A Coming Meltdown?

Dust Bowl: ACL 2005

Thursday night Phil, Nathan, and I headed to Austin. We went to get our supplies for the weekend, but had difficulty finding water; every place we went in Dallas had sold out. For some reason, Dallas people were paranoid about Hurricane Rita. As we headed south, word had already come in that the storm had turned and that central Texas would be spared. Nonetheless, as we drove south, the north bound lanes looked like rush hour.

Friday night was probably the best day of the festival. I started with a little Leo Kottke -- great guitar. Then some Steve Earle -- powerfully political lyrics. Next was Lucinda Williams. This was my second time to see her. She played a lot of new music; it was good, but I missed many of my favourites. I think it was a good set. While Phil and I were wondering around getting some food and looking at the Art Market, we could hear Thievery Corporation playing in the background. They are amazing. If I had it to do over again, I would have gone to sit and listen to them. Their crowd kept growing throughout their set. I loved the music so much, I went and purchased the cd. It is more mellow than the live performance, but builds.
Next was Keane, who sounded great. Finished the evening off with Lyle Lovett and his Large Band. Their set was a lot of fun and a great way to cap off the first evening.

Saturday morning we took it easy. Austin has this new Whole Foods super store that is amazing. It makes Central Market look like a convenience store. Oh, how I miss great grocery stores -- OKC doesn't even have one good grocery store (I knew that before I moved back).

Then to the festival. The day began with Buddy Guy, who was incredible. My second time to see him too. After only two bars, I was ready for sex. This was the second best set I actually attended. "You are Goddamn Right I've Got the Blues" was fucking amazing. Then a little Robert Randolph and the Family Band and Death Cab for Cutie. If I had the rest of the evening to do over again, I would. I went to set up for Oasis that evening and save seats for other folk, but when the time came, no one could get to me, the crowd was so packed. It almost meant that I had to endure Jet and miss The Walkmen. I did get to hear Bloc Party playing at the next stage, but would rather have been down there. During all this, I did get a lot of good reading done. I enjoyed Oasis simply because this band that recorded one of the greatest albums of my life performed the four songs you really wanted to hear. However, I think they phoned it in and were real pricks.

What I have failed to mention are the conditions. Friday when we arrived, the grounds were in worse shape than they had been last year by the end of the three days. By Friday evening, there were dustclouds hanging over the festival, and my eyes were very irritated. It was also really hot, over 100. Saturday was a little cooler. Fortunately both of the first two days we had partly cloudy skies, so you got a reprieve now and then. The dust was less annoying to me on Saturday, but moreso to Joel, Phil's brother. Clearly, though, I had inhaled lots of dust, because Sunday morning I had quite a coughing fit. We didn't get any of the rain predicted for Saturday.

Sunday was miserable. So hot that you couldn't enjoy the music. Really. And this year I had taken tons of more precautions. Last year I had assumed late September wouldn't be so bad, yet it was the hottest three days of the year. So, this year I had an umbrella, my dorky cowboy hat, a bandana to protect my neck, I applied sunscreen constantly (once an hour on Sunday), etc. Despite all the precautions, I roasted on Sunday. Saw Eiseley and the Doves early. Then The Arcade Fire, which was highly recommended to me and for good reason -- they're really good. Chris Martin, of Coldplay, later went on and on about the Arcade Fire performance. I'll probably have to buy their album too. Unfortunately, I was baking so -- the sun was beating down on us as we watched the stage, having now moved to directly ahead of us -- that I ended up first sitting down and then cowering under my umbrella such that I could not see the stage. But, then the sun moved behind the stage, and we were fine for Wilco. For the second year in a row, Wilco was the best set I saw. Incredible. We were distracted by the ass holes having a frat party right in front of us (more on that in a following post), but that didn't keep me from really getting into the zone and doing my silly dancing I do when I'm really into music. Thank goodness they played "War on War" this year and followed it up with "Jesus, Etc." During "The Man I Love" I was really, really into it. It gave energy to thoughts I was having over the weekend (more on that in a later post).

So, we then moved over to the back of the crowd for Coldplay. By this point it was dark, so the misery-inducing heat was gone. But, you could see the dust hanging heavily over the grounds. It was so thick, that people just 30 or so feet away from you were fuzzy. It was pretty much impossible to make out anything on the stage and the video screen was difficult to see as well. Their production looked amazing, what we could make out. We were afraid to move closer, because of the dust sitting in the plain below the little rise we were sitting on. The dust was becoming more and more difficult. We were sitting with our bandanas in front of our noses and mouths and were having trouble breathing. I kept applying eye drops. Finally, Joel asked if we were up to leaving, even though we didn't really want to. It was difficult to experience the show, we were tired after the miserably hot day, and we couldn't breathe. We decided it wasn't worth getting sick. To explain how miserable it was, I got up and walked away from a performance of one of the world's leading bands (currently) while they were performing my favourite song of theirs. It was really that bad.

When we got to the car, a mile away, it and all the ones around it were covered with a thick layer of dust, which they hadn't been the two days before. When I got home and after I showerd, I blew my nose and everything that came out was dark brown. And continued to be brown for a while. Even today I can still feel the effects.

So, we aren't sure we are going back next year. We'll have to see if the line-up is worth it. I enjoyed the festival, but it was physically miserable. Those who did endure the dust and stayed through the set and up close thought it was amazing.


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Charles Martin

Yeah, that summed it up well. I was there for work, and thought I should get a picture of Colplay for the review, the result was an image of purple haze coming from the stage and dust so thick it looked like snowflakes. Wilco/Rilo Kiley/Robert Randolf and the Family Band and Bloc Party were all worth the dirty, dirty, heat though.

Kevin Sinclair

The guys from Oasis? Pricks? Naahhh never....

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