Before Austin City Limits, I had never been to a music festival. Granted, I’ve been to all-day concerts, and even all-night concerts, but never three days of non-stop concerts. I didn’t know what to expect besides sun, live music, and the possibility of some very precarious porta-potty balancing acts.
Turns out, there’s a whole science to festing. And, when you party like I do, you have to fest hard, too.
First there’s the necessary supply kit: blanket (check), hat (check), sunscreen (check), cash (check), water bottles (check), bug spray (check), toilet paper (check), camera (check), and lots of energy (check). The plan: arrive, get beers, pick your concert schedule, plant your blanket, meet people, chill, listen to amazing music, eat awesome Mexican and barbecue food, rally for the headliners, go to after-shows. Repeat. Then, repeat again.
I knocked out all the bands I had wanted to see live in the past year all in one fell swoop in three days: LCD Soundsystem, Muse, The xx, Vampire Weekend … the list goes on and on. In all, I saw about 25 concerts (there were 130 bands performing that weekend). And I caught two Deadmau5 shows, which is a little excessive, I know; but I love Deadmau5.
We moved our blanket from stage to stage, took turns taking naps, and then made the slow transition from all-day drinking to entering a thoroughly toasted state just in time for the sun to set, the ACL moon to rise, and the headliners to take the stage. You start to get into a flow, and you learn the crowds and the festival grounds. Also, you start to appreciate the little things. For instance, for the first time in my life, I saw real value in the simple beer koozie. Also for the first time, having three cell phones became a life saver. When the battery on one ran out, I went to another. When that one was sucked dry, I moved to my third.
You quickly learn the fine art of spotting your party amidst thousands and thousands of people. “OK. We’re to the left of the stage, between the dancing naked guys and the really enormous octopus flag. Kind of parallel to the bar area.” Sometimes members of your party go for beers and simply never find you again. (Why can’t you “tag” an adult, like you can tag a kid there? Seriously.) You also learn that sometimes the best shade is found simply by sitting down in a crowd of people (it’s surprisingly quite cool down there).
I was expecting the worst (riots? overflowing toilets? $15 beers?), but ACL was surprisingly well-run and organized. There must have been hundreds of thousands of people there, and I hardly ever waited in line for food, drinks, or toilets. They had free, filtered water stations plugged in around the park, where happy volunteers would fill up whatever container you shoved before them. There were hundreds and hundreds of volunteers walking around picking up crumpled cans. There was even a little market where you could buy any kind of hippy accessory your heart desired.
And then there was the food court. Where to begin? We started at one end and, by the end of the weekend, made our way to the opposite end. This isn’t your regular festival food. This is the crème de la crème of Austin dining, selling their best goods on a stick. We had fried artichoke from Sandra Bullock’s restaurant, Bess. We had Kirbey Lane’s famous queso and pancake-wrapped sausage on a stick. We had chopped beef and barbecue sandwiches from Stubb’s. We had chicken avocado wraps from Mighty Cone, the offshoot of Austin’s swanky Hudson’s on the Bend. We had fried chicken from Olivia, fried pickles from Pluckers. And after the festival, we had even more from Shady Grove and Chuy’s. Ridiculous, I know.
By day three, I was ready to step away from Zilker Park for a minute and venture into Clarksville for some brunch. So, on the recommendation of a local friend, we went to Zocalo Cafe, which is a modern Mexican joint (read: a yuppy take on a taqueria). Because apparently we hadn’t had enough Mexican food.
Zocalo’s was fab. In the same family as Galaxy Café (next door), the restaurant is the order-at-the-counter type. Simply park and find a spot to sit with your crew, then take turns grabbing your food. We chose a shady spot in the garden patio outside (the weather, if I haven’t already mentioned, was absolutely glorious last weekend). To start, a bowl of the fabulous queso (topped with chorizo) and a few $2 mimosas, frozen sangrias, or bellinis.
We had a big group, so we tried lots of different entrees. I had the Zocalo breakfast, or rather, the chilaquiles. It was scrambled eggs and crispy corn tortillas (or Fritos chips, if you will), in hot sauce. It’s served on black beans and topped with tomatoes, cilantro, queso fresco, and sour cream. It’s like one massive mash of Mexican flavor. I could have scooped it up with a spoon.
Tammy had the breakfast taco plate, which was three tortillas filled with scrambled eggs and a variety of meats. You got to pick your own toppings – and there were some 25 options. She got eggs, beans and cheese, unrefried beans, black beans, chorizo and bacon.
Some other winners from brunch? The homemade chips were tasty and warm. The ceviche was refreshing and loaded with fresh shrimp and avocado. And there was more, much more.
But it was time to head back to the festival. Day three had already started without us. Full from brunch, geared up with our packs and ready to go, we ventured back to the music gods.
The bitches say: A for Austin! A for ACL! A for an absolutely grand weekend.
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