ACL Fest 2010: Smooth sailing
Saturday afternoon, Charlie Jones and Charles Attal, two-thirds of Austin City Limits Music Festival promoter C3 Presents, called this year's fest the smoothest one so far. Then Attal repeated "so far" and knocked on his wooden armrest.
Outside the C3 compound, the crowds were arriving en masse to a 46-acre park that already seemed full. But Jones said the gorgeous fall weather — easily the best in ACL Fest history — was the reason more people were coming out earlier, not a new contract with the city that allows C3 Presents to sell 10,000 more tickets than in years past.
"The contract was amended to more accurately reflect what comes through the park during the festival," he said of the new 75,000-a-day cap. "Just because we can sell more tickets doesn't mean we will." Included in the total of 68,000 festgoers Friday were about 1,200 kids younger than 10 who got in free and a guest list of nearly 5,000 staffers, volunteers, sponsors and media.
Where it was brutal heat, choking duststorms or mud in the past that drew the most complaints, this year it was people. As in, too many in front of you to get close to the bands you wanted to see. Also, maneuvering between stages was harder than ever, even though C3 has pushed back the perimeter where chairs are permitted to make for better foot traffic flow.
Although Saturday's headliners Muse and M.I.A., plus dance rockers Deadmau5 and LCD Soundsystem were guaranteed huge crowds, even little-known acts such as Northern Ireland's Two Door Cinema Club drew spectacularly. Meanwhile, the roots revivalists the Dough Rollers packed the covered Clear 4G Stage, perhaps as much for curiosity (Malcolm Ford and Jack Byrne are the sons of Harrison Ford and Gabriel Byrne) than an old-timey, foot-stompin' sound.
Because of the weather and the wait (tickets and wristbands sold out three months in advance), this year's fest got crazier earlier.
Friday afternoon, several thousand exiting Miike Snow fans and twice as many arriving Black Keys fans created a bottleneck that caused some to take about half an hour to walk 100 yards.
Attal said the total attendance in Zilker Park on Friday during the Black Keys crush of humanity was 52,000 — and all seemingly wanted to see the Ohio blues-rock duo, whose latest album, "Brothers," is one of the year's most acclaimed. Attal's figure was derived from ticket and wristband scans at both entrances to ACL.
Sound bleed between the eight stages was a continuing problem, something ACL fans have learned to deal with, if not warmly accept. Illinois singer-songwriter Lissie had fun with the invasion of bass-heavy reggae from across the field, dancing to the beat for a few seconds between her own songs. But charming Scandinavian duo First Aid Kit was almost swallowed whole by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals on one of the two main stages. People in the crowd turned their heads toward the offending basslines and grimaced, but First Aid Kit continued undaunted and received hearty applause.
Things can get intense behind the scenes, especially with a festival the scope of ACL, but the mood was almost playful Saturday.
"We usually give ourselves a couple of days (before the fest) to take care of any unexpected problems," Jones said, "but on Thursday we were all just sitting around, looking at each other."
That C3 seems to have this thing down was apparent to Austin fans Matt Johnson, 32, and Estella Cortez, 33, who have been to most ACL fests. "We've come to know what to expect," said Johnson. "Same stages, same layout, same food vendors." Cortez said she's noticed more first-time visitors to ACL this year. Once presenting a lineup heavy with roots-rock bands, ACL has expanded its billings to appeal to younger fans. "It's funny to watch people get to Zilker and not know where to go," Cortez said.
If you have to ask which way is the AMD Stage (just follow the bass), you haven't been to ACL.