Rock ‘n’ Roll with a Ten Foot Pole– ACL FEST 2014, 10/10/2014

I have but a vague theory as to what unconscious forces took hold of me, convincing me to commit the unthinkable. I was no longer a rational human being, but an animal fueled by an overpowering primal instinct screaming in my mind’s ear that blood, heart, and glory were all that mattered. It also intimated that the notion of rational self-interest had been nothing but a cloak for greed and destruction by a self-annointed elite for at least one too many centuries and that the invisible hand was merely wanking us all off as we happily ejaculated in the sock of consumer capitalism. It reminded me that Marx and Engels saw what was wrong, even though their cure turned out to be worse than the disease. That may have been the only glimmer of rationality flowing from this loquacious little daemon. This force pushed me relentlessly until I went over the brink into a psychological abyss, landing in a territory I never thought could exist, lest I could inhabit.

Where was I? What was I doing? What could I do now? What impossible things in my previous staid life were now possible?








World domination?

As dramatic as my overture sounds, it is not a crime nor an act of terrorism that I contemplated as I walked about this insane new world, or at least it is not a crime or act of terrorism as of yet. One can never underestimate the fearful clutching at power of certain government districts. Neither was it a moral calamity like adultery, lying, cheating, or just hating your damn noisy neighbor who plays Led Zeppelin at top volume around 2 in the morning.

No, for most of you folk in the human population, you lucky majority you, the act I contemplated would not lead to an existential crisis, but be as natural as breathing. You wouldn’t give it a second thought, or even a first, and it is not due lack of conscience, but your personality type. Oh extroverts! I hate and envy you all the same. This act, or more properly, this “Act”, would be no easy feat for an introvert. For us “I’s”, as we are often called in the therapeutic world as if we suffered from an unspeakable disease, the thought of the Act itself took on a foreboding intensity of biblical proportions. You may as well have nailed me upon a wooden version of the Cross of St. Andrew, even though I merely intended to bear it in all of its blue and white fabric glory throughout the second Friday of Austin City Limits Festival 2014. Yes, that’s all it was, this Act. Extroverts, stay with me. Introverts, I know you understand. Just keep in mind that I could never have done such a thing, even one so simple, of my own free will. As my single theory plays out, I realize it was not my own volition that set me to action, but the will of history itself.


A perfect storm of dovetailing factors descended upon me, guiding me through every phase of the Act long before I’d even obtained a ticket for the Fest, courtesy of the mysterious and fabulous NC, who is herself an enigma of biblical proportions who could give the Espirtu Santo a run for its shekels. I daresay this “will” [Will?] has been in action since I first emerged upon this planet and I both fear and revel in the fact that this Act may have been the greatest single achievement, or at least its most satisfying, of my wee small so-called life. Indeed, I am quite aware that my life may be but a tiny decrepit shack on a hillside in Rio, or a shipping crate in the desert of the American Southwest, but it is mine nonetheless, and nothing of which to be the least bit ashamed. We can’t all be Mick Jagger.

First and foremost of these dovetailing factors was my surging pride in my Scottish Heritage in the run-up to the independence referendum of 18 September, something that started early in the year, got stronger and stronger as the vote approached, and, oddly, only seemed to get stronger in the aftermath of the referendum’s failure, a phenomenon also seen in the Scottish people themselves as the rolls of the Scottish National Party have more that tripled since 18-9, and as the number “45”, as in the 45+% who voted for independence, has become a war cry to carry on the fight to free Scotland from the shackles of Westminster. As to the reasons for the continuing rising tide for Scottish Independence, such analytical luminaries as Tariq Ali and George Monbiot have explained it better than I ever could. I encourage you to read and listen to them for a more nuanced approach to this phenomenon. Again, for me, it is not reason, but heart, blood, blah, blah, blah that leads me on this strange journey in a strange land, along with dreams of bonnie lasses in woolen bonnets, rastafarian cows, and bands on every Glaswegian block. This is what informs my fantasy of what life is like above the 55th parallel where Hadrian’s wall divides an island into two distinct lands and peoples.

Second of the factors was the point that not one, not two, but three Scottish acts would be playing on that fateful Friday and render it a veritable dia de los escocés in the Capitol of the Lone Star State– Stuart Murdoch would do a set with the local Barton Hills Choir [a group of fresh-faced elementary school kids who like to stand in long rows on risers whilst singing andgroovin’ to the beat]; Chvrches would inundate Zilker Park withtheirvibrant, though, in my humble opinion, often tedious, synth-pop tsunami; and, finally, to cap the evening, the National Band of Scotland itself, Belle and Sebastian, would make it official, sanctifying the whole experience in the name of the brave souls who sent proud Edward’s army homeward to think again.

In anticipation of this hallowed occasion, there was a very simple project to undertake, shamefully simple in fact. The only mandatory tool was a drill; and it didn’t require one of those expensive heavy duty drills since I wouldn’t be drilling through 3 feet of concrete and steel, but merely a millimeter or so of white plastic. It was an easy home construction project, and cheap to boot—I think the entire venture cost about $12- flag and all; and it was quick – all said and done in less than 15 minutes, not counting the slog or slogs to get the supplies.

So here’s how one proceeds with PROJECT ROCK FEST FLAG, political statement edition:

The ingredients for this bold project of mine are, naturally, in bold below.

Take one ten foot length of PVC pipe that is one-inch in diameter [make sure you don’t accidentally pick up the 3/4” variety as I initially did, for it is way too flimsy, and will most likely break after the first considerable breeze], and drill one hole of approximately one quarter-inch or so diameter, depending on the width of your cable ties, about an inch from the top, and another just a bit over three feet down.

Now take two cable ties and run one through each hole, making the loop for each tie but don’t pull either of them completely tight just yet. You’ve got to leave them both with a wee bit of slack so you can attach an “s-biner” to each one. Once you get the s-biners on, then it will be okay to pull them tight. So, now, attach your s-biners [forgive me for being so linear and repetitive here] to the cable ties and once you are satisfied that they are properly secured, pull those cable ties as tight as you can without breaking anything, especially your finger. I think the cable ties may be as strong as the PVC pipe, if not stronger, depending on the type of cable ties you get. I bought some pretty hefty ones that were near impossible to cut off once I made a mistake. Now cut off the excess cable above the tie point.

Now that your cable ties are tight and your s-biners are securely attached to the pole, take your 3′ by 5′ flag (in my case, the Saltire) and attach the grommets on its short side to the s-biners.

And that’s it. You are now ready to be found by all your friends at your rock festival, and perhaps look and feel like a gigantic dickhead, too, by calling outlandish attention to yourself- “Look at me and my flag! Yee ha!!!!” But, hey, these are 80,000 of your closest friends who you will likely never see again. So go ahead, don’t just carry a big ol’ flag, drink so much that you vomit on your neighbor’s shoes during a set by a band whose meteoric rise is about to come to aa spectacular, exploding end because the lead singer is heading to rehab for her heroin addiction and the synth player will find his true calling in an Albanian Bay City Rollers tribute band that does ABBA covers on the side. It’s all in good fun and you won’t remember it anyway, though your neighbor and the band onstage won’t be enjoying life again for at least another year.

October 10, 2014

Like a kid on Christmas, I’m up first thing in the morning on the day– 6:00 am to be exact, even though I intended to be up and at it by 5. In the preceding days, I’d been studying the bands I haven’t yet heard, and diligently marked my schedule and map to know exactly where I need to be and when I need to be there in order to hear the performers that have piqued my interest. I’ve obtained some new albums from those newly found bands and I’m listening to them non-stop on my Ubuntu command line mplayer- options: -shuffle as well as -loop 0 employed at every opportunity. I’d built a script to play everything just a few days back so as to fill the house with music non-stop, even while I’m sleeping.

Did I mention that I’d built a flag pole in the front yard, too?

Well, as soon as sun’s up, I plop my Saltire on it, and watch it flaccidly lay there in the breeze-free humidity. When winds finally do kick up, it’s glorious to see the blue banner flapping in the front yard.

I’ve got a couple of extra tix to dispose of. Craigslist helps. Buyers will come by with cash. I give them the address and tell them to look for the Scottish flag out front if they have any doubts they’re at the right place. I tell them to come by at 9:30 am. The first buyer arrives at 9:15, the second at 9:45. That’s Austin for you, the city that promptness forgot.

Barton Hills Choir with Stuart Murdoch – Around 10:00am, cash in hand, I gather up my peeps and head out. I decide to leave the Saltire at home for phase 1 of the day, even though there’ll be a Scotsman at the first set. The gig was under a tent, and involved a bunch of kids. It would feel strange to carry a 3′ x 5′ flag on a 10 foot pole inside a tent, and just downright rude to do so in front of a bunch of kids singing their hearts out, wondering why some dickhead was usurping their gi with a giant blue piece of fabric with a white “X” on it. So I took my camera instead, and luckily, got some decent pics of the choir along with Scotland’s top songwriter who also happens to be an up and coming film director.

Shields of Faith
Shields of Faith

Next up was a jazz/blues/rock gospel band called Shields of Faith. I think they were from New Orleans. Hell, uh, heavenly lot of fun. I don’t think I’ve ever clapped so much at gig in my life before. Oh yeah, I think I got some decent pics of them, too. The cool thing about the early gigs, especially those in the Zilker tent , is that they’re sparsely attended and you can get up close for some good photos.

Then it was on to the Austin Ventures stage for The Preatures, an Australian band that, the Fab Nina and I agree, are going to be huge with their flail-about-80’s-retro-sound that bounces from Blondie to Scandal to Pat Benatar and back again. It’s a band that I’ll gladly plunk down $50 to see at Stubb’s or the Austin Music Hall, even though they’re more likely to be packing the Erwin Center in the not so distant future. Yes – I’ll call’em a “band to watch.” None of these guys will be in rehab or a tribute band in the coming year. That’s my bold prediction. Their first LP was recorded in Austin with a big hoo-ha from Spoon at the helm. It’s called Blue Planet Eyes, and is pretty much a flawless record if you’re looking for guitar pop some 30 years retrograde without too much heaviness. It definitely errs on the spectrum side of the Go-Gos rather than Joy Division.

The Preatures
The Preatures

At 1:45 pm, I head home – I live within a moderate walking distance of Zilker Park – to have some lunch, drink some coffee, and meet some more peeps. Upon my return to ACL Fest, I take the flag. It feels really weird, everyone looking at you, especially those poor souls who don’t know what flag it is. No, kids, it’s not Finland, but thanks. I first worried that it may get a little heavy, carrying it around for 5 or so hours, but the gas station mug solution helped me carry my burden– take a plastic gas station mug with a handle, and loop your belt through through the handle. You now have a flag carrier. Put the bottom of the PVC pipe in the mug, hold the PVC pipe at about forehead level, and it’s no effort at all. Easy breezy– looks good in the breezy. Plus, the top of your flag is now 12 to 13 feet above the ground. Nice!

I catch a little bit of Boston’s Lake Street Dive at the Austin Ventures stage, a sort of blues/jazz retro band with female lead singer who can belt it. I could’ve listened to her all day.

Around 4:00pm, I make my way over to the Honda stage, one of the two big stages, to get set for Chvrches. It’s a mess – 30 to 40 thousand kids who look like they just escaped Lenny Riefenstahl’s Nuremburg frat extravaganza. They all have their hands in the air giving hearty heils to synth-fascism. I’m old enough to be the grandfather of most of ’em. Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh. I talked to a few of them prior to the start. They were all nice kids, but, overall, clueless. None of them had any idea that it was the Scottish flag I carried (Sweden, one asked??), neither did they know about the referendum in Scotland less than a month ago and how it turned out, and they didn’t even know that the band they were about to see were Scottish. I wondered if there were any real fans anywhere at the festival.


I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for Chvrches despite their overwhelming synthesizers. Lauren Mallory has a sweet voice and she and her bandmates have written some really powerful pop songs. I kind of wish they’d take the synths to goodwill and pick up some guitars so I won’t go deaf. Ah– cranky old man.

I get to the RetailMeNot stage and the St. Vincent 5:15 gig some 15 minutes late. I’m still not sure what I saw except maybe the Texan version of Bjork or Bjork meets Buster Keaton. She took the term “performance” where it’s never been before. I didn’t really want to go there, but it was an okay trip. I’m not complaining, just scratching my head, glad I survived, and that she survived, too, considering her King Kong in evening dress act at the end of the set. I can see why David Byrne digs her.

The show ends, mercifully for everyone, and the crowd departs. I stay put. It’s a little more than an hour before Belle and Sebastian take the stage, and I want to be as close as possible without blocking the Austin City Limits cameras with the Cross of St. Andrew. I find a spot in the audience stage left and get advice from a security man on whether I’m blocking the cameras. He gives me the thumbs up, and I wait, the breeze proudly flapping the Saltire. I am then greeted by every Scotsman, Irishman, and Englishman on the grounds. I talked to more people in an hour than I’d spoken to in the last 5 years, all very nice, interesting people who encouraged me to get to Scotland as soon as possible. I could completely understand the two Scots I talked to who’d been living in the US for a couple of years. Those directly from Scotland, about 50% of what they said. Then there was the drunken asexual love-child of Nicola Sturgeon who, I think, said she was from Glasgow. I had no idea what she said. I just smiled and nodded. Eventually, she raised her beer, kissed it, then clinked it against the PVC pipe. Suddenly, about ten other people, some in kilts, did the same over the the next 20 minutes or so. “Good on you lad!” “Soar Alba!” Surprisingly, I was the only one there with a Saltire. How could this be, since we were about to see the National Band of Scotland?

About 15 minutes into the set – it was at sunset by the way [about 7:15 central time] – lead singer Stuart Murdoch looked out at the crowd and the sky and said, “Wow. It’s so beautiful. The sky is beautiful. The crowd is beautiful. The Scottish flag is beautiful (big cheer as I wave said flag), Tom Sellick is beautiful.” Just to my right were two women hold up a big picture of beefcake era Tom Sellick. Apparently, B&S had met them on the plane from Phoenix to Austin. “Their names are Nicki and Nicki,” Murdoch said, “But that’s not their real names. I’ll bet that’s just their ACL names.”

So high from getting a Saltire shout-out, I go into a sort of slow motion dreamscape. I remember “Me and the Major”, “Boy with the Arab Strap”, and “Another Sunny Day,” with the Barton Hills Choir tromping onto the stage to sing along. Don’t worry, the kids didn’t say “the referee gave us fuck all.” It didn’t look and sound that way, anyway. I’m not sure what else they played. I just know it took me a long time to leave the grounds after the gig as Nicola Sturgeon slobbered on my neck and signed my Saltire. Her writing was as slurred as her speech. Still can’t figure out what her name is after almost a week. It’s Cav.. something.. something.. More hugs, more “Soar Albas”, more beer clinks on the PVC pipe, untold numbers of person kissing the flag, people stopping for selfies with it in the background. More kilts. More screams of “Aye!” A strange wonderful moment to have lived through. The flag now hangs in my house, sacrosanct from the kisses and salutes of god knows how many Scots lads and lasses by birth, blood, and/or imagination, as well as a shout out from one of its more notable sons. Guess I’m a fan.

Went and bought a new Saltire the next day to fly outside.


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