I am a grade-A claustrophobe. Even with the shared experiences of hearing great music and drinking cold beers and spending a weekend outside with friends, a large, unwieldy crowd of people is almost always a dealbreaker for me. That means I’m probably not the best candidate to attend a pretty big and famous music festival.
So when a couple of family members came down for a three-day Austin City Limits experience they’d been stoked about for quite a while, I knew I had to steel myself for a long weekend of panicked crowd navigation in the name of getting to see a ton of superfamous and supergreat musical acts all in one place.
OKAY: I am not going to act like I’m morally superior here by offering up my piping hot take that I think concerts are terrifying. I might get the tiniest bit sanctimonious when I’m salmoning upstream amid a throng of glitter-sprayed college kids. But I also really love drinking beer in the sun while listening to good music. Here’s the thing, though: I can do that wearing headphones on my balcony. By myself.
I really do love live performance and am, ahem, an ardent supporter of the arts. But there’s another thing that made ACL not the best fit for me: I have kind of weird taste in music. It’s just not super… ACL-friendly.
Again, I am not writing this as some sort of backdoor claim to coolness because it’s so devastatingly hip to express disdain for, or misunderstanding of, what everyone else likes. I got over that, like, a year ago. (I KID.) I’m not going to feign bewilderment at how one could possibly have fun listening to music they love, LIVE, while jumping around with their friends. I get being immersed in an experience. Hey, I went to Lilith Fair like three times in the 90s.
It’s just that Christopher Cross doesn’t really headline at gigs like this. And that’s great news for us both! (OK, he might not feel this way.) Typically you get to sit down to have live showtunes in your face for a couple of hours. I can totally appreciate the insane levels of talent I was sharing a park with all weekend, but if my options are a) a lot of great acts about whom I’m moderately enthused and b) running for the hills in order to avoid a crush of people and an inevitable string of real panic attacks, leaving early will win 11 times out of 10.
We really had fun with our guests, and – more importantly – they really loved ACL. I came to the stunning and freeing revelation early on in their visit that they weren’t here to see me, they were here to see Jay-Z and Chance and the Killers and all the other bands they raved about the next morning… after I’d gone home each night. So, we all won: I got to hang out during the day, keeping my exposure to nightmare-fuel crowds to a minimum, and everyone – myself included – could be mercifully spared from my inevitable freaking out by being stuck among tens of thousands of people having a way better time than I ever would have.
I don’t know, maybe this is one of those things I get to just be fine with now that I’m an actual adult rather than someone who thinks I have a factory defect because I don’t like X or Y or Z. I’ve said this in other spots on the internet before – if I don’t like something, I can either suck it up and have a good time; I can shut up and not be a dick about it; or I can leave.
I’m really glad that my ACL recap turned into Meditations on Feeling Obligated in One’s Mid-Thirties, but if I’m being honest that’s where 90% of my thoughts inevitably careen these days.
Empirically, ACL was a wonderfully run festival. The food was great. The park was huge and beautiful. Paying for things by just swiping my wristband was fantastic. The lineup was impressive, to say the least, and I don’t know anyone who had a bad time. It was just an experience whose fullness was lost on someone whose enthusiasm was anemic as mine was. But I’m not slagging any part of the weekend – that’s on me.
Live, thank you! Ryan Adams, I really enjoyed the five minutes I caught of you! Andrew McMahon, a high five to you and yours! Portugal. The Man and First Aid Kit, many happy returns! The other acts I saw but didn’t recognize, thanks for you and your art. I know you gave a whole lot of people a whole lot of joy.
Just don’t expect me in the pit next year. Unless you’re at a Steve Winwood show with, like, three other people.
(POSTSCRIPT RECORD SCRATCH: This is a story for another time, but last year I did choose, plan and pay to go to a Pitbull concert and it was one of the most joyful experiences of my life.)