Take it to the Limits

It’s time again for Austin’s other music festival. Not the one that’s held at night and indoors, during the briefly temperate spring, but the one that plants music lovers in an open field, all day, under the still-hot September sun. So far, the Austin City Limits festival has not failed to book acts that merit the discomfort, and what follows is a rundown of this year’s greatest hits. But for the love of Pete, if you do go: wear a hat; slather on the sunscreen; bring a fan; and take a big gulp of water every time you hear a drunk guy shout “whoo-hoo!”

You’ve already heard the bad news: Brit vocal sensation Amy Winehouse ain’t gonna be there. Something about drugs, we hear. (We also hear her dad has issued a statement urging fans to boycott her until she pulls herself together; that’s what I call tough love.) The good news? Andrew Bird is winging his way in to sub for her.

Friday’s must-see, Killers be damned, is of course Björk. Will she arrive in a swan dress, that unnameable getup from the Volta cover, or a tub of partner Matthew Barney’s Vaseline? So long as she’s singing, who cares?

Working up to the Icelandic pixie’s night-closing set, though, you get a reminder of what an odd beast the ACL Fest is. So many rootsy, countrified acts, so many regional shoulder-shruggers spiced up with the occasional “it” group like Swedish trio Peter Bjorn and John. (Just in case you didn’t see them six times at SXSW!) It’s nice for those of us who dig the kickass bluegrass of Del McCoury, but those who don’t have little reason to show up until late afternoon, for a nostalgic whiff of Crowded House while praying that M.I.A. doesn’t get deported before her 5:30 set. After that, the back-to-back Spoon and Gotan Project will entertain hipsters who don’t need to spend that time crushing up to the very front of Björk’s stage.

Saturday again begins with lots of singer-songwriters and nonthreatening crooners, with the current incarnation of gospel group the Soul Stirrers (whose past members include Sam Cooke and Lou Rawls) thrown in for historical credibility. Arctic Monkeys are the early-evening set to see, after which there’s ... uh ... you’re saying the Indigo Girls still exist? Man, I’m not spending enough time in vegan cafés. The real heartbreaker of the day is deciding whether to see Arcade Fire on one stage or White Stripes on another. Much as I love the Meg & Jack, I’d camp out for the former, whose bigger-than-real, transcendent music I can easily see turning Zilker Park into a magical place for 75 minutes.

As for Sunday: After playing in the heat for the 2003 installment, hasn’t Yo La Tengo earned a nighttime set? Evidently not — they go on at half past noon. Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, whose influences are as varied as flamenco and heavy metal, provide a late-afternoon instrumental segue into an evening offering everything from New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band to English rockers Bloc Party and Bob’s son Ziggy Marley. Perennial ACL favorites Wilco don’t close the fest, for once, handing that honor over to Bob Dylan, the one act of the weekend whose set competes with nobody else’s. (That sound you hear is Steve Earle’s sigh of relief.)

Finally, a quick roundup of highlights from the crush of “after-party” gigs being booked by local clubs. Keep your ears to the ground when you hit town, folks, because more (and maybe some hush-hush tapings of the actual ACL show) are likely to follow:

On Thursday, before things kick off, Spoon plays La Zona Rosa and Gotan Project tangos over to Stubb’s. Friday night, Peter Bjorn and John open for Paolo Nutini at Stubb’s. And on Saturday, Rodrigo y Gabriela will likely inspire a lot of dancing at Antone’s. Just for good measure, two worthy acts play club gigs despite not being booked at the fest itself: Common hits La Zona on Sunday and The Clientele wafts through Emo’s on Friday.

Did I mention it’s important to stay hydrated out there?