Austin Kiddie Limits (ACL Music Festival) 2010: Day 3 Report and Final Thoughts

IMG_3790.jpgDay 3s of music festivals, be it of the 2010 Austin City Limits Music Festival or something, tend to be be a little more laid back, if only because everybody's so d*** tired. Nothing against Day 1 and Day 2, of course, but being anywhere with 65,000 or more other folks for 8 hours at a time will tend to leave you a little tired.

In addition, because most of the acts at the AKL stage play two sets, if you've been there Friday and Saturday, you've seen most if not all of the acts perform once already. So you might be tempted to wander around a little bit more.

IMG_3793.jpgUnless, of course, your kids still want to play at the AKL stage. And, er, Elizabeth Mitchell is playing again. That was all perfectly fine by me. One of the advantages of Mitchell's comparatively deep catalog of music is that multiple sets don't have to be the same. She did play a couple new songs compared to her set on Saturday, and she also sang more in Spanish, certainly reflecting her excitement over her forthcoming album with Suni Paz. I also need to give special props to daughter Storey. During "School Days," you could hear another band's soundcheck coming through (presumably) the wireless mikes. It was totally odd and threw most of us in the audience for a loop. But Storey just kept on singing, seemingly unperturbed. It was interesting to me (as a parent) seeing her be so unflappable on stage and later on (and on Saturday) being like most other 9-year-olds, eagerly waiting her turn to sing at the video karaoke stage.
IMG_3834.jpgIMG_3862.jpgNext up were the Okee Dokee Brothers, who provided another energetic set. By Sunday, the AKL stage was drawing what might have been their best crowds ever aside from special guests, and I think that definitely helped bands like the Okee Dokees for whom crowd participation and dancing are a vital part of the experience. (That photo on the left from the Brothers' soundcheck, by the way, is courtesy of Little Boy Blue, who was the unofficial Zooglobble photographer on Sunday.)

IMG_3898.jpgA brief word on the Q Brothers (this is not them). I've been to AKL for 4 years now. I had zero reason to see them again, because they have, like, one album, and I've heard all the songs. I'd planned to leave during their set (Dawes was playing), but the schedule got rearranged a bit, and so I found myself watching them. So maybe it's just a low-expectations thing, but we dug 'em this time. The highlight was probably when they were asked to make up a couple raps based on suggestions thrown out by the crowd. One of them was "corn" and "Star Wars." The result, using the Star Wars theme as the basis for the chorus, was pretty close to inspired.

Frances England came back with another fun set, somewhat duplicating her Saturday set, but also with at least a couple new tracks. They brought out the red hats for Jacques Cousteau, they kept the crowd engaged, and it was fun. She also brought Elizabeth Mitchell (and Storey) onstage with her to perform "That's What Friends are For" from the Many Hands CD. Very sweet.

IMG_3917.jpgRobert Earl Keen was next up on the stage, and since it was a last-minute thing, it wasn't as packed perhaps as other guest sets have been. Unlike many of the AKL guest artists, he didn't treat it with respect for the sanctity of childhood. This was a refreshing thing after spending 3 days at AKL. Whereas other artists in the past sent beach balls or egg shakers into the crowd, Keen threw a whole bunch of beer koozies emblazoned with his name into the crowd. (I'm sorry, they were foam string can phone components.) Anyway, the three song set (including "Farm Fresh Onions," a very old song of his) was certainly a nice change of pace.

IMG_3927.jpgThe Verve Pipe wrapped up the festival. To Tor Hyams' credit, he told the large crowd that had gathered (just like Friday) straight up that the band wasn't going to play their hits for adults. He pointed out that they'd done other shows for adults (like on Friday night) and this was a purely-for-kids set. That cleared out a healthy amount of curiosity gawkers, and some more folks gradually peeled away during their set, it was a more... pleasant experience than their set on Friday.

IMG_3932.jpgAnd, yeah, I know I'm spoiling the surprise by publishing this photo, but you don't know what song it's for, so I'm not totally ruining it.

Let's just say that Brian Vander Ark puts his all in performing his set...

And with that, it was time for our family to put an end to Austin Kiddie Limits 2010. Miss Mary Mack, Little Boy Blue, and I walked through Zilker Park to the shuttle line, headed back to Republic Square, and I went back home to an Austin suburb to have dinner with the Official Mom, Brother, and Nephew of Zooglobble, tired but happy.

IMG_3846.jpgSummary Thoughts and Suggestions

First, this edition of Austin Kiddie Limits was definitely the best we've attended. That's not specifically referring to the music, but rather to the experience as a whole. That's not to say the music wasn't excellent, but how do you compare Lunch Money, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, and Ralph's World to Elizabeth Mitchell, Frances England, and the Verve Pipe? It comes down to personal taste, I suppose, but top-to-bottom, the 2010 lineup was very solid.

But, as I said, it's the experience as a whole that matters, and for whatever reason, it definitely worked this year. There were more booths for the kids to try stuff out. Having the Remo drum stuff available throughout the day rather than just at the end of the day, was a good switch. The volume on the between-set music/dance stuff was further reduced so that families didn't feel like they had to leave the area to preserve their hearing. And while the folks at C3 can't be the sole reason for the increased crowds at the Kiddie Limits stage, the area had more energy this year, which made hanging around that much easier to do. So kudos to Tor and Sarah for putting together a top-quality experience.

When I was thinking about suggestions for improvements, I was struck by how trivial they were, which also goes to show how well the area worked this year. I mean, when you're suggesting that the H.E.B. snack area should have a protein-based snack so you don't have to walk around to the food court if you don't want, you know you've tackled the low-hanging fruit long ago. It would be nice if the family section of the beach area under the tent would once again have a view of the stage, I suppose. And a certain parent (OK, it was Bill) suggested -- and I agree -- that it might be nice to have a few minutes of silence between sets. I obviously don't know the logistical problems of extending the time AKL is "open," but squishing an extra 15 minutes of silence (or 10 minutes of silence, with an extra 5 minutes for music) between the 5 sets would only push the closing time back an hour, and I think families would stick around. (And while other folks complained about the crowds, I didn't really notice much of a difference compared to prior years, though keep in mind I spend far more time at AKL than most folks.)

The only other suggestion I have is one that I can do nothing about and that's the return to a mid-September weekend. The prospect of tromping around Zilker Park in mid-September heat is not a pleasant one in my mind.

But this particular October weekend was nice all around. If you find yourself in Texas next mid-September (and plan ahead) and you like music of just about any type, you could do much, much worse than enjoy music with your family (both at and away from) the Austin Kiddie Limits stage.

Disclosure notice: As in past years, I received a press pass to attend the festival. Transportation and lodging were, also as in past years, entirely my responsibility.