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Out & About: Why I skipped ‘Survivor: ACL’

Michael Barnes

When I mentioned that I’d skip muggy Zilker Park and the Austin City Limits Music Festival this year to visit my parents in Houston, one reader suggested it would be, historically, the first trip made to Houston in order to escape humidity.

Really, it was a matter of survival.

Outdoor music festivals like ACL are not ideal places to hear music or see musicians. The big acts are far away, viewed only on giant screens. The sound — even at the smaller stages — lacks nuance.

The only musical advantage is the social thrill of sharing a concert with thousands of ecstatic fellow fans.

Otherwise, these mass gatherings are not primed for socializing either. Virtually everyone is a stranger. You meet people, but mostly you talk strategy, tactics and logistics, almost as if part of a military campaign. How far to this stage? Which way to the shade? How long until the sun sets?

The food and drink, though local and tempting, are not consumed in ideal conditions.

Now one could easily kindle a weekend-long buzz at the festival, but alas, that option is not available to working reporters from mainstream media.

So why have I attended so often? As a huge party, it is inherently interesting to a social columnist.

Yet if I examine my motives more honestly, I went to say I had done it. And survived.

Think about it: How do fest-goers mark the previous decade of musical glory? The “mud fest” and the “dust fest.” The “hurricane year” and the “really, really hot year.”

My ACL break allowed me to spend precious time with family and to race back for Marshall Kuykendall’s 80th birthday party at delectable Rolling in Thyme and Dough in Dripping Springs.

My more natural setting: A breezy night eating buttery sandwiches under old oaks while talking with people about several lifetimes of personal adventures.