Well, it's been more than a week since I arrived in Austin for this year's Austin City Limits Festival, so it's probably time I wrap up all my writing on the topic and move on to something else. (Is there some other festival this weekend?) For those of you looking for the week's notes, look no further than my archives. To conclude, a few big-picture thoughts on the festival as it was, along with some on how it could be.
ACL Fest is an exceedingly well-run festival.
I mean, when the worst things you can say about the weekend is that the sounds from sets occasionally bled into one another (Alejandro Escovedo had his amps turned up, making the Swell Season set not quite as hushed as it might have been) and that there could probably be a few more water fountains, well, then, you done good. Sets started on time, shuttle buses were plentiful, there were lots of things to do, and the grounds were about as immaculate as you could expect. (Seriously, they decided to give t-shirts and other swag away to people who brought recyclables back in big plastic bags. What a genius idea -- I'm not sure I saw a single stray can or plastic bottle the entire weekend.)
The Austin Kiddie Limits area was well-run as well.
There were crafts, coloring books, and again the guitar lessons, hair-styling, and free turntabling lessons. If you were going to be there 3 days in a row for 5 hours a day, the area might begin to feel restrictive, I suppose, but assuming normal use, it was fine. The shade is awesome (it was always a bit of a shock wandering out into the heat of the rest of the festival). And, yes, there are some quality acts up on stage.
Festivals are hard work.
I probably give an impression that doing a festival with a second grader is an easy thing, something anyone can do. Which isn't at all true. I had a press pass, which means I had access to water and and shade and snacks and (sometimes) lemonade. Never underestimate the power of snacks and lemonade on a second-grader (not to mention her dad). Also, since I had a press pass, although I would've gladly just traipsed around the festival grounds, I felt like I had some obligation to the AKL area, which Miss Mary Mack gladly obliged me in. But if I'd been a "normal" attendee -- one who would decide to catch 2 or 3 acts at the AKL stage, interspersed amongst dashing around the other stages -- either my kid or I (and probably both) would end up pretty grumpy. As it was, we inevitably pretty much collapsed on the shuttle bus at the end of our festival-going day.
But they're worth it.
I saw some great kids' bands (most of which were unfamiliar to the Austin crowds). I saw some great adult bands -- the David Byrne set was incredible, and the Mates of State set was lots of fun, too. And Abigail Washburn was a wonderful discovery. That's the best part of these festivals -- connecting with favorites and becoming fans of other artists you don't know as much about.
Now, no festival is perfect, so here are a few suggestions for improvement.
Move the festival later in the year.
Not really sure why festivals have to be held in hot weather. The 2009 Fest is scheduled for October 2-4, but it could be another couple weeks later, at least. The hot weather is draining, and if you've already broken the school-year barrier, what's another couple weeks? I know the planning has a lot to do with the Longhorn football schedule, but surely they can find an off-week or an away game in mid-October.
The Austin Kiddie Limits stage needs a headliner.
Tor Hyams, the producer does a really good job putting together a solid lineup with a limited budget, but I think the stage could use a "name" headliner -- someone that might attract parents to the fest, along the lines of a Justin Roberts or Dan Zanes or Elizabeth Mitchell, to name a few. Or maybe book a TMBG or Barenaked Ladies to do both an adult and a kids' show (a la Sara Hickman last year).
The Austin Kiddie Limits stage could use an even stronger Austin presence.
Every year they have at least one Austin artist, but I think they'd draw bigger crowds with more Austin artists.
The Austin Kiddie Limits stage could use more artists, period.
Why limit yourself to 4 or 5 sets a day? Why not 6? You've got the infrastructure, parents are there -- why not run 'til 5:30? Why not shorten the set changeover time and cram in more acts during the same amount of time?
Get a second PA for the between-set entertainment.
I believe Tor said that's already set up for next year. Thank goodness. Got tired of sitting near the stage having our ears bleed from amped up music for the dancers 100 feet away.
Bring back good snack food to the H.E.B. tent.
Last year they had fruit, vegetables, and peanut butter. This year they had ice cream. I preferred last year.
Finally, integrate AKL more fully into ACL.
Why shouldn't the Paul Green School of Rock get a set on one of the other stages? (What's the difference between them and We Go To 11? Why can't there be a fuller set by an adult artist -- playing kid-appropriate non-kids' music -- at the AKL stage for the families there? I'd just love for there to be more ways to make it easier for families to watch great music together throughout Zilker Park, not just in their tiny corner of the world...