UPDATED: Is ACL Festival Ignoring Houston? Does It Even Matter?
UPDATED (Thursday, 2:50 p.m.) to reflect the Houston-area roots of a few ACL performers this year, as pointed out by reader comments. We stand by our original point, though.
Photo by Marco Torres ACL at sunset, 2010
As most of our readers no doubt know by now, the Austin City Limits Music Festival announced its 2013 lineup at the stroke of midnight Tuesday. This fall will mark ACL's twelfth edition in Zilker Park on the shores of Town Lake, and its first expanding to two identical weekends: October 4-6 and 11-13.
Looking over this year's lineup, what leaps out first about the headliners is that, perhaps for the first time, the festival seems to consider thirty- and fortysomethings as the absolute upper range of its audience. This year's "heritage acts," what few there really are, all arrived on the scene in the late '70s or early '80s -- Depeche Mode, The Cure, Lionel Richie -- compared to the baby-boomer icons of ACLs past: Al Green, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan.
The other thing that stood out is that, once again, the lineup is utterly lacking in any representation by artists from a most active if not outright thriving music scene barely 150 miles to ACL's east, aka us.
Throughout the festival's 2013 lineup (both weekends), all the way down to the gospel choirs and children's-stage performers, there is not one artist who is either
a native Houstonian, a current resident , or -- to the best of Rocks Off's knowledge, and we ought to know -- has ever lived here for a significant period of time.
This is hardly a new phenomenon, either. This may shock you, but not us: since its first year in 2002, not one prominent Houston-based artist or band has performed at ACL. The only ones who have even been based remotely in the area at the time of their performance were gospel groups the Jones Family Singers (of Bay City), who appear almost annually, and the Mighty Sincere Voices of Navasota.
Admittedly, most of the city's best-known, still-living musical "graduates" -- Rodney Crowell, Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Jack Ingram, Blue October, Hayes Carll -- have played the festival at least once, but with the exception of Blue October and Carll, all with several years' distance between those artists' Houston years and Zilker Park. By contrast, here are the North Texas acts who have played ACL, most of them still living in either Denton or the Metroplex at the time: Toadies, Midlake, Old 97's, Ben Kweller, Centro-Matic, Brave Combo, Erykah Badu, Sara Hickman, Sarah Jaffe and Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights.
So that's a dozen years now, well north of 1,000 ACL performers in all -- at a rate of roughly 100 acts each year -- and only a handful of artists even with ties to the fourth-largest city in the nation, one that gets bigger every day. That's nobody who lives here (or lived here), and outside maybe Blue October, nobody who could be considered an "emerging" artist.
At face value, that seems to add up to a slight so big it has to be intentional, but that may not necessarily be the case.