How Austin City Limits Went From TV Show to Blockbuster Brand

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Photos courtesy of Oxford University Press
Willie Nelson (onscreen) at the 2006 Austin City Limits Music Festival
It's shaping up to be a big weekend for Austin City Limits. First, the landmark PBS television show that began taping episodes on the top floor of Building B in UT-Austin's College of Communications in 1975 salutes its 40-year history with a two-hour special full of past performances. Airing tomorrow night at 9 p.m. Houston time, that retrospective will probably look familiar to longtime viewers of the program, who will see plenty of ACL's famous fake skyline (where the state capitol building and UT tower are just a little closer together than they are in real life), as well as signature camera shots that linger on the performers a little longer than any other show on the air, ever, sometimes at strange angles like looking up through a snare drum.

What those viewers may not see are many hints of the multimedia cultural octopus ACL has become in the 21st century, albeit in a very laid-back and low-key "Austin" kind of way. Offering a preview of his Bayou Music Center appearance next Thursday, Beck opens the series' 40th season with an hour-long episode that airs Saturday night at 11 p.m., the night after he headlines the first night of the 13th edition of the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park.

Most of what happens during the festival's three days -- and then again next weekend -- will be streamed live on the Internet, while all week long, a number of other ACL Fest 2014 acts will tape episodes of their own at the 1,800-seat ACL Live venue at downtown Austin's plush Moody Theater. Others, like Interpol and Jimmy Cliff, will duck over to nearby cities like Houston for convenient side gigs.


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Growing Crowds Can't Spoil UtopiaFest's Blissful Vibe

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Photos by Jim Bricker
During Aaron Behrens & the Midnight Stroll's Friday-evening set, while the dancing crowd was surrounded by the darkened hillsides that surround UtopiaFest, the singer said, "I don't feel like we're a part of any continent or country, I just feel like we're floating in space." That sentiment wasn't too far off from the truth, and seemed to be shared by the multitudes of new faces who took roost in scattered campsites throughout the festival grounds.

That seemed to be the theme of the weekend, too. While all those who had experienced UtopiaFest before were there, this time they seemed to had brought their friends. And their friend's friends. And their parents and kids, too. UtopiaFest was a noticeably larger animal this year, which became evident before the festival reached capacity Saturday afternoon.


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The Best Acts at Yes, Indeed! Fest 2014

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Photos by Violeta Alvarez
By Matthew Keever and Angelica Leicht

CATCH FEVER
Six months after the release of their debut album, Shiny Eyes, Catch Fever's pop rock continues to please longtime fans and grab the attention of new listeners as well. The power trio rocked the Continental Club Saturday night at 8pm, with vocalist/guitarist Taylor Huffman crooning above bass and keyboard, incorporating harmonies and backing vocals perfectly above tight percussion.

The night was still young when Catch Fever was onstage, and the crowd hadn't quite formed yet, but the club was still filled with applause and good tunes for the duration of the group's set. M.K.

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10 Acts to Watch at Yes, Indeed! Fest 2014

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Photo by Trish Badger/Courtesy of Yes, Indeed!
Black Pistol Fire
By Chris Gray and Matthew Keever

Weekends that go by without another multi-stage festival setting up shop somewhere in Houston are getting pretty scarce, but Yes, Indeed~ has a definite leg up due to its track record and homegrown appeal. For its third edition, the nine-hour event relocates to mid-Main and expands to a nine-hour, four-stage musical feast unfolding at the Continental Club (plus patio), Big Top and Alley Kat, all within stumbling distance of one another if need be.

With almost 30 acts in all, Yes Indeed's backbone remains Houston's vibrant indie scene, but you'll find bands as far away as Kansas City, Canada and neighboring Louisiana, as well as a handful from Austin. To help you sort through the schedule (which you can find here), Rocks Off picked out ten acts we think are especially worthy of your attention. With tickets a mere $12 in advance (so get 'em now), whoever you choose will be quite a bargain.


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Mad Decent Block Party's Central Texas Stop Was Pretty Good All Right

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Photos by Marco Torres
Houston's own Wrestlers warmed up the stage.
After a last-minute request and approval to cover the New Braunfels stop of the Mad Decent Block Party, Rocks Off's own Marco Torres sent in this visual summary of the event, held this past Saturday at the Whitewater Amphitheater.

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Liz added attitude, style and a feminine touch to the Block Party.


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Day of Joy: Remembering Houston's First Outdoor Music Fest

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Photos courtesy of Vicki Welch Ayo
Day of Joy band Ginger Valley
"It was definitely a labor of love. It cost me $5,000, I'll put it that way; and, looking back on it, I'm not sure I didn't get my money's worth." -- Jim Tucker

We're living in the festival era of popular music. In the U.S. alone, there are more than 200 major music festivals annually. Some, like Bonnaroo and Coachella, have transcended from mere concerts to cogs in the modern zeitgeist.

In Houston, we're doing our part, with Free Press Summer Fest and new additions like last weekend's Whatever Fest. Our grassroots music community doesn't need benevolent corporate sponsors to do its thing, either. Practically every weekend, some group is resourcefully staging a festival, like last month's Grace Note, this month's Melt Fest or next month's Untapped Festival.

Does Houston have a good fest history? The short answer is yes. And, if you're the right age, you might think back -- way back -- to a time before the long-running Westheimer Street Festival and the Houston International Festival to recall a singular offering dubbed Day of Joy. The ambitious event was held at the long-gone Almeda Speedway and brought local and national acts together to perform for gathered masses under Houston's blistering summer sun.


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Houston Whatever Fest Deserves Another Shot

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Photo by Jim Bricker
This guy gave Houston Whatever Fest two thumbs-up, anyway.
There are better ways to tell, but one indicator of whether your music festival is meeting expectations is the "Chi'lantro Test."

It's not a real thing -- I dreamed it up -- but it seems reliable enough. If the Chi'lantro Korean BBQ truck is parked at your festival and there's not a line in front of it, attendance might be subpar.

This was one of the troubling signs for Houston Whatever Fest, the latest addition to the city's always-growing music festival slate. This one featured an amalgam of national acts, some very talented comedians and a robust lineup of locals. Everything was located on five stages within walking distance on St. Emanuel.


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The 10 Best Acts at Houston Whatever Fest

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Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.
ANDREW W.K.
Andrew W.K. was a revelation. He came out, trademark grin firmly in place, and immediately told the crowd he was "not a musician." He's a known party inducer and he was exactly what Whatever Fest needed the moment he was booked. He ran through the hits in a frenetic set that featured audience stage-dives and mosh pits. "Ready to Die," "I Love NYC," "We Want Fun," "Party Hard," "I Get Wet"...he played them all while his hype man extraordinaire, Blakey Boy, revved up the crowd.

The energy and good vibes were contagious. It seemed everyone in the crowd was smiling just as widely as the man himself. I was impressed by his piano playing skills as attacked the keys like a modern-day Jerry Lee Lewis and played the craziest version of "Rhapsody in Blue" I've ever heard. Andrew W.K. is a lot of things -- quick-start-party-starter, motivational speaker and Village Voice writer among them. He is also definitely a musician. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

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Wo Fat Meet Their Doom at Fitz on Saturday

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Photos courtesy of Kent Stump
Dallas' Wo Fat
Have you heard the news? Fitzgerald's, that creaky old live music haunt in the Heights where your favorite band became your favorite band, is doomed.

Not next year, not after graduation, but Saturday. This Saturday. Doomed.

Whoa, hey, calm down for a second! This isn't about Pegstar abandoning the old club to build a slick, new townhouse of a concert venue on North Main (not that there's anything wrong with that). That's still quite a ways off, and there's a lot of life left in Fitz yet. Case in point: both stages of the club will be piled high with every heavy guitar riff imaginable tomorrow when the second annual Bayou Doom Fest returns to Sabbath the place up a bit. And for rock fans who like it slow, deep and hard, that's very good news, indeed.


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10 Can't-Miss Acts at Houston Whatever Fest

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Photo by Kelly Gairrocco/The Brixton Agency
Cheap Girls
SATURDAY

CHEAP GIRLS
I know some people who were converted by Cheap Girls. Not just a fun sentence to write, but a true occurrence from recent local show. This Lansing, Mich.-based trio must be starting to feel like Houston is a second home. By my count, this will be at least their second trip here (third?) since the new year.

Earlier in 2014, they swept through with their friends Laura Stevenson and Against Me!, some frequent tourmates and longtime supporters of Cheap Girls' fundamentally solid indie-rock. Check out "Her and Cigarettes," from 2009's Find Me a Drink Home, for just one lovely example of what these guys do. (4 p.m., EaDo Party Park Space City Vodka stage) JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

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