ACL and American Journalism

ACL actually happened several weeks ago (I had the day pass for Friday Oct 2, to be precise) and I just never managed to write about it. Sneaking in some time here in an already indolent weekend to describe it is probably going to hurt me later, but I have a grande caramel macch inside me, so we’ll see.

First of all – good lord, the people. When we got to Zilker the whole thing was set up like a carnival; the number of people strolling around was incredible and you could hear the thumping of the music from stages away. We strolled over to Bassnectar and the effect was even better – a lone figure, up on a gigantic stage, deftly manipulating a bank of instruments that produced some great music. It was a strange sort of fusion – techno and a number of things, probably – but the fact that I was there, at my first ever Western concert, squashed in the middle of thousands of people and feeling my bones vibrate from the beats – that was great.

We also became aware, after a while, of rather strange smells that we identified as probably-dubious (if not downright illicit) substances being smoked. It was basically a reminder that Austin is the cheerfully blue spot in vehemently red Texas – as was the amount of alcohol being served. N convinced A to take a picture of him standing in front of the “Over 21 Only” sign in front of the beer booths, so now there’s a proud (untagged) picture of him looking totally excited about his alcohol on Facebook.

A and I went over to see the latter half of Rafael Saddiq after that, and it was great. I’ve now discovered another angle of swing/40’s/jazz music that I love. I’m not even sure what it’s called, but it was fantastic mellow music for something like ACL. Surprisingly, he didn’t sound as “non-male” (as A referred to it, haha) as he was supposed to, and only his troupe was wearing the 40’s outfits – but it was a really good concert, either way.

Disappointingly, John Legend wasn’t as good – for some reason we could barely hear him and there wasn’t a chance we could get close enough to see anything. Those screens, by the way, were magical. I’ve never really had the opportunity to use them, and the crispness of the images was great. Nerdy, I know.

We went over to see Thievery Corporation next – massive irony, I’d known only about them before, and my ACL experience was really supposed to be based off that. As it turned out, N went off to the front while A and I tried to find him. We eventually settled down at the back and ended up just chilling for a while, watching the sun go down. The weather had been absolutely perfect – Californian in its chilliness but still summery enough to not warrant any jackets (for a while, anyway). So we tried to take pictures of the sunset, gave up, and then just sat on the beautiful new grass. Side note about the grass: they’d done it up with compost apparently, and the next two days were a complete contrast to Friday in terms of dryness. The soggy weather meant that the entire place stank of organic material, but I’m pretty sure no one gave a hoot.

Andrew Bird was next, and his was particularly interesting – sort of strangely warped fairytale props, accompanied by rock guitars, violins, and a xylophone. Bird is apparently some kind of musical mastermind; he’d thrash out songs on the guitar, and then swung it around to concentrate on the violin, plink something on the xylophone, and just to make things more interesting, would whistle half his lyrics. I’m thinking of checking him out after this, but I’ve come to realize how different a concert experience can be from recordings.

The important thing, though, was that every single artist we saw (maybe excepting Legend) was just as awesome a stage presence as they were a recording artist. Kings of Leon, for instance – they were the 10 pm highlight and the crowd was completely insane at this point. I was almost afraid I’d lose A and N in the masses, not to mention being slightly scared of the increasingly intoxicated people around us. But KoL’s energy on stage was great – and I was surprised just how good they sounded. It seems like huge rock numbers would be heavy on the music and end up forgoing clarity, but the sound team and KoL were both awesome.¬†Unfortunately we left before Use Somebody. I have to confess that that was the only song I’d actually heard before I went for KoL, but I really wanted to see it because it’s very much a crowd song (there’s that “oh-ohhh-oh” part in the middle). It was probably a good thing we’d left, though – because when we left at about 9.30, we got back to West Campus at like 11.30.

It might have been fun to go in a larger crowd (no offence to my fellow ACL-ers) but it was still a great time. I really need to get back there next year and see what else is playing – and actually check them out a bit!

————————

On Thursday we had Dan Rather come down to UT to give a lecture about the future of American journalism. Guilty confession: I’d never known about him, which convinced me even more that I really need to learn more about this country. His lecture was interesting for several reasons.

First, he seemed like a completely modest man, a perfect gentleman. Despite having won practically every award there is to win in the journalism industry, he was absolutely down to earth about his experiences and what he’d learnt from them.

The most interesting thing, though, was the content of his lecture – why the quality of American journalism should be kept to higher standards, and what that means for American virtues. He kept stressing that journalism – fair, impartial, high-quality journalism – was the bulwark of American freedom of speech and democracy. The way he spoke, the manner of his coming back again and again to American values – it honestly felt as though some earnest representative of a bygone golden age of reporting was speaking to us.

And it probably was intended exactly in that manner. He was – if not actually angry – then quietly and persistently against the “Hollywoodization” of news. But he knew that it was naivete to think that news stations would ever publish news that people didn’t care about, so he kept encouraging audience participation.

After my recent “I love America” discovery this talk seemed particularly apt. Transparency and the sheer pig-headed stubbornness to “bring it down to the people” was something I’d associate with this country – along with freedom of speech and all that good stuff, of course. That a country that once represented the desperate hopes of millions of immigrants and was the bulwark of innovation and entrepreneurship, should turn into a nation of people passively accepting information and being largely ignorant of the world around them is a total shame.

Dan Rather, I think, was making a similar point. This was someone who’d been in news for 60 years, who’d reported through three wars and Watergate – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. He was history, someone who’d been living and breathing America for six decades. That in itself would’ve made the talk pretty awesome.

He also talked about why, although there were numerous online sources of information these days, only news media would ever be “news” – because you need trained journalists and reporters to seek facts and sift through them, to decide what to publish and what to focus on, and because any information that was ascertained online (not stuff that gets written by “citizen journalists”) came directly from newspapers. And he’s right about the research and facts – in this era of fanatical Hollywood gossip it’s incredibly easy to see a) how shallow it is, and b) how much misinformation is being spread.

My friend V and I thoroughly enjoyed it – except when a bunch of idiot students exited the hall before he even had a chance to wrap up and be presented with a token of appreciation. People were literally standing around being shamefaced and clapping – it was pretty embarrassing. It was still a very good evening though – and now I want to actually look up more American history. Incidentally, I’m planning on a term paper to do with the US and religiosity (the US sticks out like a sore thumb on the GDP vs. religiosity international scale).

Hah! Proof that my life doesn’t revolve around the engineering complex!

… and now I need to get back to programming.

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