Jack White (ACL 2012) | © 2012 James Villa Photography

Austin City Limits 2012 – A Look Back

ACL 2012 (Zilker Park- Austin, TX)
– By Austin Reed

Ladies and Gentlemen: we’re three months away from the much anticipated, perennially explosive Austin City Limits Festival 2013, and from a live-music perspective, the sky is the limit. Frontrunners Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza have done well over the past few years to set an unreasonably high standard on the musical versatility and day-to-day lineup depth of the freshly aggrandized three-day/three-night format. At this point, it’s a knockdown, drag-out fight to see which festival can book whom for what price at what time of day. Mid-tier acts have begun to garner the excitement and anticipation solely reserved for headliners, and the headliners have gotten more and more opaque. Long gone are the days of the jam-based headliner festival; rather, cross-genre playbills tie up the top spots, pitting deep-south hip-hop against 80’s glam rock against post-indie chillgroove noise garage. Or something. I don’t know.

But amid the immeasurable disarray that is the modern festival circuit, ACL has remained one of the premier live-music events of the year by employing a much simpler approach: Book bands that enjoy playing Austin. It’s ridiculously novel; South by Southwest already attracts hundreds of thousands of music’s most faithful fundamentalists into the bowels of the nation’s live-music capital. How tough would it be, then, to attract even more of those same people to an equally sized event at a park that seems to have been designed with this very thing in mind?

The answer? Not that tough. And that’s the way it’s been for years.

Last year’s lineup blew the doors off whatever conventional format had existed prior to it. The range was immeasurable; headlining acts Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Black Keys and Jack White provided powerhouse performances each night, but their offering seemed only to be a spiritual tithe for folk forefather Neil Young and his backing band, the eternally irreplaceable Crazy Horse. Young and team delivered an incendiary set, quelling the hunger of longtime Crazy Horse loyalists and new-to-the-old-scene enthusiasts alike.

The Black Keys (ACL 2012) | © 2012 James Villa Photography

I can’t help but feel subjectively humiliated when I say, “mid-tier acts,” and “Florence + The Machine,” in the same sentence. But when it comes to the heavy hitters of the festival world, that’s exactly where we are. Florence Welch has accumulated a staggeringly populous and diverse fanbase over the past few years, providing emotionally charged performances that are at the same time helplessly entertaining and alarmingly relatable. Pair the sensory success of Florence + The Machine with other mid-tier knockouts like Weezer, Gotye, The Avett Brothers, M83, Andrew Bird, and AVICII, and you’re left with an overwhelming compulsion to look several different directions at once.

This is simultaneously the appeal of and aversion to big-top festivals like ACL. So much to see, and so little time. With that in mind, festival goers have adopted something of a tourist’s attitude: Make the most of every second you have. It’s no surprise, then, to see more people moving about the grounds at a breakneck speed, trying with everything they have to catch the next great show. Thankfully, Zilker Park isn’t THAT big.

2013 brings with it one of Austin City Limits’ most explosive lineups in recent history. Stay tuned for an exclusive On Tour Monthly spotlight on some of this year’s most highly anticipated performances.

Florence + The Machine (ACL 2012) | © 2012 James Villa Photography

James Villa