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You Like American Music . . .

2003-09-29 - 8:28 a.m.

Okay, before I have any more random inspiration, while I'm still tired from my crazy Saturday night of essay-writing and partying (in that order, thankfully) I want to cover some of the stuff that I have been meaning to get to. Hopefully, I will finish up before 1) the new manual come in for me to edit or 2) I decide I really need to write about something else, like breakfast tacos or how Trading Spaces ate my brain.

So, Austin City Limits.

Part of me feels weird about being all, "Ohygodyouguys, I TOTALLY had like the FUNNEST. TIME. EVER! at the coolest festival in the world, and like, I'm so sorry that almost no one who reads this lives here, much less went, because IT TOTALLY RULED!!! Eeeeeee!!!" So, instead, I will do it as a very special entry entitled . . .


Lesson 1: Support Local Music

No matter where you live, whether it's Philadelphia, DC, Paris, or San Antonio (to name just a few places where people who read this live--my Parisian following is huge, when compared to small objects, such as toothbrushes) there are bands struggling to get big. Most of them never, ever will be. However, a few more of them, with enough of a local following, make enough money to make music the thing that they do, as opposed to working as a waiter or telemarketer to make ends meet and doing music in their spare time. Some of them will be people who should never have been given a guitar, much less a Radiohead songbook, but others will be interesting and entertaining and odds are that if you go up to them afterwards and tell them how much they rule, they'll be flattered and invite you to the afterparty.

Two of the best acts I saw at ACL were Patrice Pike and Ruthie Foster, both local Austin ladies. I'd seen Patrice before, and was very impressed the first time. I was worried that my guest for the weekend, St. Caroline of the Nickel Slots ( wouldn't like her, since she tends to like self-aware, somewhat ironic pop while Patrice blends together Ani DiFranco's punk-folk earnestness with Sheryl Crow's easygoing positivity, which results in songs that are occassionally too sugary even for me, but Patrice put on a such a fantastic, exuberant show that even the Saint enjoyed, and I was blown away.

Ruthie was even better. The only proper response to this woman is "Damn, girl can SANG!" She's a blues/gospel singer who can transport you into a Black Baptist Church faster than you can say "Amen, precher!" She even threw in some comedy, scatting a song about sweet potato pies, the women who made them , and the wigs you had to keep on their heads when the spirit got to much for 'em and they had to be carried out of the church.I am checking her out again as soon as I can.

Odds are that there's a Patrice or a Ruthie in your town, or a kick-ass punk band or a groovin' jam band, if you're into that sorry excuse for a music genre. Find them tonight and enjoy.

Speaking of local artists . . .

Lesson 2: Mothers Are Good Things to Have Around

Technically, I learned this from the San Antonio Jazz Fest, where I saw my favorite local artist, Ginger Leigh, perform with her band. My mom was in the audience, loving every minute of Ginger's show. Later in the act, Ginger's mother and aunts--who were themselves a singing group in SA--took the stage with her and sang a classic girl-group song. My mom, the Saint and I were dancing in the crowd. It was a blast, well worth the hour drive and facing the rain. Hopefully, I'll get my Mom up to Austin for Ginger's big show sometime.

Give your mama a call today. Even if she can't sing like Ginger's, or rock like mine, you calling her out of the blue will probably make her day. And if not, call someone else's mama.

Lesson 3: The Redhead Chick Singer Thing? Bigger Than I Thought

One of the people that I had been looking forward to seeing at the Fest was Patty Griffin. The Saint and I arrived in the park two minutes before she was to go on. I managed to get a good spot regardless, with a good view of her on stage and on the Jumbotron.

Patty was decidedly the best solo artist at the show. She sang beautifully, was wonderfully engaging, and, not to put too fine a point on it, looked GORGEOUS. I'm talking mega-hottie here. Her red hair framed her face beautifully, the curls blowing in the breeze. She looked like Rita Hayworth. One of the best moments in the Fest had to be her rendition of "Mil Besos," where her earthy-yet-ethereal beauty was infused with Latin sexiness . . . and she's an Anglo girl form Maine who can't speak a lick of Spanish. If you like an intelligent songwriter with a graceful voice, go get a Patty Griffin CD.

Lesson 4: Big Fans are Often Annoying Fans

I am often chagrined by my Toriphility, but one thing I never do is scream during songs. I scream before and after, as most people do at concerts, but when I scream in the middle I ruin the experience for everyone else. Tori, being aware of this, has at times stopped during songs to tell the spazzoid fans to please shut up. Ani has done the same.

I really wish Beth Orton had. She was the last act I saw, and another one I had been looking forward to. As the sun was setting behind her, I thought, "Man, she HAS to do 'The Sweetest Decline.'" Beth comes onstage and this girl screams "WE LOVE YOU BETH!!!" Beth, who seemed rather shy, looked a little put-off. It was just her and a guitar, and before and after and often during her songs the same girl would SHRIEK and give another "WE LOVE YOU BETH!" I, along with everyone else, was getting annoyed. It was a pretty small stage. Then, Beth starts "The Sweetest Decline" and I melt. Then, halfway through, what I dreaded happening began: "EEEEEE!!! WE LOVE YOUUUUUUUUUU!" I tried to block it out, but it was hard. I really want to see Beth Orton again, especially with a full band, but I think I will need to do it somewhere other than Austin. Somewhere that people scream less.

Lesson 5: Before You Follow a Friend's Advice, Consider Your Friend

I saw Abra Moore on The Saint's recommendation. I was expecting a cutesy folk singer who would sing about liking whales, if "4-Leaf Clover" was any indication. What I got was a gorgeous woman--long black hair, dark, feline eyes--whose ironic smile made sure you knew to take her songs with a grain of salt. The best moment was when she had the audience choose what her last song would be, and when there was no clear consensus she said, "I know! Medley!" I realized that, as The Saint would not stomach a syrupy singer, I was in good hands.

Another friend of mine recommended I avoid Ween and go see Ben Harper. I saw Ben Harper once before, and thought he was good. However, I wanted to see a band I'd never seen, and I was glad I was. Ween rocked, very hard. I wondered why my friend would steer me wrong, and then I remembered that she didn't really like punk, which Ween incorporated a lot of in their sound. In this case, I was glad I decided to ignore her warnings, because I have another band to enjoy.

Lesson 6: A Good Singer/Songwriter and a Good Entertainer Are Two Very Different Things

On Sunday of the Fest, I started the day with Lucinda Williams. If you don't own her 1998 album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, go get it, because it paints such a vivid picture of the South, and does so intelligently. It's a favorite, naturally, so I was looking forward to seeing her. Sadly, she came out in sunglasses, kept them on the whole time, and seemed to be hungover. I felt as though she didn't care about performing for the crowd. There was only one song that she really rocked out on, and it was an angry song (that I love) from Car Wheels called "Joy." As cool as that moment was, overall I was a little down when I left the stage and headed to the next act.

Which brings me to my favorite part of the Festival . . .

I had heard about The Polyphonic Spree from a few people, and I had heard "Light and Day" in the Pods Unite commercial. It seemed like a happy little song. So The Saint and I went to see them after Lucinda.

Onstage came lead singer Tim DeLaughter, a guitarist, a bass player, three keyboardists, a three-man horn section, a violinist, a tambourine player, two percussionists, a flautist, a harp-player, and an eight person chorus. They were all in white robes with colored lining. When they began, they were all jumping around, shaking their heads, dancing, and doing something that approximated singing. They sang songs about being happy and living life and how cool it is that the sun shines.

It was the most fun I have ever had at a show in my life. I've had happy-fun times at The Flaming Lips, Dar Williams, The White Stripes, God the Band, and even Tiffany, but no band had ever had me as bouncy and bubbly as these guys. They turned me back into the five year old kid who didn't care if he danced like a freak in front of people. By the time they hit "Light and Day," I was leaping into the air with my hands up high, and so was everyone around me. They were unselfconscious and wildly joyous, and they brought that out in so many of us who were watching. Aftewards, I wound up at the music tent and saw that they were signing autographs. I told them all how amazing they were, and gave Tim a big hug. Their CD is far mellower in comparison, so it's hard to get what I'm talking about from the recording, but if the Polyphonic Spree is coming to your town, go see them, and leave your need to look cool at the door. You can thank me later.

These amazing bands (along with Liz Phair and Yo La Tengo, who I didn't have time to go on about) made that weekend one of the best in my life. I hope to be well out of Austin by this time next year, but if I'm not, for those three days next year I will be very happy that I stayed.

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The End - 2005-02-11
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