A Sunny, Rainy, Sweaty, Pushy ACL 2011

While last year’s Austin City Limits Festival is a blur of heat and dehydration for me, this year’s Fest had seemingly every type of weather imaginable along with massive crowds and the usual inspired live sets.

In fact, the first show I attended, Theophilus London’s Bud Light stage kick-off,featured a heavy dousing of rain. But that didn’t keep London’s performance from being one of my favorites from the past weekend. He emphatically breezed through hits like “Girls Girls $” and “Why Even Try,” all while owning the entire stage (and even flirting with the edge of the crowd) in a new pair of Black/Metallic Silver Air Jordan Vs.

From there, Friday was a mash-up of raucous Reptar (semi-experienced while eating some fried avocado tacos, as one must), the surfy Smith Westerns, a packed, expert set by the Cold War Kids and the theatricality of Mr. Kanye West. Having seen Ye’s show in Milwaukee earlier this summer, I was a bit disappointed to see what ended up being almost exactly the same set-list. However, West’s teasing rap of a few Watch the Throne verses (to crazy applause and screams) had me especially excited to see where the rapper’s performances go from here (ACL marked the end of his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy touring).

Saturday was likely my favorite day for two reasons. 1) Cowboy and Indian’s hometown set on the AustinVentures stage was packed, they had their full seven-piece band and the crowd was incredibly responsive. This local band has grown exponentially in the last year and I can’t wait to see them post-Fest. 2) I got to see a number of bands live for the first time, including Young the Giant, Iron and Wine and My Morning Jacket – all of which were fantastic. Sam Beam of Iron and Wine looked especially dapper in an all-black suit, and his low-key set fit the drizzly afternoon quite perfectly.

Saturday, therefore, proved to be the coolest of the three days, meaning that trekking across the grounds from stage to stage was quite pleasant and everyone at Zilker was simply happy to be outside enjoying the musical damp. The endlessly hyped live show of My Morning Jacket didn’t disappoint, especially since oft-covered and personal favorite “Golden” came early and emotional in the front half of the set. I felt bad for those who experienced Stevie Wonder’s sound issues instead of giving one of the best live (and otherwise) bands their due.

Finally, Sunday was exactly what most have come to expect from a day at ACL – hot, sweaty, tiring and yet still altogether magical. My first show of the day, the Head and the Heart at the Google+ stage, was perfect. Everyone in attendance clapped, danced and sang along to the band’s folksy harmonies, suggesting that THATH have truly had one of the most incredible years in recent indie music history. Having seen them three times at SXSW, they have grown even more confident and more popular in mere months. Next, I saw the Walkmen put on a great show on the massive AMD stage, then Chiddy Bang entertain a slew of neon-clad teens with his indie rock-sampling raps, and soon witnessed Fleet Foxes sound as angelic as ever with their harmonies wafting over a the Bud Light stage’s pre-Arcade Fire sea of flags, families and hipsters.

Getting to see Fleet Foxes and Arcade Fire back-to-back was a truly rare treat. Win Butler called Austin AF’s hometown in America, and the crowd responded by enthusiastically singing along to old and new favorites like “Wake Up” and “The Suburbs.” Overall, ACL 2011 was an unforgettable array of national and local, old and new, capped off by a band that is truly at the top of its game both in and out of the studio.

So, who else is ready to buy a ticket for next year? The Fest is set to inform email subscribers tomorrow of early bird specials, so make sure you keep your computer, iPhone or Android close.

– Brittany