Midday Saturday, I was feeling pretty swell about my mission of catching every single band on this year's Austin City Limits Festival bill. If anything, I was forming the impression that this silly experiment in fest-ology was all too simple; I was a perfect 48 for 48 concerts, after hitting every set.
But as I walked up to hear Austin-based soul singer Allan Rayman, I heard a streak-ending salutation, "Thank you, goodbye."
Rayman ended his set 15 minutes early, thus quashing my goal to see every band on opening weekend.
I was a little dejected, and fans on Twitter asked if I'd scrap the whole adventure. But all that manic hopping around, the note-taking and map-marking, had toughened me. I felt dispirited from the miss but a little relieved to find out I'm human -- as is the artist who didn't play his full set.
So, to you Allan Rayman, I say, thanks for nothing. Or thanks for everything?
His was the only set I missed all weekend.
You could say I missed three more -- there were a few in the "Austin Kiddie Limits Stage" along Barton Springs Road that would require me to basically leave the park to visit that stage -- but like a quarterback staring down a salty defensive line, I called an audible and decided to exclude those artists on Friday.
The unexpected surprises and obstacles are why I wanted to conduct this experiment to begin with. The music fan in me would much rather casually enjoy the handful of artists who truly interest me rather than doggedly wreck my feet for three days to find decent spots for bands I didn't care to see.
But here's my message to you: You can see every band on the ACL calendar if you have a plan and a pair of running shoes. I (nearly) did it. Further, I relished the surprises along the way; it proved that corporate music festivals, refreshingly, aren't a bore.
If you didn't spend 30 hours sweating, jogging and listening to music this weekend, here's the short version of how I saw 111 (out of 112) concerts at Austin City Limits:
11 a.m.: I received a firm, thorough patdown as I entered the gates, a reminder of what happened in Las Vegas last weekend. Given the circumstances, it wasn't an inconvenience.
11:30 a.m.: The first 90 minutes were pretty sublime. I started with hopeful, joyful Houston band Disciples of Worship, who mentioned how we can come together to overcome the recent hurricanes, including Harvey in the group's hometown. I saw sparse crowds, room to move and no lines -- a rare glory at a music fest.
1:30 p.m.: By the time I made my way from Romes to Band of Heathens, not only could I not approach anywhere near the stage, but I had missed the popular Austin band's tribute cover of Tom Petty's "Wildflowers." I wouldn't have missed if it weren't for this experiment I'm conducting. Anyway.
5:30 p.m.: With swells of people packed at the Barton Springs stage for Royal Blood and Skepta, and even more for Lukas Nelson, the heir apparent to the Texas music throne as Willie's son, the nation's biggest happy hour was underway. For a stage jumper like me, it got even harder to engage with any of the sets.
7:30 p.m.: The biggest names came out with the brightest dramatics. Solange had a striking, gorgeous stage presentation, while Ryan Adams bathed in rock-godness of swirling smoke and lights. I wanted to stay. But off I went, to the back of Martin Garrix's dancing crowd to glimpse his massive flames and an insane lights presentation.
8:30 p.m.: Having felt crushed by not being able to get anywhere near most stages, I dug in deep for Jay Z. I still wasn't that close, but I was embedded enough so that my main view of the performance was Jay on stage, and not one of the gigantic video boards. The problem with that strategy is that once I needed to leave after a few songs, including "Church in the Wild" and "Empire State of Mind," I had to navigate the swarm of thousands I stood in front of for the previous half-hour. It was nerve-wracking as I weaved through the masses, looking for a clearing. The upside? The audience watching the XX was relatively light.
11 a.m.: Even after a hearty stretch session before arriving, my right shin was tight and my back, after years of horrendous posture, hurt. But preventive bandaging of my ankles and heels warded off blisters, so that's a win, right?
1 p.m.: One of ACL's beloved signatures is the food. After downing an insanely delicious tomatillo pork taco from El Chilito, and an icy can of High Brew cold brew coffee, I was ready to rock. The 1 p.m. block featured three bands I was eager to catch including Grace Vanderwall, Mondo Cozmo and Traveller. Should I ditch my plan and hang with these great artists? No can do. But I missed some great music.
2:30 p.m.: When rapper A$AP Ferg told the crowd to start moshing in front of the stage, I took out my Rayman-fueled anxiety out on an unsuspecting group of millennials who needed a moshing lesson. Heh.
4:15 p.m.: My plan led me to start the 4 o'clock block with '90s alt-rock titans Live. After three songs, I was having so much fun reliving that part of my early days I didn't actually want to wander over to see Thundercat or local country stud Cody Jinks. But my strict meal of all-bands-all-the-time stripped me of such luxurious spontaneity, and I moved on.
6 p.m.: The bathroom situation: With the addition of multiple stations dedicated only to men's urinals, ACL indeed changed the game. Thanks, guys, for helping me keep it quick.
7:05 p.m.: I wasn't prepared for the single most emotional moment of the weekend -- a surprise. Waiting for Spoon's hometown show, the Tom Petty "Free Falling" video played on the screens, interrupted by a live feed from a Red Bull airplane flying above the park. As the song's audio continued, video of three skydivers jumping out of the plane made the crowds roar. As Petty sang the iconic "And I'm free, free falling" chorus, a Texas flag unfurled from one of the diving trio as it swirled slowly in the air. A quick look around the crowd and I saw concertgoers wiping away tears and holding up their beers in appreciative reverence.
8:15 p.m.: Chicago's favorite son Chance the Rapper opened his headline set with a song that seemed to feature mammoth gunshot blasts. I say "seemed" as I had decided to stand in the middle of the park, in between the back of Chance's crowd and the rear of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' crowd. As the gunshot sounds echoed through the park around me, hundreds of people ducked. Though the struggles and stories of his home are essential to Chance the Rapper's music, those gunshots should've been left out for this show. Earlier in the fest, Foster the People chose to not perform its biggest hit, "Pumped Up Kicks," due to its storyline revolving around a schoolyard shooting.
11:45 a.m.: Out of breath, I arrive for the day's first set. Somehow, I had enlisted the only Uber driver in Austin who had yet to pick up or drop off at the festival all weekend. He was also new to town. Great. After a 30-minute drive in what should have taken 8, I hopped out and ran to the festival entrance, where I was frisked more heavily than before.
3 p.m.: Monolithic crowds and oppressive heat are basically Texas fest requirements, but Sunday was really a beast. With the end not in close sight and a breeze nowhere to be found, the festival witching hour sapped almost all of the good vibes out of me. The only saving graces were the thousands crammed into the beer hall to watch the Dallas Cowboys game. More room for me to jog from concert to concert.
5:30 p.m.: It might've been general exhaustion, but by Sunday evening, a number of irritants were inescapable: The abundance of the man-romper was such that it had gone from ironic to moronic. (Not that it wasn't moronic before, but it at least felt silly and a little unique on Friday and Saturday.) Unthinkably long lines for corporate-sponsored attractions including the Tito's Vodka "Plinko" game, where it seemed patrons won a Tito's cap and access to a seriously packed "special" area, was incomprehensible.
6:15 p.m.: Alas! What's a force more unstoppable than brutal heat and drunken revelers? Run the Jewels. Aside from Chance the Rapper, there's hardly a bigger feel-good story in hip-hop over the past couple of years than Killer Mike and El-P. Bouncing and mugging across the stage, the duo helped the swarming mass in front of it forget about heat, tragedy and the impending misery of Monday morning. I didn't want to leave that set after three tunes to go get mellow with the Head and the Heart, but, well, you know the story.
8:30 p.m.: This year's grand finale featured Las Vegas band the Killers. Aside from the skydiving display on Saturday night, the finest Petty tribute I caught was when Brandon Flowers and crew opened with Petty's "American Girl," backed by a loving visual salute on the video screens. Standing in the far back of the crowd, I could still feel the love. And when colorful lasers darted out from the stage and well past even my distant spot, during the band's beloved "Mr. Brightside," I took a moment to close my eyes and memorialize the moment. The weekend was just about over and under a cooling dark sky, the power of rock 'n' roll healed my sore shins. Three days of missed songs and dubious decisions somehow felt right.
Not that I'll ever do it again.