And there it was again, the magical city in the middle of nowhere –materializing out of thin air like a song, Austin Psych Fest –a 21st Century Bedouin tent encampment for the world’s psychedelic music nomads. Or nomadic psychedelic musicians. Or nomadic musicians on psychedelics. The possibilities are endless.
Entering its seventh year as a fest and its second on the Carson Creek Ranch located outside of the city, the gathering is a living and breathing monument to a genre –a genre whose frequency pulls pysch bands and their devoted kin from around the globe to get lost together for a few days.
APF showed signs of logistical growth and challenges in this year’s incarnation, upping its compliment of shuttles, offering for the first time a connecting bus between the downtown and the remote site.
A post-Friday night festival shuttle populated by Liverpool fans and Scottish teenage girls in some odd way spoke to the fest’s international appeal across generations of sun-deprived former colonial powers. Yes, I know Scotland isn’t a colonial power, work with me here.
Yes, England and Scotland do not a global tour de force make, but Kiwis, Kangaroos, Canucks and something that wasn’t Spanish but didn’t contain enough gesticulations to be Italian.
Friday dusk at the Reverberation stage saw attendees eagerly soak in all of a Zombies set, producing a crammed photo pit and clogged artery of humanity surpassed only by bridge traffic to Fort Lee, New Jersey. The fest was clearly a big damn deal this year and it just seemed like there were more people this time around than last. Word appears to be getting out.
The Zombies radiated gratitude for the opportunity to play the APF, with the band narrating along the way bits and pieces of their 50-year history, graciously playing the hits everyone wanted to hear.
While the Zombies, Temples and later The Black Angels took charge of the Friday stage and the crowd, a brief detour to the River stage to check out Dead Meadow made it abundantly clear with each affixed bandana to about every fourth concert-goer that mother-nature was running the show, baking the venue into dusty oblivion. Remember that bit about the fest being a living and breathing monument? I was lying about the breathing part.
Texas is entering a period of historic and devastating drought that rivals a nasty period in the 1950s –in the absence of rain, parched land is the rule. The lower Colorado River basin in particular (where Austin is located), is in its seventh year of drought.
Although less of an issue in 2013, dust at APF had become an unwanted condiment you could taste regardless of whether or not you were brave enough to break away from the traditional taco truck/Whole Foods fare to sample the Roasted Iguana Explosion or Fried Goat Brain Blaster. It’s nice to see the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom folks start their own food truck.
As easy as it is to bitch about the dust and the fact that the APF is still years away from perfecting a weather machine, the fact is that SXSW looms large on the calendar and there’s just no moving this fest to earlier in the year –not everyone is going to want a piece of both, be it artists or fans.
Much of what makes Austin Austin made the trip from the city to the ranch –the aforementioned food trucks, the boutiques, that group of 100 people you see at every show on the eastside (guilty) and the hard-working service industry pros who are the very backbone of the city and music scene for that matter.
And yes there was music too –Temples proved uninteresting, the Zombies courteous and befitting the living legend legacy label, and after having only caught the Pink Floyd-esque Christian Bland and the Revelators, finally seeing that “other band” he’s in (The Black Angels) proved to be the dreamy semi-heir to the Spacemen 3 throne trip I’d been hoping for.
What’s great about the fest and the set-up is that it’s easy enough to pop from one stage to another, without struggling with venue lines, parking or whatever. After sneezing my way over to the tent next to the Reverberation stage, I discovered Japan’s Mono whose last eight minutes I caught were probably my favorite of the fest. Anyone who has played the shit out of Godspeed You Black Emperor! Probably wants a piece of this.
What I also discovered: I’m fond of breathing.
I do appreciate there may not be anything worse in the world than looking for parking in Austin, so I get the appeal of the ranch setting, especially now that Emo’s has moved out into the city periphery offering all the charm of an air-conditioned parking lot.
Understanding that this festival has to be nothing short of a billion moving parts and an avalanche of Excel spreadsheets whose details, HR requirements and band hospitality riders would make a grown man cry like a Jess Williamson song, I would respectfully ask APF Santa for water trucks for the next fest to help prep the field. I skipped Sunday. The mere prospect of breathing in that space seemed just too daunting. One artist told me he had to improvise his performance a bit because he’d lost his voice.
If the venue becomes a mud bath from over-watering, call in Sailor Jerry as a sponsor and hold a mud wrestling tournament. The thing pays for itself. Artists and fans alike will be a more positive frame of mind to enjoy or even attend the show. See you next year.
All photos by Alicia Santiago. Check out more of her shots in this photo set.
Read PT’s recap of Psych Fest 2013.