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Reflecting on Day One, ACL

Written by , published September 17, 2011

Walking through the festival grounds at Zilker Park, especially after the sun started to dip and the crowds thickened in anticipation of Austin Music Festival headliners Kanye West and Coldplay, it was easy to imagine myself a mere ant in an army of 40,000 other beings. It was an instant reminder of my small place in humanity. For a moment I felt flustered by the crowd. Then bam—more music, a chance encounter with a friend, a sight that made me laugh—and the mood turned in an instant. As a friend put it, ACL is not the minors. What it is, at least to my mind, is an instant submersion into what makes Austin such a tight community.

As I gear up for Day Two of the bash, I’m reflecting on yesterday and how seamless ACL operations seemed to be. Early in the day, we experienced our first indication of the solidarity of Austin --that joyous moment when skies finally opened up and rained (a short burst, yes, but water all the same) while crowds throughout Zilker shouted in glee and surprise.

The burn ban is in effect this year, and several donation stations for statewide volunteer firefighters reminded us of the wildfire risk. Still, some dedicated smokers (of ciggies and wacky tabac alike) were lighting up—but amazingly, I spied not a single discarded cigarette butt. At least they’re being responsible, which is the whole point of the ban. In a related note, festival organizers have made what I consider a brilliant business to keep the grounds litter-free: at several stations throughout the park, you can pick up a green trash bag, then meander the grounds picking up stray cans and other recyclables; when the bag is full, you can redeem it for an ACL T-shirt. Neat incentive that makes sense all around.

The festival’s food options (more on that in other post) are well known for their diversity, quality, and local vibe—with renowned restaurants like Olivia and Hudson’s creating rave-worthy noshes. But I’m also pleased to find the eclectic array of Austin shops and artisans selling their creations—again, reinforcing the sense of community. We’ll explore that aspect in greater depth today and tomorrow.

On-the-fly conversations with festival-goers, performers, and even a police officer working the event further underscored the community theme. Chilean-American singer Francesca Valenzuela (a knockout with tremendous pipes and a solid pop sensibility) told me that one thing that’s different about US audiences (and Texas crowds in particular) is that we’re open and supportive of new musical experiences. And the cop with whom I chatted told me with a big grin that he loves the people-watching. He confessed that he was on board to escort Kanye West and his entourage to the stage later that night—but that he wasn’t star-struck. After all, he’d heard Kanye was a prima donna. (Anyone care to dispute that?)

Biking to Zilker Park was a breeze. I hauled my bike on the back of my car to a spot near the Lady Bird Lake hike-and-bike trail, and popped over in a flash. Pedestrians and bikers on the trail were all smiles, hauling camp chairs, soft-sided coolers, umbrellas, and blankets to the site. “See you there!” we’d shout as we passed each other—strangers united by the promise of music, food, art, sweat, and celebration.

We’re posting photos to our Facebook page and tweeting all day (as long as the WiFi holds out, anyway), so follow TH on FB and on Twitter.

See you there.

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