AUSTIN — In reaching the double digit milestone, the 10th annual Austin City Limits Music Festival solidified its staying power with one of its strongest lineups yet and three sold-out days in Austin’s Zilker Park this past weekend.
Indeed, promotion company C3 presents has found a recipe that truly works — a recipe that short-lived mega-fests like All Points West, Langerado, Rothbury and Denver’s Mile High Music Festival were never able to get quite right.
At the top of that list is community engagement. The festival retains its character through exclusively local food vendors, craft merchants and metro transit that feel the weekend’s economic impact far more heavily than corporate stage sponsors Bud Light and Honda. Couple that with a built-in concert-going core of Austinites, and you still have an authentic community festival with roughly 70,000 of your neighbors, friends and out-of-towners.
Such were the sentiments echoed by Arcade Fire front man and former Houston suburbanite Win Butler, who told Sunday’s audience that “…playing Austin has always felt like [our] hometown in the states.” Butler and his Canadian seven-piece band closed the weekend with a 90-minute set similar to what they offered as headliners during Coachella and Outside Lands earlier this year. Nevertheless, it was an invigorating tour-de-force of orchestral indie-rock, highlighted by transcendent versions of “Haiti,” “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels),” “Wake Up,” “Rebellion (Lies)” and the rarely-seen “Speaking In Tounges.”
Australian experimental duo Empire of the Sun brought out the weird in the hour before Arcade Fire with a sprawling set of electro, glam rock and club beats. Latin music found a firm footing with memorable sets from Manu Chao and Bomba Estereo. Late in the evening, Chao mixed punk rock, reggae and afro-beat instrumentals behind his energetic vocals to a sea of international fans. Earlier that afternoon, Bomba Estereo pumped up the Vista Equity stage with Colombian hip-hop as vocalist Liliana Saumet channeled M.I.A. and other young female rappers.
Touring companions Fleet Foxes and the Walkmen played some of the best sets of the day from opposing main stages. The Walkmen, decked in their usual Sunday best, played an hour-long set rife with new material and choice cuts from last year’s “Lisbon.” Strong versions of “Juveniles” and “In The New Year” highlighted the performance, as did the new fast-rocking “Radio City.” Fleet Foxes were the final act on the Bud Light stage before Arcade Fire, and the Seattle sextet had no problem filling the role. Pastoral folk songs “Bedouin Dress,” “Mykonos” and “English House” sailed across the better half of Zilker Park, as did sing-alongs “White Winter Hymnal” and “Ragged Wood.”
Canadian collective Broken Social Scene played an afternoon of textbook indie-rock marked by a clever cover of “The World At Large” by Modest Mouse. Across the park, Texas native and “Crazy Heart” singer Ryan Bingham brought his raspy alt.-country to the main stage. Rap duo Chiddy Bang brought the party, if nothing else, to the Google+ stage and the harmony-laden Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. played to a crowd of thousands on the Honda stage. Unique takes on Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” and the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” marked the Detroit duo’s otherwise indie-centric set.
Late in the day, projection screens displayed teasers for the 2012 festival, which will take place in October as in previous years. Check back to Reverb for more details.
Andy Beam is a New York photogrpaher and a new contributor to Reverb.