By Melissa Ludwig and Anita Powell
Sept. 20, 2003
The Austin City Limits Music Festival was a city within a city, one with love and happiness and music to spare.
With 40 restaurants, 42 clothing and accessory vendors, 130 bands and 562 portable toilets among them, the 45,000 people danced, drank $4 beers and listened to 42 musical acts on Friday. Among them: indie queen Liz Phair, folksy Shawn Colvin and a riotously crowded performance by Los Lonely Boys.
This little city was just as weird as the big one.
One group of people dancing around a dog-shaped piņata on a stick identified themselves as members of Club Chi-Wa-Wa, a South Austin "dance club without walls."
"A lot of us are in our 50s but we can still rock," said Cissy Zollo, one of the club's founding members.
Even Elvis showed up. That's the only name a man in a red cape and white spandex pantsuit gave as he passed out free samples of Flipnotics smoothies.
"This is an ungodly hot pantsuit," he said. "But business is good. We're rockin' and rollin.' Uh huh."
The festival started slowly, but by 2 p.m., the trickle of people swelled to a flood and continued steadily through the evening. The morning was cool and overcast, warming up to the low 80s as the sun came out in the afternoon.
At the end of the day, one person had been arrested for having a counterfeit ticket. Only 32 minor injuries, ranging from cuts to heat-related illness, had been reported. No children were reported lost, said festival staff, who affixed wristband identification to 380 children in the Tag-A-Kid program. One of the only significant breakdowns was a group of fieldlights near the Capital Metro stage that failed to go on, leaving some of the people in the dark as they watched Al Green close out the night. Organizers said the lights would be fixed for Saturday night's sets.
Although the festival began smoothly, with none of the long lines of last year to enter the venue, leaving the fest at night was another matter.
At 9:30 p.m., festival goers reported waiting as long as an hour for shuttle buses. The wait for taxi cabs was nearly as long, as buses and cabs competed for pavement at the pick-up site. Capital Metro had hired 37 charter buses to accomodate the crowd.
But that was about as tough as things got.
"This is a more laid-back crowd, a little older," said Austin police officer David Socha. "They've got more to lose if they do something silly."
A couple of policemen, driving around in a golf cart with a handmade sign that read "Five-O," admitted they were having fun.
"This is actually a mellow crowd out there," said officer Charles Ortiz.
Inside the festival, revelers reported good vibes.
"The energy is always good here," said Joshua Petty, 26, of San Marcos. "There's families, kids and the younger generation getting introduced to great music."
Petty should know about energy: He has an electric socket tattooed on his back to remind him that the world is made up of energy, he said.
Many patrons who forgot to hit the ATM before coming into the festival regretted the decision because of a $4.50 transaction fee tacked on at the privately contracted machines.
"Capitalist America is going to take advantage of you because you're there and you're stuck," said Jake McNeely, 21.
At the general store, sunblock, cigarettes and sunglasses were in high demand. Manager Pam Richeson said sales of chewing tobacco were slow, but predicted that would change.
"Wait until Robert Earl Keen starts playing," she said.
Others vendors were touting stranger wares, from cowboy boots to lawn chairs to $295 diamond-studded toe rings. Most vendors, who paid $650 per booth, said they easily recouped the money in the first few hours.
The U.S. Postal Service made its first appearance in the marketplace this year. Post office spokeswoman Barbara Pokorny said they were asked to come by the festival's organizers, who waived the vendor fee.
"This post office is going to be open on Sunday," she said.
The reason, she said, was to help out-of-towners ship their goods home.
One such visitor, Koichi Munakata, came from Tokyo to see Dwight Yoakam.
"I think this festival is the best," he said.