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September 21, 2011

Happy Tenth, Austin City Limits Festival. ~ Dylan Owens

Out with old and in with the new at Austin City Limits Festival’s 10th anniversary.

As the lights died on Arcade Fire’s festival-closing cinematographic set Sunday night, you could almost feel the shift. “We’re not gonna see you guys for a couple years,” frontman Win Butler said near the end of the set, “so take care of yourselves.”

Arcade Fire

It was a changing of the guard—a sentiment that was evident throughout much of the weekend.

Earlier on Sunday, Broken Social Scene played a set of classics (and one of Modest Mouse’s for good measure) in what is to be one of their last shows before an indefinite hiatus, according to a recent Pitchfork interview.

Kanye West’s gargantuan performance had that same air of finality on Friday night. After descending off of a moving hydraulic platform to begin act one of his three-part epic, he and a flock of Black Swan-esque ballerinas embarked on a career-spanning setlist punctuated by a 15-odd minute rendition of “Runaway” that served as a eulogy for the Dark Twisted Fantasy tour. “This is the last night of the show,” West said. “There will be new times, but we gotta remember these times.” Last of the tour or otherwise, it was the biggest spectacle of the weekend—one that would’ve been sufficient for any other artist’s career-ending show. Well, that’s Kanye for you.

Theophilus London

But if the big names were headed out the door, they left it open for a number of up-and-coming acts at the festival. Example: Fledgling rapper Theophilus London, whose très chic style isn’t too far removed from what could be a future ‘Ye someday (for better or worse). London ushered in what was the first rain in Austin for some six weeks on Friday during his energetic afternoon set, switching the track up mid-song as it started coming down to what he called “the perfect song for the rain,” “Humdrum Town.” I wouldn’t say it was the perfect song—I, for one was expecting something different—but he made it work. Later, fellow young buck Gary Clark Jr. channeled Hendrix in his brand of slick blues-rock, turning the crowd into a legion of air-guitaring masses—a real standout amongst the weekend’s vast pool of talent.

Fitz and the Tantrums, Fresh Millions and Chromeo all blew the hearts and minds out of their constituents as well, making everyone sweat a little harder in the persistent Austin sun. However, the festival went to great (and much appreciated) lengths to keep everyone cool with oases of misting fans and Camelback water stations that populated the festival grounds.

The Cults

If you’re at all interested in the indie music scene, you’ve likely heard of the Brooklyn sweethearts Cults, who played a solid if not sedate set to a similarly sedate crowd. And in the Bob Seger department (diametrically opposite of Cults), J Roddy Walston and the Business banged out the grittiest rock and roll of the weekend, complete with a lyrical reference to a baby-making gun in “Used to Did.” God bless those guys.

Music aside, the Rock and Recycle program seemed to work so well that I would be shocked if I don’t see it at subsequent festivals. Essentially, it incentivizes festival-goers to clean-up the festival for a short period of time in exchange for a free t-shirt. Lesson: never underestimate the power of swag.

It was a weekend for massive highs, bittersweet goodbyes (for the foreseeable future) and the little guys. All in all, a 10th anniversary spent as all should be: looking backwards but moving forwards. They call that moonwalking, I think.

Seems apropos.

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Dylan Owens is currently a senior in the creative writing program at the University of Colorado. As an ex-baby model, he peaked early, but is mounting a comeback as a writer for elephant journal and the Boulder Today. You can learn about his exploits and interests via photo, blurb and hand-picked Youtube video on his Twitter, or simply Google “pickle recipes,” “life-sized Jenga” and “PBR&B” for the same effect.

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