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ACL Fest: Day 1.4: Ripples of Energy

Michael Barnes

Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 5, 2013

On hot days at the ACL Music Fest, stress collapses when the sun goes down. Then collective energy revs up. Yet audiences responded in strikingly varied ways to the last three acts I saw at the western edge of the Zilker field on Day 1. The precise pop-rock of Vampire Weekend inspired shrill yelps of approval before and after every song. Yet not matter how crisply and elegantly they played, fans slowly faded away from the stage, as the setting sun blinded sore eyes and fired one last torpedo of punishing heat our way. The shadows by the T-shirt shop and southwestern bar area filled up with Vampire refugees. Some of the same languid folks popped to attention when DJ Kaskade pumped up the nearby stage from his high, dark perch. Suddenly, the masses pressed forward and joined in a maddened frenzy. After bathing in humidity all day, they clearly rejoiced in Kaskade’s booming, nonstop sound and graphics show. As soon as he tuned out, a wave of anticipation brought weary listeners to their feet nearby for Depeche Mode. The charismatic ’80s band made an electric entrance, which seemed to satisfy an audience derived from a wide array of age groups. (That’s what happens to acts that survive for decades — a lot of people looking around going: “You, too? Really?”) And yet, for some reason, Depeche Mode periodically slowed to far less than the expected depeche mode. That took the muscle out of an inherent group urge to surge and, from where I stood, much of the blissful agitation of the first half hour petered out. Surely someone has written a book about the mass psychology of these energy ripples.