How the politicization of everything ruins music festivals
Like everything else, the Austin City Limits Music Festival was canceled last year, so even though heavy rains had turned Zilker Park into a wet, boggy swamp, I went there last weekend, as I have done every year since 2005.
I was there for Dust Bowl year when all the grass in the park died and everyone who went spat black dust for months. I was there during the mud year when it rained in buckets and the park turned into a stinky “Dillo Dirt” pit that took millions of dollars and acres and acres of new grass to fix. .
I was there for my bachelor party as it is my favorite weekend of the whole year. Well, based on this year’s visit, I think this festival is dying, and it’s a problem of their own making.
From outlaw country to … Miley Cyrus
The festival was founded to celebrate the sounds of Austin: folk, rock and roll, and outlaw country. So much for that. Other than the legendary George Strait, who was headlining Friday’s lineup, I knew almost none of the major bands performing this year. Meghan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, Tyler the Creator? I have no idea who these people are.
The headliners that I know, I don’t like too much: Billie Eilish and Miley Cyrus. Truly? This is the same festival where Willie Nelson performed (several times). Just like Bob Dylan, My Morning Jacket, Arcade Fire, Sir Paul McCartney, Jack White, The Killers, The Eagles, Robert Plant with Alison Krauss, Gary Clark Jr., David Byrne, Buddy Guy, John Prine, Jon Batiste, Van Morrison -I could go on and on. You know, real musicians.
A local DJ who’s been in Austin forever noted that he performs not only for a younger audience, but also for the large amount of Californian transplants who have moved to Austin in recent years. These are the same California transplants that are driving up housing costs, driving up crime rates and ruining the “Keep Austin Weird” culture that has made this city unique for generations.
From musical pleasure to political disgust
It is also the year when the festival became overtly political. Of course, this is live music, so it’s not uncommon for an act to say something or sing something from the stage with a political connotation. I’m not saying this has never happened before.
This year, however, politics seemed entrenched in the festival from the start, and it’s disappointing. We are already bombarded by politics at every turn in our daily lives. The ACL Festival is where I go every year to get away from the outside world, recharge my batteries and rejuvenate myself. It was almost impossible this year.
Festival organizers brought in former state senator Wendy Davis, a Democrat known for her vehement stance in favor of abortion, and gave her a speech on a small stage at the festival to protest the new law pro-life from Texas. This secondary scene is a relatively recent addition to ACL, but in the past it tended to have interviews with musicians or local cuisine legends. Now it is used to unnecessarily stir the political pot. Why do we need to inject debate on a very controversial political issue into a perfectly good music festival?
Acts on stage also took plenty of opportunities to prey on anyone who did not follow more liberal political lines, including Eilish, who consistently insisted on Texas pro-life protections during his set, saying : “When they did that shit, I almost didn’t want to do the show. Because I wanted to punish this fucking place for allowing this to happen here.
She went on to say, “You deserve everything in the world. And we have to tell them to shut up! My body, my fucking choice!
Again, is it really necessary to divide fans by raising controversial political issues in such a virulent way during your set? Can’t we all just enjoy the music, or all must be politically charged nowadays? What was once a festival about people enjoying great music while munching on great food has become a political rally for the TikTok crowd and the San Francisco transplants.
Festival to participants: your body, no choice
That doesn’t even count the COVID theater you had to attend just to enter the park gate. The city of Austin has already canceled many other festivals and outdoor events in the name of COVID. In order for ACL to get a permit to use a city park for the festival this year, they had to promise to check the COVID status of people at the gate and apply masking in restricted areas.
To pass the security guards at the front, you had to either show a copy of your vaccination record or a negative COVID test within the past 72 hours. However, the guy who checked my card at the entrance barely looked at it. I could have shown him a library card or someone else’s file, and I’m not sure he would have noticed.
The masking was even more of a joke. Almost none of the security guards, especially Friday, wore a mask. I also didn’t see many festival staff wearing masks, and if you were a VIP or Platinum Pass holder, forget about it.
Even many regular Joes who had just had general admission passes ditched their masks as soon as they walked through the front door. I took two, just in case, but despite the theatrical event at the front door and the drumbeat “you must wear a mask” in the press ahead of time, the masking by almost half a million people who attend ACL are minimal at best.
Again, this begs the question, if we can see soccer games crammed side by side with strangers and festivals with tens of thousands of music fans, why is our ability to celebrate Christmas in question? , Dr Fauci?
Let’s wash it down with beer
Now this is supposed to be a beer column, so let me tell you a few words about what I drank at the festival this year.
At ACL, you have two options for beer. There are bars scattered all over the park that mainly serve tin cans from Coors, Miller Lite, and the occasional Sol. Then there is the “Craft Beer Hall”, a large tent that serves drafts of a more diverse set of beers.
In years past, this has mostly been craft beers from local breweries and more well-known but still small brewers from places like Colorado, Michigan, and California. This year, they’ve significantly reduced the number of actual crafting options.
There was Austin Pizza’s award-winning Electric Jellyfish IPA and Pinthouse Pizza beer chain, McConauhaze IPA (named after a true Austinite, Oscar-winning actor and potential gubernatorial candidate Matthew McConaughey) from Twisted X Brewery. , Long Gone Blonde, a tasty and easy-to-drink lager from Whitestone Brewery in Cedar Park, then a slew of beers from Karbach, the former independent Houston brewery now owned by Anheuser-Busch.
Since it was incredibly hot and muggy this year, I mostly drank water. When I had a beer, I opted for the easier drinking options of the two blondes on offer in the beer tent.
Love Street is a Kolsch style blonde from Karbach. Fittingly enough, it’s named after a concert hall. It is a golden colored beer, sparkling, light on the hops and slightly malty. It’s not a beer you’re going to sit, drink, and analyze to death, but on a hot day, when you want to cool off with a good beer, Love Street will do the trick.
Long Gone Blonde from the good folks at Whitestone Brewing has more flavor than Love Street, with interesting notes of vanilla and orange. This beer is refreshing, easy to drink and enjoyable, even when cooked under a scorching, merciless sun.
A good local beer like Long Gone Blonde makes it easier to forget all the noise around you and enjoy the music. This is becoming increasingly difficult to do at ACL, with its shifting demographic focus and increased politicization.
However, if the folks at C3 can see past the mounds of money they make from tech bros and TikTok trollers and remember that music is something that is meant to be enjoyed by everyone, it doesn’t matter. class, creed, or political tribe, so maybe, just maybe, they can save America’s best music festival.
Brad Jackson is a writer and radio personality whose work has appeared on ABC, CBS, Fox News, and several radio programs. He has been the longtime host and producer of Coffee & Markets, an award-winning podcast and radio show with over 1,500 episodes. Brad covers everything edible and cultural for The Federalist. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram at @bradwjackson.