The tenth annual Austin City Limits music festival took place over the weekend. Approximately 70,000 people listened to 125 bands on 7 stages for 3 days. The diverse lineup featured headliners Arcade Fire, Coldplay, My Morning Jacket, Kanye West, and Stevie Wonder.
The 7 stages were strategically placed throughout Austin’s Zilker Park. The staggered set times allowed most of the attention to easily shift as the performances volleyed to adjacent stages. However, when an acoustic-based act contended with a louder band, the audience was reminded how close the stages were. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings tried to pick their way through a feedback-spattered set against Cee Lo’s bass thumping concert. As Welch described it, “This is the closest music gets to being a competitive sport.”
Some acoustic-based bands were able to give stellar performances unhindered by the bleed-through of 4 or 5 bands playing at the same time in confines of the large open space park. The Cave Singers grinded their way through their dirge-folk with energetic precision. Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam crooned to a rain soaked crowd as the eclectic ensemble gave a full sound to his folk music.
The Texas heat was cooled by rain each day of the festival. The state’s drought, which brought 100 degree temperatures the previous week in Austin, was temporarily soothed by light rain on Friday and Sunday. It rained most of the afternoon on Saturday. The cloud coverage made nearly perfect conditions for the outdoor festival.
Aside from the interfering noise of cramming 7 stages into one 350-acre park, there were few logistical or auditory issues. The sound would occasionally waft in and out with the wind creating an unusual Doppler effect, as can happen at any outdoor show. Unfortunately, this was most noticeable during two headliners’ sets, Arcade Fire and Stevie Wonder.
The diverse lineup provided standout performances from bands of varying genres. Telekinesis cranked out electric pop with began Saturday with a sweltering charge. The reunited Death From Above 1979 played their noise punk with vigorous assault of bass and drums. TV On The Radio gave a searing performance of their unique style of music that blends rock with soul, punk, and other genres.
Some of the best sets came from veteran musicians. Social Distortion blasted their brand of punk, opening with their classic songs before moving into the songs from this year’s Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes. Mavis Staples lit up the audience with her vivacious gospel. Stevie Wonder, closing out Saturday, mightily moved through his catalog – including some of those songs from the 80s – and covered Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, and Nat King Cole.
Austin City Limits Festival offers a unique lineup each year that showcases musicians of all genres and always gives a few unforgettable moments. Arcade Fire's closing performance of the 2011 festival, like the entire event, was a memorable mixture of musical and visual perfection.