Stranger in a Holy Land – Austin Psych Fest 2014 Recap Part 1

Let’s face it: most festivals are pretty much neutered nowadays. The line ups are nearly identical, they’re overpriced (whether that be tickets, water, food, beer, etc), and generally, filled to the brim with a bunch of people who you wouldn’t want to spend a normal weekend with if you had a gun to your head. But Austin Psych Fest is different. The line up is nearly always killer; last year so much so that I felt in physical pain for not being able to go. I mean, BRMC, Deerhunter, the Movin’ fucking Sidewalks, Black Mountain, Bass Drum of Death, Warpaint, King Khan, the Growlers, Dead Skeletons, etc. etc. It was too good to be true. Until I saw that line up, I thought great line ups were extinct and replaced with pasteurized ones.

But I couldn’t make it because life gets in the way sometimes. It sucks, but that’s life. It’s not cruel – it’s just indifferent. But this year seemed like the year to do it. My buddy Nick was as passionate about making the trek as I was and as soon as I heard the rumor that the Brian Jonestown Massacre was going to step in to pick up the slack from Primal Scream dropping off the bill, I knew the pilgrimage was more essential now than ever. So with that, I decided that for the first time in my almost 24 years of existence, that I really, REALLY wanted to go to Texas. And so we did.

I took a shitty $1.50 journal along with me to document little things I had seen there. I figured it would all get hazy eventually so I tried to anticipate any impending and ultimately inevitable memory loss. It’s called Psych Fest for fuck’s sake. What could go wrong? Also, please excuse the shitty picture qualities. Obviously, I’m not a camera guy and an iPhone can only do so much.

Day 1

I’m a stranger in the holy land

but I keep my strangeness close at hand.”

– “Neon Jesus” – Crocodiles

Despite the optimism I had for the trip, Day 1 started off like a bad dream. I awoke at around 11 AM in our Best Western hotel room surrounded by empty beer bottles and with pulsating headache that only comes from sustaining yourself solely on copious amounts of alcohol and Southwest airline peanuts for the past 24 hours. I didn’t just feel like I got hit by a truck, but also, as if the driver spotted me flinching in the rear view mirror and had put the fucker in reverse for a double tap. Nick was on the same page.

image-2We had spent the previous night hanging out with our buddy Brett from Ranch Ghost and his girlfriend, Danielle at Rio Rita, a cool bar located that was only a 5 minute cab ride away from the hotel. It had an odd lounge kind of vibe, like it didn’t know if it was a bar or some weird furniture store. Nevertheless, it was interesting, with strong drinks and good company. Over the course of the night, we shot the shit about music and the city itself while they took the liberty of introducing us to their friends, Leah and Logan. Both of them planned to hit up the festival but while Logan was only going on Saturday, Leah was game for all three days. She generously gave us a ride back to the hotel and promised to hit us up tomorrow. Nick and I drank more beers, blared Oasis out of our shitty alarm clock radio until the front desk called the room to complain, and got even more stoked for tomorrow’s journey, only to wake up to the consequences of having too much fun.

With only four hours to shake our hangovers, we decided to hit up the closest gas station in search of some sort of cure. In a moment of sheer desperation, we ordered a pair of gas station hamburgers. Now, I know what you’re thinking and judge if you must, but in these dire situations and considering the journey ahead, pitiful decisions needed to be made and dignity had to be put on hold. And having just puked the coconut water I had purchased into the nearest storm drain, I decided to take my chances. Big mistake. I didn’t get Montezuma’s Revenge, but it didn’t help my hangover one iota. From the bumpy shuttle ride to the festival, to the walk through check in and security lines, I felt like I was going to puke again. However, your faithful and unhumble narrator soldiered on though. As always. Cause what else was I supposed to do? Quit? C’mon now.

image-5We got our wristbands and took a walk around the festival to get a feel of the land. Let me give you guys some real quick specifics. Austin Psych Fest is curated by the band the Black Angels and sits on Carson Creek Ranch, right near the Colorado River. Due to it’s close proximity to the airport, a jumbo jet usually flies over every 15 minutes or so. However, they’re not noisy and I can only imagine how trippy that shit would be if I had actually taken acid during this trip; I might have mistaken it for a kamikaze.

There are three stages and all of them are named after Roky Erikson songs (to pay tribute to the godfather himself no less). There’s the Reverberation Stage, the big one where most of the headlining acts will play and is visible as soon as you enter the grounds. There’s the Levitation Tent, which is to the left of the main stage and a great place for shade when it’s not overpacked. It’s also close to the campgrounds. Then, there’s the remarkable stage, the Elevation Amphitheater. It rested right on the creek bed so that the creek and the trees behind it served as it’s backdrop.It was a great scenic view that was magnified at night, but I’ll get more into that on Day 2.

Along the outskirts of the festival are various merch booths and food vendors and food trucks. While most of these were standard (Whole Foods, Funnel Cakes, etc) one that particularly comes to mind is the Feast of the Brave. Promoted by beautiful women in colorful outfits, the only three items on the menu were Iguana, Goat’s Brain, and, I shit you not, Rat Stew. I’ll get to that on Day 3.

The bars served mostly Dos Equis (Lager and Amber), NewCastle, and several mixed drinks. What they were, I couldn’t tell you, because whenever I asked for liquor, it was usually just straight up. Nothing against mixed drinks of course, but at $7 a pop, I don’t like to dilute my poison.

But back to my story….

We arrived in time to catch the middle of Bone Fur & Feathers set on the Reverbation Stage. The lead singer was French and her voice was equal parts soothing and intoxicating and backed by a rhythm that would cause even those who can’t dance to sway back and forth a bit. It helped my upset stomach subside and made the day’s first beer easier to drink.

Around this point, we met up with Leah and she easily became one of our clique. Me, Nick, and her spent the next three days together, bonding over mutual interests, drinking, and of course, great live music. She also introduced us to her friend Josh. Josh was in a band that I couldn’t remember the name of, but he seemed like an all around cool dude. Plus, when I ran into my buddy John from Nashville, it was like six degrees of separation when they recognized each other. On another positive note, Josh was willing to share his weed with us. What better way to bond with strangers than over extracurricular drugs?

photo 1My afflictions started to wear off completely around the time that King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard took to the main stage. How would I describe them? Imagine if Diarrhea Planet had talent and weren’t a complete fucking joke. Lots of guitars, two drummers, and a “jump headfirst into the bayonets” attitude that was as contagious as their melodies. After the killer set that they had put on, it was impossible not to feel optimistic about what’s next to come.

Shannon & the Clams were on the main stage next. I’ve heard nothing but great things about her. When I interviewed the Growlers when I was just starting out, they sang nothing but praises about the band. Unfortunately, I gotta say I was pretty let down. It’s not that I think they suck or anything – it’s just that I can only do the whole “doo-wap” schtick for a song or two before it gets old. Okay, maybe I do think they suck, but moving on….

photo 2The Fresh & Onlys played the Elevation Ampitheater next. I hadn’t known too much about the Fresh & Onlys aside from an odd song I had heard on some podcast, but it peaked my interest enough to see what they were all about. Also, Leah really wanted to catch them because she had heard their songs at her job a couple of times and described them as a good singles band. Plus, the amphitheater had shade and after walking around all day in the sun, shade was like fried gold. At the end of the set, I couldn’t tell you a single song name, but I did find them to be enjoyable.

The night hit the festival at around 8:30, just in time for The Black Lips. Even though i had cruised around a lot of the festival during the day, I didn’t see a lot of weed. I figured it and other drugs would be more out in the open because..well, c’mon, it’s called Austin Psych Fest for a reason. Then again, with the sheriff’s rolling around in golf carts for most of the day, it started to sink in. I mean, who the fuck wants to go to jail in Texas? Bingo. However, when the sun set, suddenly, it was everywhere. All you had to do was ask. As soon as I saw one in my proximity (which inspired my new favorite night time game to play at festivals – Cig or Joint?), I played the stoner version of “hey mister.” Luckily, everyone I asked at the festival was super nice and more importantly, willing to share. Hell, this dude I met name Travis even gave me a quarter of the joint and told me to finish it off between me and my two friends. Thanks dude. So now, I’m feeling stoned to the bone as the Black Lips are two songs in.

photo 3While I dig their new album, I went into this feeling that the band has peaked at this point. I mean, how much farther can you go once you stop pissing in your own mouth on stage and then start writing more mature songs? Despite this, I knew they could put on a good show. Their set, which definitely pandered to the festivals vibe, was packed full of great old songs and a couple of good new ones. The highlight of the set? The cover of the French song “Hippie, Hippie, Hoorah.” Why?  During the breakdown, a plane was flying directly overhead which caused Cole to stare and point it out to the crowd, all the while shrieking like it’s the first time he’s seen the Devil. That image burned into the fibers of my memory because it just looked so fucking cool and menacing.

image-3It’s always strange being in a different place and trying to get used to the sun schedule, but not long after the sun dropped, so did the temperature. The 90 degree day turned into a 58 degree night, which woke me up enough in time for The Zombies. While I love their songs, their set became slightly irritating. Between songs, the keyboardist would take about 5 minutes to rant about the song’s history – what year it was recorded, why the album was overlooked, how they did this song first, or how it’s Dave Grohl’s favorite. While the lead singer told his anecdotes with some humor (“We were interested in this song when Tom Petty covered this song; and if it’s good enough for Tom Petty, it’s good enough for us!”), the keyboardist was just dry. Hey man, I love your music, but I don’t need a history lesson in the middle of my rock n roll. Other than that though, the music was as it always was: timeless.

image-6Next up was the Dandy Warhols. I had gone into this thing thinking they were the enemy. I’ve seen Dig! like everyone else and was convinced that they were everything that was wrong with rock n roll: just a bunch of prissy posing opportunists that should have faded into obscurity had Courtney Taylor-Taylor not aped so much of Anton’s shit. Plus, that song “We Used to Be Friends” was so shameful, saying that I was a fan of even the four Dandy Warhols songs I liked was what imagine it would be like to have herpes: it just wasn’t something I went out of my way to tell everyone about. Yet, when they took the stage at 10:45 PM, my opinion rapidly changed. I think most bands that weekend pandered to the whole “psych” vibe in general, but it’s actually a VERY good thing the Dandys followed suit. Maybe the bar was set low that made me say this. Maybe it was the fact that they played “Ride,” the one song I’m not embarrassed to say I like. Maybe it was the fact that they brought out Joel, Anton, and Matt Hollywood of BJM to play “Oh Lord” (during which Matt called out Zia for fucking up the song…..”It goes E-E-A-A-A, Zia! C’mon”). Maybe it was the fact that i was just really happy to be there in general, but the Dandys did put on one hell of a show. So there I said it. I think they did well.

image-4Last up for the night was the festival curators themselves, the Black Angels. I’ve liked this band for about 7 years now, seen them play almost 10 times, and blah blah blah. And while their set was identical to the ones I’ve seen before, it’s good to know that they still manage to kill it all the time. Good on them for that and good on them for bringing this whole she-bang together. Me and Nick cut out early because we wanted to hop on the sure-to-be crowded shuttle that would take us back to the hotel. From there, we passed out and prepared for tomorrow, which was half the reason we made the trek to begin with: the mighty Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Part 2 Coming Soon

3 Responses to “Stranger in a Holy Land – Austin Psych Fest 2014 Recap Part 1”
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  1. […] If you missed part one, you can give it a read right over HERE. […]

  2. […] 1 is here. Part 2 is here. And with this, I give you the concluding chapter of my Austin Psych Fest 2014 […]

  3. […] you read my extensive coverage of Austin Psych Fest this year, then you might remember this band’s name from Day 1 and how […]

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