Austin City Limits Music Festival: Day One 2006

Austin, Texas is the home to the annual Austin City Limits (ACL) Music Festival. 2006 celebrates the festival’s fifth birthday of the festival sharing the name of the popular PBS show Austin City Limits. Zilker Park plays the gracious host to a weekend dedicated to music, art, food, and all around good times. One of the biggest and best celebrations of musical talent and diversity has three days of music on eight stages and 130 bands.

Due to ACL taking place in September in Texas, the heat gets as much mention as the music, art, and food. That being said, yes, it was sweltering on Friday, but there was some cloud coverage giving a few welcomed breaks from the sun throughout the day. Since ACL helped Zilker Park get a new sprinkler so the grass is healthy this year, preventing the horrible dust problem from 2005. Another trend to help beat the heat in 2006 is more misting and water stations along with more tents covering various booths.

And if you’re like me, you will go to a concert and totally love it only to forget what was played when you get home. This year, Austin City Limits Music Festival has the answer to the age-old question of how to remember the set list. All you have to do is text setlist and your email to 56658 and you will get an email with a link to ACL setlists. Go on, give it a try.

Getting to the festival seems the easiest part. There is the free shuttle from downtown, you can walk, or even hail a cab. As the night progressed, the crowd got thicker and thicker as more people filed into the park. After walking around finding the Heineken stage, which is past the BMI stage next to the main festival entrance, I was ready to see Ray LaMontagne. I was supposed to see him during South by Southwest a couple of years ago, but he ‘got sick’ and was unable to show up. It seems every time I am set up to see the man play, something happens and he is a no show. Luckily for me, Ray LaMontagne was at ACL in his full glory. The crowd gathered around his stage was so large, I wondered how so many people had heard of him. The man is great, don’t get me wrong, but he only has two albums out and the second of which was just released in August.

If you are unfamiliar with Ray LaMontagne, I urge you to tune into his set on AT&T’s Blue Room later today. His sound could easily be the result of a love child between Eric Clapton and Janis Joplin. He has the guitar driven folk rock with a raspiness to his voice that you almost want to fall in love with him. Then you look at him and realize he even looks like a love child of Eric Clapton.

Ray LaMontagne did a nice job of including a mix of tunes from both albums. As long as he included my three favorite songs, I wouldn’t have cared what he played. Fortunately for me, he did play “Shelter,” “Trouble,” and “How Come”.

After Ray LaMontagne, I headed further east to catch one of this year’s living legends at ACL Festival, Van Morrison. I had mixed feelings on what to expect since I heard his performance at the Austin City Limits taping the night before was not great. Actually, to be honest I heard it was bad; he was a dick and didn’t sound great. I was hoping that wouldn’t be the case for the festival and picked out a good spot. Now, I’ve been to some big shows during the ACL Music Festival in the past and seen some big crowds. When Van Morrison started, his crowd was easily the largest I had seen gathered. I’m not even sure the folks in the back could even hear what was going on it was so large.

Van Morrison is one of those musicians that everyone knows at least one song they sing, unless you have been living under a rock for more than 40 years. He sings a great mumbly blues with some great rock tracks as well. The start to his set was fun, but not as good live as he is recorded. I don’t know if it was the heat or his age, but the tempo wasn’t quite the same as his recorded songs. In fact, it took a moment for me to even recognize “Bright Side of the Road” because the back-up singers weren’t singing until about halfway through the song. And since he is rather mumbly, you cannot always understand every word you hear. But that is part of Van Morrison’s charm. It gives that authentic blues feel to his music when he has that soulful mumble backed by the steel guitar. And his set at ACL very much reflected his more bluesy side.

Not long after he started, quite a bulk of the crowd left. If they were trying to beat the jam to leave the festival or try to catch some of John Mayer at the other end of the festival, I don’t know. I do know that it gave me some space to sit and relax and enjoy this old blues that I’ve grown up listening to. He did play “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Gloria” for the fans that aren’t too familiar with all of his songs. When “Brown Eyed Girl” started, everyone jumped to their feet, started dancing, and sang along. I wonder if it ever upsets Van Morrison that “Brown Eyed Girl” will always be his biggest and most recognizable hit. And singing it for as long as he has, I wonder if he ever tires of it. “Gloria” was also a big fan favorite and it ended out his set.

As predicted, there was a huge, epic, gigantic line to catch the free shuttle once the festival was over. The line to hail a taxi was also quite long. So like thousands of others, I opted to walk down the road and across the river. The street was full of a sea of people that organizers of a protest march would be thrilled at seeing. As we walked into the heat of the night, chants rang out calling for G-L-O-R-I-A. It was a prefect end to the first day of Austin City Limits Music Festival.

If you weren’t able to get tickets because it is totally and completely sold out of every time of ticket option, don’t worry. You can catch a huge portion of what the festival has to offer via AT&T’s Blue Room and stream concerts on your computer through the comfort of your own home. The big plus is you definitely get to beat the heat doing that.

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