Saturday, October 02, 2004

Austin City Schlimits

(Written @ the Austin City Limits Music Festival; Zilker Park ~ Austin Texas. Friday, September 18th, 7:15pm. Listening to the ‘Rebirth Brass Band’ at the Capital Metro stage)

They have a theme in Austin, Texas: “KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD”. And from an outsiders perspective, their motto couldn’t be more aper paux.

Festivals in Texas are like any other that I have attended, except that it was about twice as hot. Averaging about 98 degrees in the shade *, you could practically hear the melanoma popping up on the shoulders, backs, and necks of the 75,000 festivals goers in attendance like sprouting mushrooms. I half expect to see a white rabbit go racing by through the sweaty crowd bitching about the time.

It is so hot that I must have purchased the quivalent to the Gross National Product of Albania in bottled water (which for those working at the stands, trying to keep the water “Ice Cold” is like trying to fight a forest fire with a water gun) and yet I have not had to take a single piss so far this weekend. Since my sweat glands are all working overtime like thousands of little coal ovens working on keeping this one large human steam train working, my bladder has been able to have something of a vacation as well.

Apart from the Rolling Stones ‘SARS-stock’ concert at the Downsview Park in Toronto last summer, 75,000 people in one National Park is quite a staggering spectacle: part Woodstock; part Fall of Saigon. As far as the eye can see, it’s a huge sea of music fans in beige Texas-style straw hats, all waving cardboard fans so that they give you the impression of an entire field of butterflies all laxly exercising their wings in preparation for take-off and the upcoming frantic flight to the next stage to catch the next performance.

The festivals goers themselves are diverse in styles, trends, and personalities as one can imagine. From the 80 year old couple watching Doyle Bramhall wail on his guitar in the Capital Metro stage from the comforts of their NASA-designed lawn chairs, to 18 year old Billy-Bob Hicknuts dressed in only a pair of patchy shorts weeble-wobble his way through the scorching heat with a beer in each hand. One common trend among ACL festival attendees besides the Texas hats seems to be over-sized mirrored sunglasses which gives me the impression that the wearers are either all Eric Estrada wannabe’s or they’ve just all stepped off a location shoot for the new ‘Smokey & the Bandit’ movie. It seems like everybody is wearing large novelty carnival sunglasses that they won at the ‘Ring Toss’. At least I have somewhere to see my reflection and check my makeup.

Huge dragonflies, big as model planes **, zig-zag the vast expanse of grassy field in and amongst the forests of sweaty bodies like Apache attack helicopters. If they do in fact only live for 24 hours, they sure have been born into one hell of a good party to enjoy their measly lives.

From the ground perspective while sitting on a lawn blanket, the moving, circulating crowd washes around you like breaking surf. Each human wave a prime embodiment of exhaustion and determination as they endlessly plod their way through the islands of beach blankets and lawn chairs. On large scale, it’s like being in the middle of the organized chaos surrounding a marching ant colony moving over the landscape.

Flags navigate around the concert grounds and are then pitched to claim particular plots of easily recognizable land and sole bastions of individual weirdness in this sea of madness. Such strange totems that one can see dotting the Zilker Park horizon include: a skeleton in a loud pink Hawaiian shirt, and evil looking Sponge Bob Squarepants, the Texan flag coupled with the Jolly Roger (definitely NOT the party I want to stumble into after dark), Elmo, Japanese lanterns, multi-colored windsocks and inflatable pool toys of all varieties, tree branches and flower bouquets, a provocative green ‘Jolly Green Ho’, crafted sculptures that would be more likely hanging from someone’s cottage deck, and simply a handkerchief with “We’re Over Here, Bitch!” written across it in magic marker. It’s like the United Nations of weirdo’s, or the Austin equivalent of the Olympic ‘Parade of Freaks’ ceremony.

I wonder what kind of mind concocted the idea that they would identify and distinguish themselves for the weekend from everyone else by skewering a Curious George plush toy atop a fishing pole? It is highly amusing to overhear festival goers attempting to call in their locations in the crowd on their cell phones to other lost members of their clan still wandering in the sweaty masses, with all the anxious concentrated and detailed urgency of a combat marine calling in for a Medevac while under heavy fire.

“Come in Falcon Leader, this is Freakshow…over. My location is east of the floating neon pig and directly behind the ‘Veggie Fart Machine’ sign. Copy that. Over!”

* Which, what little there was, was either booked up months in advance or you had to seek shelter from the sunlight along the numerous thin shade lines found on the lee side of the porto-potties.

** Or the DC-10 that I flew down to Texas on.


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