Carol Keogh of Autamata shares her experiences from the recent Austin City Limits festival.
Austin City Limits (ACL) began as a live music session for the Public Broadcasting Service in 1976. Aside from its regular service, ACL records a yearly session with a chosen band from the festival line-up, previously REM and Dolly Parton among other diverse luminaries; this year Ireland’s Swell Season was chosen. In recent years, Austin City Limits has been reinvented as a three-day outdoor music festival that takes place in the city’s Zilker Park. Autamata was invited to play in 2008 by music promotions agency, Famecast, having won a video competition on their website. The news came with an air of intangibility, but a few months and two exhausting flights later, we were actually there!
Start on the north side of the Colorado River, somewhere in the high twenties at the University of Texas. Walk southbound down Guadalupe, from the University stretch known as The Drag, and just as you hit the water find yourself at First, which runs from east to west across the city. Then cross the river and find yourself inexplicably on First again. This time running north/south. No help that the former is, technically, West First and the latter South First, because no one uses the directional qualifications in casual speech. Even a New York cabbie who has lived and worked here for ten years gets confused. Welcome to Austin.
Town Lake, the central reservoir that lets the city breathe and its citizens cool down, isn’t really a lake at all, but an artificially dammed-up section of the Colorado. And god knows it’s needed because this place is damn hot.
Average temperatures during the ACL festival, traditionally held during the month of August, were in the high thirties to early forties (for us celsius folk). That’s why they moved the date to avail of the more amenable September weather. It’s still demanding to be out at midday in thirty-plus heat, so we were blessed with so many willing listeners on the first of three long, hot days of music. The sun and sound were vertiginous and there was palpable good will in the air as people streamed into the grounds and toward the stage.
Ken’s stage plan for the Autamata ACL set
The stage manager, Redbird, was so impressed with this functional work of art that he pinned it up as a paradigmatic example. Ken had one final request of the gear hire company head, Monika – a back-up guitar in any colour but one. She went to the trouble of contacting Fender to see if they had an appropriate guitar for hire, hence Ken found himself with a sugar pink Fender Jazz offset with Miss Kitty logo. He was thankful that to have no need of it during the set.
After we left the Venture stage, we ventured off to the Dell tent where we were interviewed by a very enthusiastic man and got a graffitied laptop for our troubles.
Saturday saw us spidering our way through the spin enclosure, with PR aide, Erica. We talked at digital radio stations recording for posterity on mobile phones, website journalists with handicams, comms students with film cameras. Later we were taken to a place called ‘Beauty Bar’, by a Tex-Mexican called David whom we befriended. DJ Mel dealt out the virtual red shoes and we danced our feet sore to house beats cut with classic soul and 80’s pop.
Generally, over the weekend, band members splintered off to see who and what they wanted (I saw some of Jamie Lidell, tried and failed to get side-stage for Robert Plant and Alison Krauss), although we all convened on Sunday night for Beck. After, we headed back to the artists’ enclosure and waited for the after-festival party, which was in the piece of park previously designated VIP. They let us in, presumably because the genuine VIPs had long since disappeared. It was cold on an unprecedented level for Austin nights, but we were reluctant to leave while the free beer was still flowing, so I dressed in a green tablecloth for warmth and pretended I was Peig Sayers. We traded t-shirts with Chris Denny and band, who had played after us on the Venture stage and inherited our dressing room (prefab).
Among the other highlights we enjoyed were: the worldwide flagship Whole Food Store – an air-conditioned haven for holistic veggie consumers and the organically-oriented soy polloi; our warm-up performance to a corporate set in the outside space of a bar called The Belmont on the Thursday night before the festival – we were loud, people went upstairs; the buffet breakfast and chlorine-free pool at our first home from home, Habitat Suites; the bats under Congress bridge (Austin has one of the largest urban bat colonies in the world, and at dusk each evening they fly off in their millions to hunt, making for an extroardinary spectacle); kayaking on Barton Creek in the company of turtles, with the chrome and glass of city highrises in the distance; Dale Watson and the swing-dancing set at the legendary Continental Club; vintage shopping on South Congress and almost breaking the bank; Austin’s largest independent music store, Waterloo Records, racking our CDs; everything about Austin Motel, our second home; the warmth, intelligence and good humour of the Austin people on the whole, who pride themselves on their collective liberal conscience, their deep love of music and their tattoos. (Boy, would I have loved to have been there on 4th November. There must have been dancing in the streets!)
Austin is the only city I’ve ever been to where a partially lame, homeless lush offered me his leftover breakfast – see him there, seesawing down SoCo with the city’s motto tattoed behind his eyelids, winking unspoken words at you, “Keep Austin weird, man.”
Photos by Marie Smykova.