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Consistently known for its diverse musical offerings, the 2010 Austin City Limits Music Festival featured an exciting lineup of music ranging from folk to synth-pop, and included musicians both from up the street and across the pond. The three-day music festival finally found a sweet spot in Austin’s at-times unbearable Indian summer heat, with a slight breeze and temperatures hovering in the high 70s. Contributing to the pleasant environment, this year a new sprawling lawn kept the mud pits of yesteryear at bay. Performers and festival-goers alike appeared to be in their element, and there were relatively few hang-ups over the course of the weekend.
During the first afternoon, starry-eyed Australian siblings Julia & Angus Stone wove their melancholy melodies around each other, taking turns in the spotlight on the Austin Ventures Stage. While Angus sang, the flower-dappled Julia would break away to dance in a folk style, lifting up her bohemian pink dress to reveal a pair of prancing bare feet.
Shortly thereafter at the BMI Stage, the four members of Tennessee-based band The Ettes played with the hot afternoon sun shining directly in their faces. “I was going to puke and die!” joked front woman Linsday “Coco” Hames about the experience. “But once the sun goes down in Austin this time of year, it’s perfect,” she said. After surviving their official day performance, The Ettes played a kick-butt show later that evening at Emo’s as openers to Those Darlins and friends The Black Lips. Inflected with the band’s usual between-song snark, the high energy set saw drummer Maria “Poni” Silver head down, pounding away at her skins like they needed to be disciplined, s Coco strutted around stage with her battle ax, ferociously jangling the tambourine as she belted out vocals with enough soul to set the mic on fire.
On Friday afternoon, the Clear 4G Stage tent was literally overflowing with sound and a throng of people undulating to an unlikely combination of instruments, such as an iPad and a tuba. Providing one of the most entertaining and energizing sets of the festival, the representative members of Tijuana’s Nortec Collective seamlessly melded their Norteño and electronic roots, all while dancing, posing comically with their instruments, and waving the Mexican flag intermittently. Mastermind producers Bostich and Fussible (Ramon Amezcua and Pepe Mogt, respectively), two of the four lead members in the collective’s current lineup, conducted the show from the back of the stage, where they calmly toggled the direction of the show in response to the other players by operating a large, streamlined station of blinking lights and a few new handheld electronic toys. “Technology is changing very, very fast,” marveled Mogt. “A few months ago we were playing with the interfaces connected to the laptop – a lot of cables. Now we are playing without cables, using the iPad as a remote control, and [using] an application we designed to control every track, every volume. Everything is wi-fi and we move between the musicians and interact more like a band. It really changes our show.”
With the fairgrounds still waking up on the second day of the festival, Canadian native Basia Bulat aerobically strummed her guitar (and later, Autoharp), belting out sweet folk melodies to the enthusiastic crowd around the Austin Ventures Stage. In between songs, she exchanged shy smiles with her younger brother, Bobby, who accompanied on drums. Later reflecting on her performance, multi-instrumentalist Bulat said, “The quiet songs went over just as well as the loud songs – I wasn’t expecting that. I’ve played a lot of festivals, but it was my first time playing a rock festival. So, I kind of just threw in the mix of what I do.” The set pulled largely from her acclaimed, recently released sophomore album, Heart of My Own, and included a special Polish song, to be featured on her next album.
By midday, Brooklyn’s Bear in Heaven had gathered a young mass of fans at the Zync Stage. Following the release of the band’s most recent album, keyboardist and bassist Sadek Bazarra had to drop out because he was unable to join them on their tour, and lead singer Jon Philpot now handles synths and sequencers while percussionist Joe Stickney has taken on additional drum triggers. Stickney commented, “All the newer stuff that we write, we know what we’re going to have to do to play it live. So we don’t incorporate elements that are going to be difficult to translate to the live setting.” From their seamless dark electronic-rock set at the festival, one would think they were always a three-piece.
Next door at the BMI Stage, a colorfully painted British producer Dan Black left no inch of the stage un-touched, moving in the funkiest way possible between his synthesizers and the pack of charged-up viewers dancing before him.
About the same stage the following day, vibrant local quartet Speak drew an audience mixing their loyal Austin followers – including former elementary school teachers – with new fans. “My pre-school teacher and about four or five of my old teachers were there. It was pretty funny to see both our friends and total strangers just losing it,” remarked frontman Troupe Gammage. The boys delivered a number of songs off their infectious debut album with charisma and a seemingly endless supply of energy. The set peaked with a wildly received cover of The Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive,” showcasing the group’s trademark facility with all vocal registers. “I think [that] was a turning point for me. The rest of the set, the momentum was with us, and I was really able to get into the groove,” said bassist Joey Delahoussaye.
With the intense heat, dust storms, and exploding port-a-potties of past festivals out of the picture, this year’s Austin City Limits allowed music fans to really focus on the incredible line-up rather than small-scale survival.