BLURT BLITZES AUSTIN: ACL Festival & Blurt Launch Party

Band of Horses and James McMurtry kick it
out for the Health Alliance For Austin Musicians.

 

BY ANDY TENNILLE
& ALLIE GOOLRICK

 

Now in its
seventh year, the Austin City Limits Music Festival draws 65,000 music fans
each September to Zilker Park for three days of music, Lonestar tallboys and
relentless Texas
sunshine.

 

2002 was the
inaugural year. 2003 found festival organizers scoring their first big
headliner with REM. 2004 saw the biggest single-day crowd with more than 75,000
people in attendance on Saturday. Hurricane Rita threatened to invade the 2005
fest, but the real story that year was the “Dust Bowl” as the dry Texas heat baked Zilker Park
and attendees kicked up a cloud of dust. 
2006 will always be remembered for Ben Kweller getting a mysterious
bloody nose during his set and using a tampon thrown to him by an audience
member to stop it. 2007’s festival was on fire, literally: a propane tank
ignited in the service area on Friday, burning down two trailers and several
port-o-potties. Later, a second fire broke out onstage during Björk’s set.

 

If there was a
theme to ACL 2008, it may very well have been the “Bs”. Not the paranoia-inducing
killer bees from South
Texas or the legendary
SNL skit
, but Band of Horses, Bill Murray and the BLURT Launch Party, a
benefit concert for the Health Alliance for
Austin Musicians
– a local non-profit organization whose mission is to
provide access to affordable healthcare for low-income, uninsured working
musicians – held Saturday night after the day’s music ended at the festival
proper.

 

Hordes of music
fans lined the block of Austin’s Sixth Street outside the Parish Room anxiously
awaiting the doors to open on this highly anticipated event, which a couple of
weeks earlier had sold out in a scant two hours. By the time opening act James
McMurtry and his Heartless Bastards took the stage, the room was packed and the
Austin-based singer songwriter delivered a blistering, hour-long set of Texas blues-rock that
left no ears in attendance unrung.

 

At the stroke of
midnight, Band of Horses took the stage to the delighted roar of the capacity
crowd for a rare, intimate club set. Having spent the summer touring Europe,
Australia and Asia, the band was giving Americans their first chance to see a
new lineup with new guitarist Blake Mills (Simon Dawes, Jenny Lewis), he of trashed
dressing rooms
and killer
solos
.

 

Launching
straight into “The First Song,” the South
Carolina sextet played for nearly two hours, covering
the majority of the songs off their two fantastic studio albums – Everything All The Time and Cease to Begin – along with a spot-on
version of J.J. Cale’s “Thirteen Days” and an epic, show-closing take on Them
Two’s “Am I A Good Man.” Two new songs were debuted off the band’s forthcoming
album, which they begin work on in a few weeks in Muscle Shoals, Alabama: the
slow-burner “Trudy,” which featured frontman Ben Bridwell on harmonica, and
keysman Ryan Monroe’s soulful “Older.”

 

“‘Older’ was a
tune I wrote a while back and shared with Ben when I joined the band around Cease to Begin,” Monroe said after the show. “We just started
messin’ with it and tried it out full band style last New Year’s Eve at The
Earl. We’ve been jamming it for a while now, so it might be ready when we make
the new album.”

 

Post-show, the
group’s dressing room crammed with wannabe groupies and well-wishers, including
current BLURT cover starlet Jenny Lewis, Conor Oberst, members of the Foo
Fighters, Bobby Bare Jr. and actor Bill Murray, who’d caught the end of the
band’s set and was impressed enough to buy a CD (and stuff some dough into the
HAAM donation jar). Whiskey was sipped, beers were slugged and joints were
smoked and the BLURT Launch Party raged on into the wee hours of the morning, a
monumental night of music benefiting a noble cause.

 

***

 

On to the
festival! With Spanish-bred Manu Chao, Latin psychedelic warriors The Mars
Voltas and Texas
rocker Alejandro Escovedo atop the bill, Friday night at ACL 2008 took on a
decidedly Hispanic vibe. Stellar sets were delivered throughout the day from
Yeasayer, Vampire Weekend, Jacob Dylan, Del
the Funk Homosapien, M. Ward, Gogol Bordello, Jenny Lewis and Delta Spirit. But
Friday’s highlights had to be David Byrne and Antibalas, the Brooklyn-based
Afrobeat group that delivered a stirring set under the cozy confines of the
WaMu (or is it Morgan Stanley?) tent.

 

With a 12:30
p.m. start time, Fleet Foxes had late-night revelers dragging themselves out of
bed in order to make it in time for their early afternoon set, but the
much-hyped Sub Pop quintet made it all seem worthwhile as their gorgeous
harmonies rang out across the hills of Zilker Park.
While most folks were amped for highly anticipated headliners Beck and the tag
team of Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, the real gems of Saturday were found
mid-afternoon with soulful sets from Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings (minus a
conspicuously missing Gabe Roth) and Erykah Badu and the acid-dosed music of
Man Man and Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized.

 

Gillian Welch
and David Rawlings should play Sunday afternoon at every music festival in the
world. The long-time duo – who reportedly have a new album in the works – play
the kind of soothing music that warms your soul after a debaucherous Saturday
night, and this Sunday was no different. Okkervil River, The Kills, Heartless
Bastards, White Denim and Gnarls Barkley all turned in solid Sunday sets, but
Stars, Band of Horses and The Raconteurs delivered truly inspired performances
that bled perfectly into the rock chaos of festival closers Foo Fighters, who
many in attendance claimed were the best headliner in this festival’s seven-year
history. [ANDY TENNILLE]

 

***

 

My first BLURT trip to ACL was a pleasure-packed 24-hour
marathon that brought together my three favorite festival staples:  great music, odd celebrity sightings, and of
course, as many free drinks as I could imbibe and keep standing. After two
early morning flights, countless Bloody Mary’s and a very long cab ride, I
found myself schlepping my bag of audio gear through the dusty plains of Texas
in Austin’s Zilker Park, host of the ** Austin City Limits Music Festival. In
the 90 degree-heat, Zilker felt more like a Sub-Saharan desert than
‘greenspace,’ but native Austiners came prepared: the festival looked more like
a beach party than a concert with a good contingent of the female crowd in
bikinis and not much else.

 

 

Alas, I was confined to the press tent so the show coverage
I’ll leave to Andy. But the press tent offered a treat in itself, with an
eclectic assortment of musicians mingling with reporters, the only shade in the
entire park and a free tiki bar hosted by Austin
radio station KROX.  My first interview
was with young Brit blues rockers Back Door Slam. The affable trio of Davy
Knowles, Adam Jones and Ross Doyle are probably the only people I will ever
meet from the Isle of Man, a tiny island between mainland Britain and Ireland. And judging by the band’s
proficiency at high-energy, guitar-driven rock n’ roll, it looks like there
wasn’t much to do on the Isle of Man except
play music. You can catch my interview with the trio coming soon on the Blurt
Radio Player.

 

 

Next up was the slightly sardonic Langhorne Slim, who
threatened to retire his ubiquitous bowler hat if reporters didn’t stop asking
him about it. We sipped on margaritas and talked about why he self-titled his
latest record, his relationship with the Avett Brothers and what it was like opening
for the Trachtenburg Family Sideshow Players. Mason Jennings also made time to talk to BLURT
about his friendship with Jack Johnson and why dropping out of school to pursue
music at age 16 is a decision he’ll never regret. Look for both of those interviews
to hit the Blurt Radio player soon!

 

 

For those Blurt-ers with kids, we sat down with edgy kid’s
rocker Uncle Rock, was none too shy in explaining how he translates the Rolling
Stone’s “You Can’t Always Get What you Want” for tots; “It’s about ice cream,”
he jokes on the interview, which will also air in the coming days on the Blurt
Radio Player.

 

 

With only a few hours to go before the Blurt Launch Party, I
managed to squeeze in some time to talk with pint-sized soul diva Sharon Jones,
who had just come off the ACL stage and was ready to party. All of two minutes
with Jones and you know that she’s the real deal-she’s got more soul in her
little finger than a gospel choir but keeps a lighthearted attitude that makes
every performance a ton of fun.

 

 

Before long the sun was (thankfully) starting to sink over
the festival grounds and I was off to the long-awaited main event, The Blurt
Launch Party with Band of Horses and James McMurtry. While a line to get in the
venue snaked around the block, the BoH guys, McMurtry and I watched backstage
as the UGA dawgs lost abysmally to Alabama-which
luckily didn’t seem to affect what would be stellar performances on both sides. [ALLIE GOOLRICK]

 

 

 

[Photo of Band
Of Horses by Andy Tennille]

 

 

 

 

 

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