ACL 2009 Day Two: Who'll Stop the Rain?
Photo by Mark C. Austin
That was the question on Saturday, when downpours tested the drainage properties of the newly laid Zilker Park sod to test. Curiously, with the air still warm, the crowd seemed to take the growing swamp in stride, but you have to guess that with all the muddy-buddy action (Woodstock 40, friends?) the new field is going to need some attention, stat. One of the positive side benefits of the rain was that it forced folks to check out the off-neglected space that this year has been tabbed the Wildlflower Stage, beneath a corrugated roof.
New Orleans pianist Henry Butler, a blind musician who has been instrumental in NOLA recovery efforts, blew back the storm's wet sneeze with his band. They lit up the crowd with "Iko, Iko" helping the heads find their rhythm, and boosted a firecracker version of Fats Domino's "Hello Josephine." Though ACL continues to pursue diversity (recognizing that hip hop is a bigger seller than Texas twang, nationally at least) the Wildflower sideshow still suffers from the effects of being ghettoized. Big stages are reserved for big names, sure, but would it be too much go give the reggae dudes, the jazz pianists, the West African griots and Andalucian guitar heroes better billing?
Seriously. How else to explain the appearance of Eek a Mouse, one of the Jamaican reggae kings, and a royal toaster likewise trapped in the shed instead of having an outdoor stage to call his own? Chanting "ganja, ganja, ganja" and pulling lovelies out of the crowd to join his tight outfit on stage, Eek a Mouse would have been better served by a brighter spotlight - and, let's face it, better weather. But beneath the roof of the Wildflower stage, Eek managed to start a blaze in more ways than one. Next year, let him take over the hillside.
Leave it to Levon Helm, the American music legend - for the Band man behind the drums (recently celebrated in song by Texas' own Robert Earl Keen) - to stop the rain.
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Though throat maladies kept Helm from singing, Helm's soaring 10-piece band featuring some of the regulars of his upstate NY midnight rambles held back the flood for their hour-long set. Part history lesson, part backporch pull. From "The Shape I'm in" through "Chest Fever" Larry Campbell and Theresa Williams served as able vocalists, and in the case of bringing a woman's voice to the fore, offered a tasty alternative to some of the more traditional tunes. For this listener at least, I would not mind donning a "Long Black Veil" if it were the last song ever heard. Fortunately, it was not.
There was more mud to contend with as the hometown crowd for Bob Schneider's Scabs shook off the slime to "Tarantula." Big butts, blowjobs and "honk" fever were the order of the night (though Schneider has a decent new record to promote these days as well). Then, joining the poor and hungry, wet and tired, we shot off into the night like one of the lasers from the Ghostland Observatory showdown with Dave Matthews. Dry your eyes. Too soggy to give a shit, we let the fans have their day, hoping for clearer skies on Sunday.
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