Austin City Limits 2012 – 10 Years of ACL

Austin’s annual three-day music festival celebrates its ten-year anniversary on October 12th and promises to be bigger and better than ever. The lineup rivals the country’s most prestigious festivals, featuring 2012’s biggest successes (Alabama Shakes, Gotye), ACL vets (Andrew Bird, Delta Spirit), and Austin’s freshest indie acts (Quiet Company, The Eastern Sea). Here’s a look at only a few of the festival highlights from the last ten years. While tickets are sold-out, we want to make sure you know exactly what you’re missing out on so you can snatch up one of those dirt-cheap early bird tickets for next year when ACL debut’s as a 2-weekend festival!

10. ACL Introduces Neon Indian (2009) – when Denmark’s The Raveonettes were stranded abroad due to immigration issues, Denton Texas’s Neon Indian stepped up and introduced itself to the music community at large, showering the ACL crowd with its signature “chill-wave.” Alan Paloma and company have shown no signs of stopping since, with appearances on Jimmy Fallon, a collaboration with Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips, and a sophomore album Era Extraña. Other artists who owe ACL fest for success stemming from others’ cancellations are Ghostland Observatory (an eleventh-hour inclusion after another artist’s cancellation in 2006) and Muse (who ascended into the White Stripes’ 2007 headlining set when The White Stripes pulled out last-minute).

9. Dell Lounge Sound & Jury Contest (2007-2009) – C3 Presents incorporated the age-old “battle of the bands” concept in 2007, offering a lucrative reward to an unsigned band – an opening slot Friday on the Dell Stage. In a contest that showcased bands’ music as well as their marketing savvy, contestants tapped their fan-bases via an online voting system. Through five rounds, fans and bands were whipped in to a voting frenzy until the contest culminated with a five-band final show at Austin’s legendary nightclub Antone’s. Throughout its three-year existence, the contest propelled the careers of several great bands, including one of Austin’s most promising acts Bright Light Social Hour (2009).

8. Bon Iver in the rain (2009) – Go ahead and admit it– every time it rains, you think of how great it would be to pull out your Bon Iver vinyl collection. Saturday of 2009’s fest provided a gray sky and light drizzle – a perfect setting for Bon Iver. Justin Vernon and his three accompanists showered the somber but wildly appreciative crowd with selections from “For Emma, Forever Ago,” “Blood Bank,” and Vernon’s contribution to the “Dark Was the Night” compilation, “Brackett, WI.” While rain typically mars a festival experience, this time its contribution to the aesthetic could not have been more perfect.

7. Austin City Limits Music Festival debuts (2002) : Not to be confused with the PBS-TV show for which the festival derived its name, ACL Festival debuted on September 27, 2002 with a far more Americana flavor than the “something for everyone” lineup diversity of late. Marquee performances of the two-day event included Ryan Adams, Patty Griffin, Wilco and Emmylou Harris. Over 40,000 people witnessed what has now become a staple of fall in Austin and bore the sunburn to prove it on the unseasonably hot weekend.

6. ACL Festival goes “green” (2007) : In 2007, Austin City Limits got serious about the environmental impact of a festival that entertains over 150,000.  The festival generously gives back to improve Zilker Park (truly an Austin treasure). It also holds its vendors to a high standard, requiring eco-friendly plates, napkins, and utensils. Lastly, ACL’s “green” commitments have eliminated sales of plastic water bottles as well as provided vast amounts of recycling receptacles (and incentives for those who use them through its Rock-N-Recycle program).

5. Gillian Welch vs. Skrillex (2011) : If ever there was a flaw in the planning of the daily line-ups, Gillian Welch and Skrillex playing on stages within earshot of the other was the worst. The future Grammy winner’s decibel levels were no match for Welch’s and counterpart Dave Rawling’s throwback Appalachian folk numbers. However, in a world of divas where the loudest, brashest typically wins out, Welch’s humility and willingness to keep the show going for those packed underneath the tent quietly stole the show.

4.  Ben Kweller’s Feminine Hygiene Plug (2006) : Ben Kweller’s debut set on ACL’s main stage ended prematurely after he suffered a severe nosebleed. Kweller, bleeding profusely, but thinking quickly, summoned a tampon from the crowd to alleviate the gushing. The images of Kweller’s blood-stained guitar and tampon-filled nostril swept across every music blog in the world, it seemed. Unfortunately Kweller’s set was cut short, but he was lucky enough to have a chance to play again the next year (which was blood-free and quite a fine show). Later, Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne didn’t miss the chance to poke fun when he covered his face in face blood and asked fans to throw tampons onto the stage to help him clean up.

3. Blind Boys of Alabama Quell the Heat (2004) : In what turned out to be the first true example of Austin’s climate not always working in tandem with the festival, scorching temperatures punished those who forgot their hats and sunscreen in 2004. The Blind Boys of Alabama, probably the oldest folks in Zilker Park throughout the weekend, outshone all other performers and with their inspiring gospel performance in their signature suits. The historic group’s sun-soaked mid-afternoon set time did not faze the singers one bit and put all weather-related complaints from the weekend into perspective.

2. String Cheese Incident Flies Pink Floyd Pig (2003) : In ACL’s breakout year as a prestigious three-day festival, String Cheese Incident topped all in grandeur by launching a replica of the pig used on the cover of Pink Floyd’s 1977 album “Animals.”. Manager Mike Luba tracked down a pig used on a 1988 Pink Floyd tour from a former Pink Floyd stagehand. The prop had been badly damaged from a mishap during a show on that tour, but the band managed to fully repair the tattered vessel thanks to Austinite Nga Keith of Bluebonnet Cut & Sew. SCI wowed the audience by successfully launching the pig during a cover of “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2.“

1. Coldplay Passes the Torch of Soft Rock Supremecy (2005) – Despite Coldplay’s continual decline in “hipness” over the past few years, their foresight at ACL 2005 deserves some major credit. Essentially, Coldplay crowned Arcade Fire as the best band in the world and (though perhaps not intentionally) their eventual successors as kings of sensitive-guy rock. Though not a complete surprise to those who were familiar with Arcade Fire at the time (a year after the release of “Funeral”), Chris Martin and company turned out to be rather prophetic, as Arcade Fire ascended to superstardom with their 2010 Grammy triumph.

– Justin Wiseman