Friday, September 24, 2004 ... 1:18 PM

K.'s Austin City Limits Music Festival Review -- Part 1

My buddy K. and her husband went to the Austin City Limits Music Festival last weekend, and she was kind enough to write up this excellent rundown of her big old time just for the Tent Revue. Enjoy!

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We kicked off this year's Austin City Limits Festival with a Neko Case show at a little club called The Parish Room on Thursday night, and as soon as she opened her mouth to sing, I knew this would be the best weekend of music in my life:

Oh, light
I thought you were golden
I thought you were white
I caught you returning to the house you caught fire
But I know that I was your favorite
And I said "Amen"...

Last night I dreamt that I hit a deer with my car
Blood from his heart spilled out onto my dress and was warm
He bade me to follow
But legions of sorrow
Defied me...

(Note from Boney: Neko lyric-hunters look here.)

She sounded like Patsy Cline singing a Handsome Family song, and that's it, I was hers forever. I love the Handsome Family but am not often in the mood for Brett's voice, and I love female country singers but am often bored by the safe, mediocre songwriting. So Neko was such a welcome discovery. She did chilling versions of "Wayfaring Stranger" and "I'll Be Around" and Dylan's "Buckets of Rain" and a very spooky murder ballad she wrote called "Furnace Room Lullaby" where the narrator kills her boyfriend, stuffs his body into the furnace and is then kept awake nights by the sound of his beating heart. Edgar Allen Poe meets Loretta Lynn meets Hope Sandoval meets reverb. Jesus, it was good. And Tom Ray on upright bass and Jon Rauhouse on banjo and pedal steel were the perfect accompaniment to her spectacular voice. After the show I immediately bought Neko's last two CDs and an EP she recorded in her kitchen in her underwear that contains that first song she played, "Favorite." I don't know, some of the songs don't feel quite worthy to sit next to the really stellar ones, but overall she is my new favorite artist. And I found her on Thursday night before the festival even officially began!

The next day at Zilker park, we decided to try for a balance of strategy and spontaneity. We picked the stage where most of our must-see acts were going to be, set up our chairs and then between sets we checked out what was happening at the other six stages. Twice we headed to the beautiful spring-fed creek that runs along the park to dunk ourselves, because damn, it was hot! In the mid-to-upper nineties every day with a sun so relentless people actually huddled up against the Porta-Potties and clung to the shade like a bunch of cows. The festival was overcrowded this year -- 75,000 people each day -- and even though everyone was super nice (when I lost my sunglasses, the guy who found them actually came looking for me to return them), it was pretty tiring fighting the heat and the throngs. But so worth it!

Asleep at the Wheel started things off for us, and they are just a fine, tight, Texas swing band. They did a bunch of Bob Wills covers like "Cherokee Maiden" and "San Antonio Rose" and "Milk Cow Blues" plus a bunch of standards like "Miles and Miles of Texas" and "Route 66." They won't change your life but Ray Benson's got a great voice and they are really enjoyable.

Next came Roseanne Cash, talking a lot about her dad and bringing me to tears with a sweet, acoustic "I Still Miss Someone." Her voice isn't exactly pretty, but it's powerful and true and so expressive. It was a nice set.

Then we saw Neko Case perform an abbreviated version of her set from the night before, somehow not as satisfyingly spooky while surrounded by ten thousand sweating fans under the blazing Texas sun. A vulture circling overhead helped a little though, which Neko pointed out. She also pointed to the little airplanes that were flying around pulling advertising banners, and she said she kept wishing one would fly by that said "I'll See You In Hell!" She's pretty funny and, like I think I said before, totally frigging brilliant.

By then we were just about baked to a crisp, so we headed to the river, catching a little of Patty Griffin's set on the way. She's not my favorite. I can see why some people like her, but for some reason, I'm just not one of them. I'd much rather sit in a cold creek with a straw hat on drinking a peach smoothie.

Ryan Adams next, and I was excited because I hadn't seen him since the festival last year and he had put on a really good show. He was a raving drunken idiot then, sure, but he sang beautifully and his band just tore it up. This year, eh, not so much. He hasn't been on the road in a while because of the wrist he broke falling off a stage in London, so maybe that accounts for the sloppiness. This new backing band The Cardinals just wasn't that great and by the awkward way Ryan gripped the neck of his guitar, it seemed like his wrist might still be bothering him. He did do a pretty "When Stars Go Blue" and "Oh My Sweet Carolina," but that only made me miss Emmylou's voice and wish he had some female accompaniment. Or something. Oh, well. I'll try him again next year.

We caught a little of Joe Ely's set walking to the veggie tamale booth, and I didn't realize he was such a rocker! I guess he holds back a lot with the Flatlanders, which is the only way I've ever heard him before. After Joe and tamales, we saw Sheryl Crow close things out. Even though I wouldn't pay to see her all on her own, I was curious enough to stay. She is a dynamic performer but such a chameleon, and not in a good way. One minute she's singing one of her commercial-radio pop hits and the next she's yodeling on a Hank Williams song and, I don't know, to me she just has no musical identity of her own. I do like that "If it makes you happy, then why the hell are you so sad?" song, which Ryan Adams came out to sing on.

Whew. And that's just the first day.

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More coming up from K.'s ACL weekend, including an Elvis Costello let-down and a My Morning Jacket revelation. Stay tuned.



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Making Notes: Music of the Carolinas
(Novello Festival Press, April 2008)
includes my essay, "Link Wray"


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Night Train
Fried Chicken and Coffee
Mungo (This was the blog of my friend, the late Cami Park. Miss you, Cami.)
Staccato Fiction
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