The recording industry has done its damnedest to kill roots music: labeled it "Americana," programmed radio stations in this "format," held awards ceremonies, and sponsored conferences all to find ways to market music that needs no other name except Good.
Gobs of these Good bands are performing at this weekend's Austin City Limits Music Festival, which is devoted to Good music. With more than 70 acts in two days, it will be impossible to see everyone (ah, to be made of quicksilver and slice yourself into little slivers to experience them all), but obvious endorsements must be made.
Saturday: For more than 70 years, various incarnations of the gospel group The Blind Boys of Alabama (Feature Stage, 1 p.m.) have stirred the soul. Their latest record, Higher Ground, uplifts and haunts, particularly their rendition of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready." It sure beats church. The debut by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings (Texas Stage, 3 p.m.) set me afire. So did their second record. And third. And fourth. No slumps for this duo: her mountain voice, his guitar intricately picked, playing harmony and melody at once songs about whiskey stills, killing countryside rapists, and dating the butcher's boy. Not a promise, but just a guess they could guest with Ryan Adams on Sunday, as they did on his Heartbreaker record.
|Gillian Welch on the Texas Stage at 3pm, Saturday, September 28.|
It's a toss-up between Wilco whose latest and greatest Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, contrary to what their former record label Reprise thought, is quite representative of their music: unpredictable and singer-songwriter Patty Griffin, who released 1000 Kisses this year and still had time to appear on the Chieftains' Down the Old Plank Road: the Nashville Sessions. (Wilco on the Feature Stage, Griffin on Texas, both at 5 p.m.)
Even though they lost one of their main songwriters, Mark Olson, The Jayhawks (Heritage Stage, 6 p.m.) still pen the kind of songs that you remember where you were when you first heard them. The Minneapolis band hasn't released a record since 2000's Smile, but their web site reports that their next album, a denuded, acoustic affair, will come out in January 2003, with guests Chris Stills, Matthew Sweet, Jakob Dylan, and Bernie Leadon of the Eagles.
Sunday: Get your lazy butt out of bed and start at noon with Allison Moorer (Heritage Stage), then slip over to the Texas Stage at 12:45 to see country chanteuse Kelly Willis. Yes, you can often see her in these parts, but can you imagine saying, "No I don't want to see Kelly Willis"?
Kevin McKinney (Austin stage, 1:50 p.m.) was the engine of '80s band Drivin' and Cryin,' and instead of fading after the Atlanta group's demise, he kept writing instantly hummable songs. Expect to hear new material from his album due next month, McVein in Green.
She's known for her beautiful voice and smart songwriting, but Shawn Colvin (Texas Stage, 2:30 p.m.) is also a damn Good guitar player. Note to aspiring pickers: Stand close to the stage and learn. Yes, they just played the Lab, but the crowd was so happily soused, who can honestly say they remember the whole show? Jog your memory with The Gourds (Heritage Stage, 3:30 p.m.), whose new album, Cow Fish Fowl or Pig is imminent on the Sugar Hill label.
By the time you're adequately baked in the Texas sun, the slinky grooves of G-Love and Special Sauce (Feature Stage, 4:30 p.m.) are going to be just the ticket to surviving the two-day extravaganza. Hang in there: This would be a good time to drink several glasses of water, not beer.
If you still weren't sure life is unfair, here's proof: Ryan Adams and Emmylou Harris are playing at the same time on different stages (both at 6:30p.m., he on the Feature Stage, she on the Texas Stage). Which will it be? To hear the former Whiskeytown frontman perform from his much-anticipated new record Demolition, released September 24, or to experience Harris as she picks the best from her 30-year history?
Life gets no fairer when Luna and Robert Randolph play simultaneously (both at 7:30 p.m. The Jam Stage and the Heritage Stage, respectively). Luna has built a long career post-Galaxy 500 on gorgeous, ethereal pop songs, while Randolph, a Pentecostal pedal steel guitarist leads his family band on a blues-soul trip that will make you shout and stomp. Charlie Sexton's Arc Angels finish the festival (Feature Stage, 8:30 p.m.), in what is sure to be an extended, all-star affair.
Alas, if only South by Southwest would can the sleepy panels, cut 10 skidillion bands from their lineup, and leave the suits at home, it could be as Good as the Austin City Limits Music Festival.
Austin City Limits Music Festival
Zilker Park, Austin
Saturday, September 28 and Sunday, September 29
One-day pass: $25 Two-day pass: $45
Star Tickets: 512-469-SHOW or startickets.com
See www.aclfestival.com for full schedule