Austin City Limits Festival

Posted on September 24, 2005 by Sara Hickman. | Comments Off on Austin City Limits Festival

Teresa and I loaded up the boys band equipment into my mommy van yesterday. The drum equipment was plentiful and heavy, but the two of us got it all in the van, and then the bass amp, and a milk crate of assorted cables, and off we zoomed to Zilker Park.
Because we had the pre-printed parking pass, we were allowed to by-pass road blocks and traffic. The morning was already hot.

We got to Parking Lot B and pulled up to the Artist’s Help Tent. While waiting for a shuttle to take us/equipment to the Kiddie Stage, we struck up a conversation with the merch man from a band called Slightly Stoopid. He gave us their acoustic cd; I haven’t heard it yet, but I have a feeling it is going to be LOUD. He was wearing a white tee-shirt with what looked like the McDonald’s swoopy M logo, but upon closer inspection, I had to laugh. Inside the tangerine M was the word “marijuana” and underneath, “Billions and Billions Stoned”.
I immediately changed my perception of the music. I bet it is going to be LOUD and SWIRLY.

The shuttle came and two nice guys hauled all our stuff away, so Teresa and I walked over to the children’s tent. The grounds of the ACL Festival are so enormous, and still, when the crowds aren’t abounding….just staff, construction and volunteers walking around on acres and acres of green grass, the sun watching over all the trees, and the trees curious about the giant stages
placed just so. It’s quiet, and clean, and I get swept up in all the hard work of organizing these events…cables running behind the tents, fences to seperate back stage areas from the ticket holders; trucks full of ice, beer, food; artisans setting up their wares;
the millions of construction pipes and supports for the main stages, and lights and sound equipment, and huge screens to show the audience members what is happening on stage. Port-a-potties lined up, sometimes a hundred in a row! And the mobile homes where there is medical staff, accounting staff, merch staff, artists lounges, management staff….It’s unbelievable. A modern city of convenient music that only appears for three days, then WHOOSH! It disappears until next year.

The kids stage is about 25 feet by 20 feet, with a fat P.A. system. The entire area is covered by a white tent, and there is one, living young oak tree that sits directly behind the sound board. Does three days of live music and the energy of people effect this tree? Does it enjoy being under a tent and out of the rays of Austin’s summer sunshine? Does it mind being alone, which it normally would be? Does this little tree think, “Woo-hoo! It’s almost time for the kids to return?” I know you think I’m silly, but it is a living plant. It must respond, to some degree, to all the variables suddenly thrown its way….

After meeting Lacey and Rachel, two of the nicest crew you could ever hope to meet, we are scuttled over to the Artist’s Check In area and given meal tickets (which we never use; more on this later). I already have my artists’ wrist pass; I’m ready to go.

Around 3 o’clock, the boys arrive: Brad with his heavy bag of symbols and his coolie-o girlfriend, Charlie; Steve with his nephew, Stevie. Lance, iolana, the boys, Charlie and Teresa all hop into the van. I rev it up, and away we go.

Now the traffic is a wee bit more intense, but, again, our pass helps us veer off into the closed off area of the park, and we head down a path behind the Austin Nature Center, where we can see in from behind. They rescue animals there: they have a raccoon and a coyote and some hawks. And you can learn all about pond life and rocks and general nature oriented info about Austin’s wildlife. I like to feed the carp when we go. Their big lips suck up the fish food as soon as it hits the water. They are Mick Jagger fish!!!

We park. It is getting dusty. We grab two shuttles and head over to the kids area. We aren’t scheduled to play until 6, so iolana gets busy getting her face painted, making sand art, playing games and winning prizes, talking to the H.E.B. Buddy ( a guy inside a giant foam suit of a paper grocery bag with groceries sticking out of his head…very cute!) Lance is sporting his black cowboy hat we got when we went to the Virgin Islands several years back…he looks GOOD! I’m talking to the occassional friend, and then plop down in the dirt and wait for Lucas Miller to start. I look back, and Lance has found a spot in the bleachers, so io and I pop up with him.

Lucas Miller is a zoologist that became a children’s entertainer. He is very smart and talented and sweet and it was fun to finally hear him perform live. I sang on his new album; great album! Anyway, Lucas sings to tracks, and I always find that a curious thing. I’ve only tried that once, at a Valentine show in Dallas. It was awkward, so I haven’t tried it again.
His tracks sound full and meaty, and he’s very comfortable working with them. It’s fun to watch other performers and study their “tricks of the trade”; I always learn something. I liked it when he worked with puppets. He turned a tadpole into a frog!

Then there was the Palm Elementary School Choir; rock on! They were full of spunk, had a rockin’ band. We only heard a little of them because we were out walking around with the 100,000 other people by then (oy!). We heard a wee bit of Lucinda Williams and walked past the Gospel Tent, where a reggae band was revving it up and the crowd was chanting along…we lifted io up on our shoulders so she could see the band across the sea of people. We bought a Fresca. We read the names of all the local (and not local) eateries….The wash of music and people talking and movement and dust and hot sun mixed with sweat and the aromas of food and beer and the colors of clothing and skin is overwhelming. I’m not much of a festival goer. It’s just too much for me because my brain is exploding with ideas and reactions to every shift in the crowd, so I prefer the morning, back when it was still and I could keep my brain that way.

We get back to our stage, and it is time to start prepping the stage. The drums from the last group are being hauled off; a volunteer starts grabbing Brad’s drums. Another one grabs my guitar, the bass, the amp. I hop on the stage in my green skirt with glitter beads and plug into the D.I. Steve and Brad are talking to the monitor folks, I’m concentrating on the mains. Lance comes over and says my guitar needs more bass. I fiddle with the controls (I’m still learning my panel), and he signals from the bleachers when the balance is better. Barry, our sound man, is a sweetheart, and finally, everything seems pretty fine on stage, and we aren’t supposed to start for about 10 more minutes, but hey! We’re on stage! And there are suddenly children EVERYWHERE!!!
I’ve brought these miniature beach balls, and our dear friend, Kathy Carr, has patiently sat and removed each ball from each plastic bag and she and her family have blown them all up and now there is a ball war between the stage and the kids. As fast as kids are throwing them at me, I’m kicking them back out. Then, they figure out if they throw the balls AT MY GUITAR, it makes a sound! Now I’m being slammed with balls, left and right! There are balls all over the stage and I have to make an announcement that the balls need to stay off the stage so we don’t trip over them. That was dumb! Now the ballfire has doubled! Oh, well!

I decide to hit the Hokey Pokey until it is time to start the show, so I jam away, kids hokeying, balls flying. Then, I look to my left to start the show, and Steve has left his bass. Where is he, I joke. Is he taking a pee? I ask. Yes, yes he is. So, I decide to make up a waltz: The P Waltz. So, I’m singing a silly song I’m making up about needing to go pee and enjoying myself trememdously. He still isn’t back. I consider making up a song about the bladder, when in he saunters. Whew!


So, we jam! We tear into RADIATION MAN, followed by IOLANA (complete with a dad trying to hold the cards and crying child).
Next, we play RED WAGON, and I introduce my new song, TURN IT OFF (which has interactive parts for parents AND children!) and then I sit down on a chair in front of the stage, pulling the mic stand and mic off stage with me, and the kids gather round and we sing I WISH YOU WELL, and I look out into the faces and see iolana’s kindegarten teacher, who has tears, and I get choked up and can hardly sing. And all the faces are so beautiful, and everyone is singing, and it just makes my heart burst with love.
I truly love everyone at that moment.

Afterwards, my throat is busted up; too much dust, heat and stress, but I keep chatting away with friends, new and old; signing beach balls, even signed a NAKED calendar….my first time to see the photograph printed. Kong, my dear, dear friend, has surprised me by showing up and I get to chat with him afterwards; he is tour mananger on tour with the Decemberists, and their show was cancelled in Houston, so he got to come early for ACL (they play on Sunday) and drop in to say “hello” to me….and I saw Winker, although we didn’t get to say anything (he always disappears, and then I’m left wondering if he isn’t really a ghost!) and I saw Stephen Maynard, a man I adore, and his new flame, Barbara (just lovely!)…and Carolyn from my church, who I haven’t seen in many a year, and her new fellow, Greg; and I thank the crew, and everyone is breaking down, kids still running around, equipment being packed up, faces still being painted…

I end up being taken back over to Artist’s Check- in to get paid after waiting for about twenty minutes; Rachel is very nice and
escorts me over. She asks me to wait in the artists food court, so I swing over to see if I can put a plate together for io; but since I don’ t have my meal ticket with me, they won’t serve me. I show my artist bracelet, no go. So, I sit outside the tent, feeling a bit glum, finally Rachel returns.

Getting paid at ACL Fest is humourous, to me. You have to knock to enter (they keep the door locked), and then there are ALWAYS two police officers sitting in the waiting area. BIG police officers. And, finally, someone slides out from behind a closed door and whispers (I’m not kidding), “Are you Sara? Or Sara’s represenative?” And I say, “Yes,” with my croaky throat, and she has me sign a form and count the money (they pay in cash or check), and then it is over. And you leave. And the door is locked behind you.

I get dropped off from one more shuttle, only this time they drop me off at the wrong stage, so I have to walk about 1/4 of a mile back to the children’s stage to meet Lance and io, but by now I have huge blisters on my feet from my flip-flops, so I throw them in the trash and walk back barefoot in the dust…which wouldn’t have been so bad expect there were sticker-burrs every five or six feet, and so I’m hopping around, “ouch ouch!” and picking sticker burrs out of my dirt-encrusted feet, sweating and just wanting to see my family and get home and bathe my poor feet.

I make it back, Lance, io and Teresa are sitting in a sand pit, relaxing, and I hobble over to them, my poor throat on fire, my feet deluged with stings and blisters, and I feel like I’m crossing the Sierra Desert to reach them. My long skirt makes me feel like I’m Laura Ingalls with raw feet.

We are popped into a van and driven to our van, and we all squeeze in (cuz now the van is full of equipment AND people) and we make it home and I make spaghetti and meatballs and garlic toast and peas and corn and we sit down to a hot meal and , afterwards, we read books to iolana and she is off to bed and i tenderly wash my poor feet and lance takes a shower and we settle onto the sofa and watch some “curb your enthusiasm” and catch an update on the hurricane and go to bed.

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