For those about to rock: ACL, Weekend 1 recap


Vampire Weekend by Cambria Harkey

I went to ACL last weekend, and it was everything I expected it to be – both good and bad. I wanted to collect a few of my random thoughts to prep everyone going this weekend, in hopes of you having the best time you possibly can.

The band you already love will put on your favorite performance of the weekend.

My two favorite records of the year so far have been Modern Vampires of the City and Trouble Will Find Me, and thus it should surprise no one that Vampire Weekend and The National put on two of my favorite performances of the festival. (Though it was surprising to me how little the uber-young crowd cared about the songs off of Modern Vampires.) I imagine this will hold true across the board. If Grouplove is your favorite band, it will be your favorite show. You just can’t be objective, and neither can I.

A corollary: The band you already love will put on your favorite performance of the weekend because you will be close to the stage.

I mention Grouplove because I caught 20 minutes of them and it was a terrible experience. Not because the band was terrible; they were pretty good. Instead, it was the crowd I was in. I was about halfway through the crowd because I knew I wanted to leave in order to catch Franz Ferdinand. I could see that the front of the crowd was engaged and enjoying the show, but surrounding me were people staring at their cell phones, crowds of friends talking and drinking and endless older people in chairs. It was a terrible environment in which to see a band. So if you care even a little bit about the music you’ve paid to see, make sure to get as close as you can to the stage. Otherwise the crowd will ruin it for you.


Kendrick Lamar by Dave Mead

None of these rules apply to Kendrick Lamar.

Kendrick Lamar was the one act that seemed to have a gravitational pull over anyone in his line of sight. No matter where you stood in that sea of people, your eyes were glued on Kendrick. It was the most packed, most engaged crowd of the weekend, and it was entirely worth the price of admission.

The Austin Ventures stage is horribly located.

It’s very convenient to walk by the Austin Ventures stage, or to eat at the food court and listen to the artist that’s there. But it is so close to the other stages (especially the Lady Bird and Honda stages) that the musicians are often drowned out. This happened in the most disrespectful way imaginable to Neko Case on Sunday night. It was impossible to focus on her music with the insanely loud Atoms for Peace on one side, and Phoenix on the other. And I was standing next to the sound booth. How Neko’s band managed to stay together is beyond me. It was one of my most embarrassing moments. I was embarrassed that my city would put a genius artist in such a humiliating position.

A corollary: ACL tries too hard to be everything to everyone.

There are eight stages at ACL. There are five stages at Coachella, which covers roughly the same acreage as ACL. There are seven stages at Bonnaroo, which covers over twice as much ground as ACL. ACL has bitten off more than any other festival tries to chew by packing so much into so little. And they pay a price for that.

The eight stages leads to constant movement by many participants, which makes the park feel completely unnavigable at times. Those eight stages also house a wider array of music than any other major festival. Gospel bands? Kids bands? Eric Church, Franz Ferdinand and Lionel Richie on the same stage? That isn’t eclectic; it’s schizophrenic. Every other major festival has an identity. Coachella doesn’t bring in one or two electronic dance artists (like ACL does – this year it’s Kaskade and Paper Diamond!), they devote a whole tent to the genre!

ACL’s identity is to try to do it all. There are high schoolers and graying grandparents, and while there is some charm in that, it logistically leads to a chaotic time with the teens running around everywhere and the parents sitting in one spot all day. That is a recipe for traffic jams, pushing and shoving, hurt feet and hurt feelings. It’s a festival that I could bring my kids, my parents and my teenage cousin too…except that who wants to do all of those things at once?

If they tightened up the number of stages (and thus cut down on the number of acts), they would save money on paying bands, they would give people more room to roam and they wouldn’t be so classless and disrespectful to the artists that get drowned out in the process.

The food is amazing.

ACL has the best food I have ever encountered at a festival. There is a proliferation of local restaurants that come out for the event, and it represents our city quite well. I had food from the Noble Sandwich Co., Chi’lantro, and Stubb’s BBQ, among others – brick-and-mortar and food trucks are all super well-represented.

There’s nothing quite like experiencing your favorite music with thousands of other people who love it.

Music consumption has become a relatively solitary activity, and to be surrounded by tens of thousands of people rocking out to the music you usually only hear in your headphones is pretty fucking cool. It’s about connection, and ACL certainly fosters that – for better and worse. Be sure to soak that in this weekend.

Random thoughts about the music:

– Depeche Mode are fucking pros at commanding a stage. The Cure rode on the coattails of their hits.
– Purity Ring is a band that I will see live anywhere, anytime.
– My biggest regret is not seeing JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound in the tent.
– Foxygen were an hysterical train-wreck. Completely worth seeing, if only for the batshit insane banter. (The great music is an added bonus.)
– Haim also had great banter, but it’s clear that they’re still getting used to this massive crowd thing.
– Shout out to locals Bright Light Social Hour, who drew a strong crowd in the face of Kendrick Lamar, and managed to hold their own sonically despite the close proximity of their stages.
– Avoid Lady Bird stage as much as possible. While it has some of the best bands, it had by far the worst crowds.

– Carter Delloro