ACL Festival 2011
Down and Distance

On the glory of the ACL football tent

On the glory of the ACL football tent

The Austin City Limits Festival gets a lot of things right, but one of the things it gets right-est is the football tent, with two giant television screens showing different games throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday. Well, hell—it’s Texas, after all. Of course they do.

So you get hundreds of football fans packed into a cramped space together, at a festival they dropped a small fortune to attend, mostly ignoring the bands they’re ostensibly there to see. You realize we paid two hundred bucks and took the bus to Zilker Park to watch TV? I’ll say it again: This is America, and this is what we do.

Put several hundred Longhorns fans in an enclosed space a couple hundred yards away from the stage where Iron & Wine is playing, and as Case McCoy hits D.J. Grant for a touchdown, Sam Beam is going to think that some people waaaay in the back really loved the flute solo when he hears the roar. When Matt Schaub hits Andre Johnson downfield before the two-minute warning on one screen, just as Miles Austin hauls in a 60-yard touchdown from Tony Romo on the other, and you hear the excitement, you realize that what you thought was an enthusiastic crowd at the end of AWOLNATION’s set was really just a couple thousand people all turning to the person next to them and saying, “So, pizza or tacos?” all at the same time.

People really spend $95 a day on concert tickets just to watch football on television?

It may not exactly be the point of buying a ticket to the festival, but ultimately, concert-goers and football fans are looking for the same thing: A shared, communal experience that makes them feel like part of something larger than themselves, and which transforms a group of strangers, at least for a little while, into something friendlier.

We connect with one another when we’re amassed in a crowd, and that’s what we’re really after at these things. It doesn’t matter, really, if the point of connection is Kanye West’s set on Friday or Jesse Holley streaking 77 yards downfield in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal. The result is the same. We’re all here, together, having this experience, feeding off of shared excitement and reminding ourselves that we’re all alive, together, in this time and place.

 A pack of Saints fans, in town for the festival, asked if they could share my table, and we chatted throughout the game about My Morning Jacket and The Antlers, about Marques Colston and Roy Williams.

That’s some hippie-dippie shit for a football column

You can find those points of connection all over the place. I skipped out on the early part of ACL on Sunday, opting instead to catch the Bears/Saints game at The Tavern before heading down to Zilker. I grabbed a table by myself, but space at that place is always at a premium during the games. A pack of Saints fans, in town for the festival, asked if they could share my table, and we chatted throughout the game about My Morning Jacket and The Antlers, about Marques Colston and Roy Williams—both injured—and about what we were looking forward to seeing at the park later that day.

We promise not to talk trash if we’re winning, a woman in their party offered as they sat down.

You won’t have any reason to, I shot back. I was wrong, of course—the final score was 30-13—but what the hell? We had a lot more in common than we did to keep us apart, even if we were rooting for different teams.

There’s a reason that we follow this game, why we go to these shows, why we want to catch Fleet Foxes or Nas & Damian Marley at ACL even if we skipped them at Stubb’s. There’s a reason why most Americans are literate in football, even if they prefer other sports. These things are all a big part of how we relate to one another.

Not me, I liked the Buffalo Bills before they were cool

That stuff was all on display this weekend, at Zilker Park, at the Tavern, and all along the country. The Cowboys won, sure, but if you were at a sports bar around 3 o’clock, you may well have seen the most high-fiving over the amazing wide-open touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick with 14 seconds left in the Bills/Raiders game. Apparently Buffalo is now America’s Team, and it’s impossible not to root for them.

Even deciding whether or not to cheer or boo Michael Vick—a pastime of more Americans than actually even care about football, at least since he claimed the Eagles’ starting job – is a thing that unites us in passion, even as we’re divided in opinion. That was in sharp relief on Sunday night, with Vick’s return to Atlanta, the city that spawned him as an NFL superstar, on national television. He left the game, of course, the only way that so many Americans have wanted to see him since the story of the Bad Newz Kennels broke: beaten, vomiting, spitting up blood, unable to continue. At the very least, it provided a visual metaphor for the ongoing discussion.

And these things are important—the long-running Vick debate, the sudden enthusiasm for the Bills, the Jesse Holley touchdown, the sound woes for Stevie Wonder’s set at ACL, the arguments about whether or not Kanye belonged at the festival, the fact that Gary Clark Jr.’s set seemed to blow away people who’d never heard of the dude before. This is the conversation we’re having with each other, in Austin and further afield, and it sure beats talking about the drought and wildfires.

Austin Photo Set: News_Jessica Pages_ACl day 2_September 2011_football
Photo by Jessica Pages