Scene: the AMD Stage of Austin City Limits Festival on early Saturday afternoon. Moments before Rufus Wainwright walks out in a suit that can only be described as the result of a zebra fucking an American flag, several thousand fans – many of them wearing the burnt orange and white colors of Austin’s University of Texas Longhorns – have their eyes glued to the two large video screens at the side of the stage.
Instead of highlights from past ACL fests or schedules at other stages, the screens are showing that day’s 107th edition of the Red River Rivalry, the annual football game played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas between the University of Texas and hated rival the University of Oklahoma that’d have to be declared a state holiday if it were held on a weekday since close to no one would show up for work even if it weren’t.
No one much complains when the screens switch off the game in favor of Wainwright since the Longhorns were down more than four touchdowns by that point, and the ease with which the large crowd shifted gears from smashmouth pigskin action to welcome a flouncy pop crooner casts into sharp relief both the city of Austin and the festival named after the iconic live music television show.
Photo by Allyce Andrew
Pretty much anything will work in Austin if you give it a decent try, which is why a festival that started off with String Cheese Incident and Ryan Adams as headliners could creatively evolve and mark its eleventh year by mixing big-time DJs (Avicii, Bassnectar, A-Trak), rap acts (Big K.R.I.T., Childish Gambino, The Roots) and indie rock (The Shins, Metric, Two Door Cinema Club) with the oversized rock of headliners Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack White and the Black Keys.
While the top of the bill and middle tier looked a lot like August’s Lollapalooza (also a production of ACL Fest promoters C3 Presents), 2012 could mark the end of a booking era for the festival as it expands next year to six days over two weekends in October. Two weekends in front of 75,000 people opens up a whole new world of headliner possibilities, putting Super Bowl halftime-caliber names like Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Jay-Z and U2 in play along with the always clamored for but still elusive (for this fest anyway) Radiohead.
But that’s next year. A few bursts of rain on Saturday afternoon made for soggy grounds the rest of the weekend, so as we scrape the last bits of mud from our shoes it’s only natural to look back on the goods that these three days of ACL Fest had to offer.