@ZackTeibloom It felt all too familiar. Back at Zilker Park for ACL without a wristband. As Andy and I like to say when coming festival-ing, “We’ve done this before.” In 2008, Andy and I made our first trip to Austin for ACL because we had press passes. With a little help from my friends, I crashed in 2009, tried to sneak a friend in, lost my wristband and had to crash again. I crashed not once, but twice in 2010. I got caught in 2011. I bought a pass for under face value in 2012 and 2013. The only plan I had for this year was that I wanted to be there all day Friday and as soon as I could get there Sunday, after working 6-3, taking care of Scooby and biking over. I wasn’t filled with the typical “can’t-sleep-I’m-so-excited” festival hype I used to get every year, but I had to see Outkast, was over-due to see Chromeo again, was excited to hear the new Spoon album live, was curious about Chvrches, Sam Smith, Jenny Lewis and Bleachers and would be happy to catch some Pearl Jam. That’s more than enough to get me back to Zilker without a wristband. I’ll reveal how I did the fest so cheap and what I think each show was worth.
I woke up early to bike to my weekly Friday running date with Caitlin’s dad. Can’t let the fest get in the way of my half Ironman training three weeks before the event. We ran seven miles and walked one, hearing a few bands doing sound check as it got closer to noon. I biked home, showered and saw Caitlin was about ready to head out. I grabbed $200 from the ATM and we biked back to the fest. The first scalpers we saw a few blocks from the entrance were trying to get $350 for a weekend pass. Face is $225. Good try. Before I’d buy a pass, I had to at least attempt a crash, right? I went through the bag check line and noticed one entrance wasn’t being guarded well. There was a woman standing there checking wristbands as they scanned, but she was kind of off to the side. A sidle by seemed potentially doable. But on second glance, I noticed a few uniformed cops behind her. That’s a no go.
There was an alternate entrance nearby, however. It was a large entrance for golf carts and film crews to go in and out of. I saw a group of about seven with a large camera and gear making their way to that entrance and walked up to them as inconspicuously as I could. I looked down and tried to blend in, but one guy was not cool with this plan. “Hey, you’re not with us. Bailey. Bailey. BAILEY! We got a tag along.” I tried to just ignore him, but he wasn’t letting up and I had to walk away, acting as if I was just confused. Fine, I’ll buy a pass. But I’m not paying $350. The only 1-day passes are being offered for $150. After about 15 minutes of walking the same block back and forth to the point that I know every guy with a wristband, I see a guy leaving and he asks if I need a pass. Yup. He puts it on me to make the first move. “OK, what did you pay, $80?” He nods. I offer $100. He quickly agrees. I go to put the wristband on and a different guy comes up to me within seven seconds of me buying it and says “Hey, what did you buy that pass for? Can I buy that pass from you?” I tell him I’m planning on using it, but he offers me $140. I say no and he ups it to $150. Fine by me. Up $50, I go to the three guys selling one-day passes and talk one of them down to $130 and head into the fest having spent a total of $80. Not ideal, but it’ll do. I get in just in time to meet Caitlin at 2 pm, as promised, and we head to Jimmy Cliff.
Jimmy Cliff is a delight. The rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame inductee who’s credited with popularizing reggae internationally as much as anyone not named Marley is a joy to watch at age 66. Whether pulling from his classic The Harder They Come soundtrack or covers like Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” or “I Can See Clearly Now” which he credited to “Cool Runnings,” he was perfect to sway to in the afternoon sun. His banter is full of bravado that feels boastful, but the endearing kind of bragging, like telling the story of when 40 years ago he was asked if he could make a soundtrack to a movie and he said, “Can I? I’m Jimmy Cliff. I can do anything!” Love that guy. Caitlin and I alternated between sitting in the shade of the soundboard ramp and standing and dancing goofily with our arms raised. All jah love to Jimmy Cliff. Value: $20
Bleachers is better than we could have expected. It was a hard sell for Caitlin to get work friends to come with us. So, you guys don’t like fun., right? Well, this is Jack’s new band. You know, Lena Dunham’s boyfriend… They’re so good. It’s super fun pop that kept winning us over. Even the always cynical Crawford kept being like, “why do I like this so much?” as he passed around a flask full of crown. They write great songs and have a ton of stage presence and are, for lack of a better word, fun. We didn’t realize we all knew the hit “I Wanna Get Better” already, but found ourselves just as hooked on pretty much every other song. The surprise of the day. Value: $25
Chvrches is solid. I was intrigued by them with all the hype and I love Lauren Mayberry’s voice, but as Caitlin headed off to see Paolo Nutini, I was content to sit back with work friends and talk during this set. I could definitely see enjoying the synths and dancing through their show next time they come through town if Caitlin or a friend really wanted to go, but I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to see them on my own. I generally like everything on their first and only album and was happy to check them out, but they never quite grabbed me. I’ll keep an eye on them moving forward. Value: $15
Sam Smith is undeniable. I mean, the boy. Can. Sing. And damn, does he have a fan base already. As ACL Live producer Leslie tweeted during his performance last week, “This guy is such a star. The crowd is cheering after every phrase.” This show ended up not getting my full attention, unfortunately, since the spot I told Caitlin to meet me at got filled up before she could get to me and our texts weren’t going through, so we spent half the show trying to find each other, frustrated. Still, when I focused, I could easily see what an absolute star he is. It’s not exactly the type of music I typically listen to, but I can certainly appreciate it. And I am a fan of “Money on my Mind” and “Stay With Me.” Again, it’s undeniably good stuff. He’s already a star and well on his way to superstardom. I’ll never get to see him outside of a festival again for less than $30 minimum, so I’ll say that’s what it was worth. Value $30
Dinner was fine. Caitlin got Austin Pizza and I got chicken sliders at Max’s Wine Bar. I spent $10 after tip and it was probably worth $7. We accidentally heard some Foster The People. At least it wasn’t Childish Gambino. Value: $-3
Belle and Sebastian are pleasant enough. But man are they boring and not the proper opener for Outkast. We watched two songs and then headed for a spot for Outkast and heard some of The Glitch Mob. Aside from a “Seven Nation Army” mash-up, we generally tuned them out. Value: N/A
Outkast is just the best. I mean, that was just stupendous. I’d seen Big Boi a number of times, and as fun as that was, you absolutely need to see Andre 3000 and Big Boi at the same time, trading lines, being cut-ups and just having fun out there. It rivaled the Jay-Z & Kanye SXSW show for my favorite hip hop show of the year and there are a lot of parallels. Two masters with tons of hits who play off each others strengths and play the deep cuts you want and just look like they’re having fun up there. They started with “Bombs over Baghdad” and the hits kept coming, sprinkled among deeper favorites like “Aquemini” and “GhettoMusick” but it was the hits that really got us grooving. “Rosa Parks” was a fun sing-a-long, but there was nothing like the thrill of “Ms. Jackson,” “Hey Ya,” “Roses” and “I Like The Way You Move” and “So Fresh, So Clean.” They brought it all. And as much as I love Big Boi, Andre 3000 is other level. He’s a total jokester, saying things like, “Gentlemen – if you’re here with your woman, take your two longest fingers and stick them in her panties. I’m kidding. I’m not though. If you don’t get any tonight, you can’t say I didn’t try to help.” His flow is just spectacular and his voice just feels velvety as he raps. I knew I’d love it, but was surprised how much Caitlin got into it after being just semi-into Big Boi shows. There really is magic with the two of them together. I would have paid $100 and driven to San Antonio for this show. In a heartbeat. Value: $100
Day one total: Spent $80 | Value: $187 | Net: +$107
Getting In was a cinch. It was way easier to get in on Sunday than Friday, that’s for sure. Three day passes become exactly as valuable as one-day passes. Also, you get people who, for reasons I can’t quite understand, leave ACL at 4 p.m. for good. They’re walking away with what amounts to a souvenir for them and what is a perfectly good pass for you. There was a steady stream of festival-goers leaving the fest so I waited by the exit and looked for anyone with a loose-ish wristband who looked at all friendly and walked with them and offered $20 if they’d hand me their wristband. I had three people try who couldn’t get it off their wrist before one guy agreed to, gave it a good tug and handed me a wristband that was now loose enough to fit around my forearm. I held it tight with my pinky so it wasn’t clear how tampered with it was and met up with Caitlin in plenty of time for Jenny Lewis.
Jenny Lewis is fierce. In a bad-ass pant suit that matched her instruments, she came out confidently and played a gorgeous late afternoon set. “I can’t believe she’s starting with this!” Caitlin exclaimed as she started with the warm Rilo Kiley track “Silver Lining” and played a beautiful mix of songs that kept me hooked enough to keep me from checking my fantasy scores the whole time. For the most part. I had to see how many yards Demaryius would end up with. Anyway, I’ve been listening to her all morning and can’t get enough. I only knew “Portions for Foxes” going in, but am hooked on her whole catalog, and especially loved the closer, “Acid Tongue” that kept us from leaving early to get to Spoon. Value: $25
Spoon is so dependable. I’ll always love Austin’s hometown heroes. It’s fun to see what they choose to play now that they’ve got seven albums to pick from. They selected well from their catalog and played a few of my favorites from their new stellar album, like “Do You?” and “Rent I Pay.” Britt made fun of Transference, but another band member said it’s his favorite album of theirs and they played a couple of those as well. It wasn’t a super high energy show, but it was a fun trip through their catalog. We swayed to “Don’t Make Me a Target” and Caitlin got super excited for closer “Black Like Me” singing along to “all the weird kids up front” even though we were a comfortable distance back. Even though I’ve seen these guys seven or eight times, I’m happy to see them at least once every tour. Value: $30
Chromeo is one of my favorite dance parties. It had been a few years since I’d seen these dance-y, funk-y gents and they’ve only gotten better. The new album, White Women, sounds just spectacular live, especially their biggest hit to date, “Jealous (I Ain’t With It”) It was a fist-pumping full-on dance party. We found some fun guys in costumes near us that were way excited to do mock chicken dances and get silly and Caitlin and I worked up quite a sweat showing off our fancy footwork. It was easily my favorite non-Outkast show of the weekend and P-Thugg on synth and talk box and Dave 1 on guitar and lead vocals had us grooving into the night (by night.) There was hardly a song we couldn’t instantly get into, from “Sexy Socialite” to “Hot Mess” and “Bonafied Lovin'” (oh, oh, oh, oh.) The hour flew by and we were hot messes ourselves by the end of it. If I had any doubt about coming back next Sunday, another dose of Chromeo is sure to bring me back. Value: $40
Pearl Jam didn’t do it for me. We ended the night saying we’d find a comfy spot for Pearl Jam. I’ve enjoyed them a lot in the past, but Caitlin only knows a couple songs by PJ and we were pretty spent. We agreed to listen to the first four songs and leave if nothing hooked us. We left after four songs and biked home in no traffic and never looked back. Value: N/A
Day two total: Spent: $20 | Value: $95 | Net: +75
I plan on doing more or less the same thing next weekend, but want to see Beck instead of Outkast, Paolo Nutini instead of Chrvches and St. Vincent instead of Sam Smith. Hope I see you out there.