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Austin City Limits Music Festival Awash With More Than Rain

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The Austin City Limits Festival’s first foray into a two-weekend event ended sooner than organizers hoped, but it didn’t stop it from being a success.

A biblical deluge opened up over downtown Austin late Saturday night and didn’t let up through Sunday. Nearby Barton Creek crested above flood level, making any hope of completing the sixth day of entertainment not only impossible but irresponsible. C3 responded appropriately by shutting down the second weekend and refunding ticket-buyers one-third of their money. Sooner fans didn’t get that good a deal in watching half a football game in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday. This led to some pretty cool performances that popped up around town, including a live-performance fed via the Internet by Atoms for Peace. That went along with the two-weekend spirit, which included Phoenix making a surprise performance at Austin’s Anderson High School.

Plans are for the festival to continue as a two-weekend event in 2014 on Oct. 3-5 and 10-12, you can track announcement here.

I was probably in the minority of folks who attended both weekends, and while the temptation to compare the two is strong it is no less pointless. What makes two weekends attractive isn’t choosing between them, but choosing both to see as many of the 130 acts as possible. Every year, there is at least one impossibly difficult choice for ticket-goers to make between beloved bands.

For me, this year, there was a three-way clog Friday afternoon between Vampire Weekend, The Arctic Monkeys and JD McPherson. Not to mention choosing between a pair of favorites in their prime in Muse and Kings of Leon versus Depeche Mode and The Cure, who were both idols from my youth. By attending both weekends, I was able to see all four. Someone who attended the first weekend asked me if the Depeche Mode show was a better show than what Muse delivered. My answer was “not applicable,” which was short-hand for, “that’s why I attended both weekends.”

During the second weekend, I took in Depeche Mode on Friday night and The Cure on Saturday. Depeche Mode offered an interesting contrast for a festival teeming with upbeat, sunny acts. The Vampire Weekend set I’d seen early Friday evening was an extension of the shiny, happy vibe I’d experienced the first weekend while sitting in on McPherson, Grouplove, Phoenix, Walk the Moon, Fun., and Dawes. Even Queens of the Stone Age serve their high-octane, black-knight brand of rock with a heaping helping of irony as does Deap Vally.

Depeche Mode, on the other hand, is the same collection of doom prophets of techno-pop today as they were through the 1980s. Despite the dark, sultry nature of Depeche Mode’s music, their unfettered performance connected with the sea of humanity waving and singing along with lead singer Dave Gahan throughout the 90-minute set. The group has aged well and their sound and production remain strong as ever. Perhaps the coolest part was getting to watch them sing “My Own Personal Jesus” while standing next to my own personal

Jesus Olivarez, who needed a cat-nap earlier in the day to be prepared.

Depeche Mode might never have existed without Saturday night’s headliner, The Cure. Robert Smith bore the torch for woeful warblers of pop in the 1980s as Roy Orbison had in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Roy wore dark glasses and a West Texas pompadour; Smith wears smeared clown make-up and a West Sussex tease. The music of each endures.

Smith is a no-nonsense performer, choosing to blaze through his expansive song catalog with no more than a “thank you” for two hours. The Cure actually played through the City of Austin’s 10 p.m. sound curfew, meaning the last few chords of “Boys Don’t Cry” was made audible more by the crowd than by Smith.

Little did any of us know, those would be the last words sung loud enough to hear at Zilker Park at the 2013 version of the festival.

Doubtlessly, those who didn’t attend the first weekend were disappointed not be able to see the Sunday lineup, which ended with Lionel Richie, another artist who made his bones in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. But for me, the festival couldn’t have ended more fittingly.

The music cast a spell over the masses whether from the exuberant youth or the darker notions of the elder statesmen. It was a reminder how music, the one medium that exists without mankind, binds us. As the crowd exited the park still singing along with each other in peace and broken harmony, the only disruption was a man with a bullhorn atop a ladder spitting doom and division in a venomous tone on behalf of salvation. The universe moves in mysterious ways.

When the Austin City Music Festival returns next year, rain or shine, I will be there for the eighth time in nine years. Some people have Christmas or Easter to bolster their faith. For me, I prefer faith I can reach out and touch. And while Dave Gahan or Robert Smith might be the scariest Easter Bunny or Santa Claus you could imagine, music sticks with me year round while chocolate bunnies and candy canes have a pretty short shelf life. Plus, I’d rather eat a Mighty Cone than either any way.

Until next year, we return you to your regularly scheduled run of posts on the merits of food and eating and/or cooking it.


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Dave Cathey

The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene. Read more ›