Austin City Limits

ACL Fest Preview: Five Outdoor Music Festivals That Could Have Gone a Lot Better

The 2009 Austin City Limits Festival kicks off Friday, and many of you are no doubt devising parking strategies and grappling with various permutations of 'How will I make it from the [a] set at [b] stage in time to catch [x]'s set at the [y] stage?' It's a serious dilemma, as ACL always puts together a solid lineup. Our only advice to you is to blow off Dave Matthews and head to the Ginger Man.

But aside from that, you probably have other lingering concerns. Music festivals are notoriously chancy things, seeing as how they rely on the coming together of such capricious elements as weather, police temperament and musician stability to make for a pleasant experience. Certain inconveniences (45-minute port-a-john lines) and annoyances (Arctic Monkeys) are to be expected at almost every festival, but we at Rocks Off sincerely hope everyone heading to Austin tomorrow avoids a festival experience like one of these:

Woodstock 1999, Rome, N.Y.: If anything good came out of this epic disaster, it was the widespread dissemination through worldwide media of the fact that Fred Durst is a fucking asshole. Aside from that, the dippy stories predicting a world-changing event were sort of right: after a weekend of rape, assault, arson, and vandalism, people no longer associate anything positive with the name "Woodstock."

Altamont Speedway Free Festival, Altamont Speedway, Calif. (1969): As Homer Simpson said, "For me, the sixties ended that day in 1978," or something. The murder of Meredith Hunter during the Rolling Stones' headlining set marked the death of the Woodstock generation, if you're the sort of person who believes the rise or fall of historical epochs hinges on a single event. In any case, you can make the argument that giving bikers free beer and expecting them not to go apeshit is ample evidence that the hippies wouldn't have survived on their own for long, anyway.

Austin City Limits Festival, Austin, Tex. (2005):
Unlike its UK cousins, the ACL fest has been a traditionally very dry affair. '05 was the most parched of the lot, however, with triple-digit highs, scheduling and traffic snafus (thanks to coastal residents fleeing Hurricane Rita) and oppressive clouds of dust. The City of Austin responded by re-sodding Zilker Park, in the hopes that festival-goers will get to enjoy something rarely seen in Austin in late summer: grass.

Yorkshire Folk, Blues & Jazz Festival, Krumlin, Yorkshire, UK (1970):
Funny thing about the outdoors... it rains on occasion. It's even a threat in central Texas (Bocktoberfest '98 was cut short thanks to an early evening gullywasher, and our truck took two weeks to dry out), but festivals in England are like magnets for inclement weather. Glastonbury has seen some torrential events ('97, '98, '05) and the Reading Festival seems to take place in a perpetual mudbowl. But that's nothing compared to this festival in Krumlin, West Yorkshire, which was poorly organized, poorly attended, and beset by unending storms that destroyed most of the site and resulted in 70 hospitalizations for exposure. We'll take heatstroke at Coachella, thanks.

Roskilde Festival, Roskilde, Denmark (2000): Traditionally one of Europe's safer festivals (no easy feat when you put R.E.M. and Marilyn Manson fans together), the 2000 festival nonetheless saw tragedy when nine concertgoers were crushed to death as the crowd rushed the stage during Pearl Jam's set. The incident led to the cancelation of the 2001 Glastonbury festival and a widespread reevaluation of concert safety. Pearl Jam - this year's ACL headliners also briefly considered breaking up, but decided against it. We leave it to you to decide if that was a positive outcome or not.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar