Music festival, as pastry

Listening Parties
photo / Liz Wong 

It’s no secret that the Austin City Limits Music Festival has gone corporate. Like, Huey Lewis corporate. I mean, really, about half the stages are named after AT&T. Anyone at LCD Soundsystem on Friday will remember James Murphy craning his neck around to see which stage he was playing on, only to comment that when he was playing in a punk band, he dreamed of performing “with six bars of reception.”

But it’s a tired reason to dump on the festival. If anything, the scads of corporate dollars flowing into ACL Fest have helped the poor thing out: There’s free water, more misters than ever, and even an air-conditioned “Digital Oasis” with Wi-Fi and free handheld mini-fans. You can get pretty damn good festival food for under $10. Oh, and more good bands with each passing year.

What’s more interesting about ACL is how people have tried to get a piece of the pie at the ground level – before you even get inside. Like scalpers. I love scalpers. Nothing says egregious like some guy holding a cardboard “I need tickets” sign next to three print passes. And you can imagine the whole print-your-own-ticket thing is a scalper’s wet dream. How easy is it for them to just print out 10 copies of a three-day pass and sell them to the poor simp who gets turned away at the gate for having a duplicate?

The outside-the-festival food gets better each year, too. This past weekend, noted 7th Street hooligans Kebabalicious were out selling $7.50 beef-and-lamb gyros. The perfect drunk food. And good luck finding bottled water for under a dollar, though if your going rate is a dollar or more, I know plenty of folks who would be happy to sell you a fix. More into energy drinks? A Red Bull will run you about three, and a Lo-Carb Monster’s worth your firstborn. Incidentally, kudos to Sno Beach, who will still serve you a massive “small” sno-cone with up to three flavors for $1.50. Nothing will make you feel better about having your flesh ripped off by the sun than lemon-lime-mango high-fructose corn syrup poured over frozen water. It’s honestly a treat.

Hippies were selling many-colored pipes as “commemorative festival paperweights.”

But the best gig has to be parking. Zilker-based businesses are lucky enough to be able to charge about 25 bucks a pop for festival parking – or to ward off everyone in sight with bitchy “WE TOW” signs and then wonder why nobody is patronizing their business. My favorite towing scam is that one lot all the way over by Barton Springs and Congress trying to charge $30 a spot. You know, so you can walk as far as you would from the #1 bus.

photo / Liz Wong Seriously, how bitchy. 

Of course people want money. But what’s more fun is the people who just want your attention. Have you seen the Jesus people, who stand out on Barton Springs Road every night with the huge “Repent or Die, etc.” signs? You may recognize them from UT’s West Mall, and I kind of just feel bad for them. I realize that it’s their job to spread the word to those music-listening heathens and all, but could you imagine a worse group to preach to than tired, cranky festivalgoers who have just spent their day packed like cattle in the summer heat, only to see Bob Dylan take a huge shit all over his canon? Well, I feel bad for the poor kids handing out Jesus pamphlets on the ground – the ones who get spat on by drunk frat dudes. The guy safely up on the stepladder, screaming into the megaphone? I wonder if they could ID me if I knocked him over. He’s the equivalent of one of those insane Decemberists fans who comes to the show having prepared harmonies for every song then sings full-blast over Colin Meloy.

It’s ACL, and everyone wants a piece of the pie. I figure that this festival gig is eventually going to descend into farce. It’s going to become part of the experience to find as many ways as possible to get ripped off or tortured over the course of three days. It’s kind of like what happens when hipsters decide to dress themselves. But your favorite band’s gonna be playing and you’ll just have to see them and the cycle repeats. So hate not your humble scalper. He’s just like you, only with less passion for music and more conning you out of your money.