of flags people used to mark where they'd left their camp chairs or carried around with them just to make some sort of statement. I was again wishing we'd had a big Alaska flag to hoist over our chairs.
I really don't know what to say to convey the feel of ACL. With 75,000 people expected to attend each day, I think Thane and I both expected to be totally overwhelmed by crowds, but with the exception of trying to escape the Iggy Azalea fans, we really always had plenty of breathing room. It was hot, but a constant wind blowing kept that mostly tolerable, and having camp chairs to collapse in helped a lot, too. Thane found respite in a pomegranate shaved ice each afternoon, and I discovered the last day the delights of Redd's Apple Ale (totally light and refreshing).
Perhaps it would help if I shared a list of things we were surprised about:
- the aforementioned displays of skin and questionable fashion sense
- alcohol (beer and wine) was readily available and could be carried throughout the grounds; no "adults only" areas were set aside
- despite alcohol being everywhere, very few people were obnoxiously drunk
- the grounds were kept very clean - trash cans were used, and recyclables collecting was encouraged by giving a free t-shirt to anyone who brought back a full bag of recyclables collected at the event
- we saw and smelled several groups smoking pot, but not nearly as many as we might have expected
- I saw more cigarette smokers that I expected - apparently we northerners are wising up faster than southerners
- band and ACL t-shirts and other paraphernalia were for sale, but no CDs or other forms of music - I was somewhat shocked
Would I go again? Maybe. I don't think I'd make a special trip to Austin just for ACL, but if friends really wanted us to go with, I'd be willing.
Before I let you go, I have to tell you about the final thing I really wanted to do in Austin: go bats. No, I mean see the bats. Austin is known for having hundreds of thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats, and I really wanted to see them. On our last night, we wandered down below the Congress Street bridge where the majority roost. After waiting an hour and a half, well past full dark, they finally started to fly. It was rather like looking at one of those optical illusion pictures where you can't really look at the picture, but instead have to focus in front of it to see the image. In this case, what I ended up looking for was the glint of street lights off these tiny mammals. They were almost too small and fast to see themselves, but if I focused just right I could see streams of them darting out from under the bridge. Bat houses on our property will be coming next year for sure.