Lights, Camera, Headaches

The quickest way to ruin a music festival? Get actors to show up.

Throughout the festival's 2013 lineup (both weekends), all the way down to the gospel choirs and children's-stage performers, there is not one artist currently living in the Houston area. This is hardly a new phenomenon, either. Since ACL's first year in 2002, not one prominent Houston-based artist or band has performed at ACL. The only ones who have even been based remotely in the area at the time of their performance were gospel groups the Jones Family Singers (of Bay City), who appear almost annually, and the Mighty Sincere Voices of Navasota.

Admittedly, most of the city's best-known, still-living musical "graduates" — Rodney Crowell, Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Jack Ingram, Blue October and Hayes Carll — have played the festival at least once, but with the exception of Blue October and Carll, all with several years' distance between those artists' Houston years and Zilker Park. By contrast, these North Texas acts have played ACL, most of them still living in either Denton or the Metroplex at the time: Toadies, Midlake, Old 97's, Ben Kweller, Centro-Matic, Brave Combo, Erykah Badu, Sara Hickman, Sarah Jaffe and Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights.

So that's a dozen years now, well north of 1,000 ACL performers in all — at a rate of roughly 100 acts each year — and only a handful of artists even with ties to the fourth-largest city in the nation, one that gets bigger every day. At face value, that seems to add up to a slight so big it couldn't help but be intentional, but that may not necessarily be the case.

Thomas Fec of Black Moth Super Rainbow says "writing songs with guitars is really uncomfortable to me."
Pitch Perfect PR
Thomas Fec of Black Moth Super Rainbow says "writing songs with guitars is really uncomfortable to me."

One important thing to consider is who exactly puts on ACL. Today C3 Presents is the events behemoth behind ACL and Lollapalooza in both North and South America, but its roots are as a (relatively) humble promoter booking shows at midsize venues such as Trees and the Gypsy Tea Room in Dallas and Stubb's in Austin. More than a few of those aforementioned North Texans cut their teeth in those rooms, becoming known ticket-selling quantities to the agents and talent buyers in a position to put them in front of ACL audiences. The music business will always be about networking.

By contrast, C3 has never had much of a presence in Houston apart from presenting one-off shows by artists such as David Byrne or Neil Young, and even then once in a very blue moon. Even that has been a relatively recent development as C3 has grown large enough to occasionally challenge the longtime concert gorilla in these parts, Pace/Live Nation. Perhaps a better question is why those promoters didn't explore putting on their own festival somewhere around here, but there are probably a million answers to that one.

Another thing worth considering is that the types of music ACL Fest tends to book in large quantities — "adult alternative," indie-rock, jam bands, Americana — have always been, if not specific to Austin, certainly appreciated by audiences in the so-called Live Music Capital of the World more than almost anywhere else in this part of the country, and certainly more than in Houston. Although the demographics are changing with the now-constant influx of new residents, Houston has historically preferred its music to be more belligerent and confrontational, and often the work of some fairly drug-addled imaginations.

So as flabbergasting as the thought of ZZ Top's now being bypassed a dozen years in a row is — or that ACL hasn't somehow lucked into a surprise Beyoncé miracle — it's equally hard to imagine some of our better recent punk or metal bands (Venomous Maximus, Born Liars or Poor Dumb Bastards, say) killing an ACL crowd, except perhaps literally.

For the same reason, the thought of unleashing unsettling performers like Indian Jewelry, Z-Ro, Linus Pauling Quartet or Fatal Flying Guilloteens on hippie-dippie Zilker Park is downright laughable. (The Roky Erickson of recent ACLs has been serene, almost grandfatherly, not the troubled psych-rock wild man of his youth.) Wild Moccasins, Buxton, Grandfather Child or the Tontons all could have probably made it these past two or three years, but maybe the stars just didn't line up right. We may never know.

Accordingly, some Houston artists have found a warmer reception at ACL's "edgier," tattooed younger cousin Fun Fun Fun Fest, which has welcomed Black Congress, Bun B, Devin the Dude, B L A C K I E and Fat Tony in years past. And as little love as has sometimes been lost over the years between the Houston Press and the people behind Free Press Summer Fest, specifically Free Press Houston, we really have no other choice than to salute FPSF for realizing in 2009 that if you want to see a bunch of Houston acts play a big music festival, you might as well start one in Houston.

Inquiring Minds

Under the Rainbow
The masked mind behind lo-fi psych-pop outfit Black Moth Super Rainbow also goes by "Tobacco."

Brittanie Shey

Imagine my surprise when at a late-night gig after Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest last fall, I discovered that the falsetto-voiced singer of a new favorite band, Black Moth Super Rainbow, was male, not female.

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