The Austin City Limits Festival is only six years old, but it has quickly grown into one of the premier music festivals in the country. ACLF hosts 130 bands on eight stages over three days and I did my best to see at least a bit of all of them — or that was my plan anyway. Keeping with my “when in Rome” attitude, I made it a special point to see as many Texas bands as I could.
Through a series of fortunate events I found myself standing side stage for the Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses set. It was wild to peek around the stacks of equipment to see the thousands of people singing, dancing and stomping along to the music. The 26-year-old Bingham earned a spot on the Lost Highway Records label with his hard-rocking, old-school county-tinged music and gravely voice. After the show I told him that I thought there were more people watching from the stage than were at his Indy show in June. He laughed and said it was the largest amount of people he’s played for.
Alejandro Escovedo’s played so hard — and a bunch of fans that joined the band on-stage were dancing and jumping so intensely — that for moment I worried about the structural integrity of the stage. I see why Austin considers the guitarist, who played the majority of songs from this new album, Real Animal, a treasure. The set was generally hard rocking (most tunes had great hooks), with a ballad or two thrown in.
Robert Earl Keen is another native Texan who lived in Austin for a time. He is a great storyteller, both in his songs and stage banter, telling of seeing Townes Van Zandt play and swiping the cup he drank from before launching in to a Van Zandt song. His sing-along crowd spanned a big range of ages. I loved seeing the thousands of people singing and dancing along.
Roky Erickson's band reminded me of a garage band in a good way. Erickson was a rock icon in the 1960s Austin but had a rough road to travel, from schizophrenia to shock treatment. With help from his musician friends, he is enjoying a well-deserved resurgence of his career.