I've never been to a music festival and returned home completely satisfied. That's where this whole wacky thing started.
Don't get me wrong, I love music festivals. I've been to dozens of music festivals all around the country, and I'm now the music critic for The Dallas Morning News, where it's my job to be a serial concertgoer. So this year at Austin City Limits, instead of leaving the festival wishing I'd seen this band or that, I'm just going to see them all.
Right: I'm going to try to see every single band on the Austin City Limits festival calendar on opening weekend, Oct. 6, 7 and 8. That's 120 artists in three days.
Did I mention I'm a 41-year-old dad who isn't exactly built for this?
I've danced around doing this for years, mainly keeping it to myself because it sounds crazy. But if I succeed, I'll exit Zilker Park, the site of Austin City Limits, at 10 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8, knowing I took full control of my festival fate. And if I don't succeed, can I at least take Monday off, boss?
I know what you're thinking. It's kind of a bad idea. I'm going to miss out on tunes from bands I dig, just to catch some from artists I don't really care about. Besides, I'm old and a little out of shape. But I owe it to our readers, I owe it to myself and I want to see if I can do it. Follow me on Twitter at @kellyrdearmore to watch the whole sordid thing. And please send bottled water.
Go back in time with me. It's a hot, cloudless Saturday afternoon at Austin City Limits in 2002 and I'm standing in the middle of a wildly dusty Zilker Park, trying to figure out where to go and who to see. It was hot despite the autumn calendar date, and the inaugural Austin City Limits Festival was quickly shaping up to be a disaster. Lines for everything, including simply getting inside the gates, were clearly the result of more people showing up for this thing than festival organizers expected.
A drunken friend decided to give us the lay of the land while we heard rootsy music and cheering crowds far away. I hadn't heard any music yet and already I wasn't sure I'd ever actually have any fun, let alone get near a stage.
One of the biggest names in Americana at that time, Gillian Welch, played across the park at that same moment, but I opted to stay put in front of the legendary Los Lobos, rather than hopefully get within a mile of Welch, whose post-O Brother, Where Art Thou? crowd had swollen to incomprehensible levels. But as the Los Lobos set gave way to Wilco, then nightfall welcomed two sets from hippie heroes String Cheese Incident, my first ACL went from painful to blissful. I stayed put, missing sets from Nickel Creek, Patty Griffin, the Jayhawks and a teenage Gary Clark Jr.
In the weeks following the fest, those misses smarted a bit. And if you've been to even one large music festival, you can relate. But instead of getting mad about what I had missed, I got productive.
Ever since, my festival strategy is to go with a plan: to wring the most goodness out of each schedule grid. Sometimes it works. Other times I trash my customized logistical attack within moments of entering the gates.
The difference between ACL, then and now
We've come a long way since 2002, when summer mega-music-festival landscape in the United States was still somewhat barren. Lollapalooza was struggling as a nationally touring alt-rock show, Bonnaroo had just had only just finished its first event as strictly a patchouli-scented jam-band fest, and Coachella was only 3 years old.
It cost $25 to get into that first ACL Saturday, and the two-day schedule of five stages and 67 acts was more or less a twangy country and folk affair modeled after its eponymous, seminal television show.
Some of my ACL Fest experiences have lasted only one, rain-soaked day, while others have been longer, even with a toddler in tow a time or two.
Depending on the year, I've been there for the first, sun-soaked notes of the day, and I've been there for the triumphant final cymbal crashes. There've been artists I had to be up at front for, no matter what other act I may have to miss, and there've been massive headliners I skipped out on so that I could avoid the crowded shuttle and taxi lines.
For the most part, I've walked out of Zilker Park feeling like I got close to accomplishing what I set out to. But I've never seen it all.
Why now is the right time
With major festivals like Lollapalooza, Outside Lands, Hangout, Forecastle, Governors Ball and Voodoo Fest, among so many others, beginning to look and sound alike thanks to the corporate explosion of the festival industry, my all-encompassing plan to canvass the entire lineup should help me discover the limits of how "Austin" ACL is anymore, if it is at all.
I haven't taken this self-appointed mission lightly. Over the past two months, I've hit the gym and laid off the sweets in an effort to be as physically prepared as I am mentally dedicated.
The 15 pounds I've dropped and the waist size or two I've shed will certainly make it easier to jog around for the long weekend. And when I inevitably harbor thoughts of ditching my mission, I'll draw from the hustle, sweat and unrequited sugar cravings I've endured to keep my balding self going.
I'm not sure how this will go, of course. My hope is that I indeed catch a couple of tunes from every act on the bill. Inevitably, something might not work. This isn't my first music fest, so I'm ready.
In the end, it's a challenge: to take on a behemoth corporate music festival, play by its rules and bend them to my will. That sweet sound of victory? Avenging a former sensation of defeat that I hadn't ever done it all.