Muddy good times at Austin City Limits: On the scene with Neil Young, Jack White, Florence and the Machine, the Roots and more

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Glow sticks, activate!

Austin City Limits kicked off under clear Texas skies on Friday, as an estimated 75,000 fans converged on the lawns of Zilker Park for the 11th annual music festival. Early sets by Asleep at the Wheel and the Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit opened the balmy day, which would go on to present a series of Sophie’s Choices for music lovers. The Afghan Whigs reunion show or the Alabama Shakes? Florence + the Machine or Weezer?

Speaking of Florence, a flame-haired pied piper who pranced and floated across the stage and into the crowd, I’d follow that woman anywhere. At one point during her exuberant set, she called a young fan up on stage and lovingly rubbed some glitter off his face onto her hers. “It’s not a festival until you’re stroked glitter off a stranger’s face and put it on your own!” she declared. It’s also not a fest until you’ve seen a merry pack of toddlers with glow-stick hair bands and tails dance with abandon to “Dog Days are Over.”

On Saturday, as Texan fans mourned the trouncing of its football team by OU, the clouds started gathering during Metric’s rousing set. I wandered off towards the end to catch the last 15 minutes of British singer/songwriter Michael Kiwanuka‘s more intimate show. (He was terrific, but perhaps better built for playing a smoky club.) Then the rain let loose, and all the cute girls in fedoras had to deal with mud on their suede and leather boots. Time to huddle under a tent chomping on a fried pork belly banh mi sandwich from the Second Bar and Restaurant food stall. (Worth the eight bucks!)

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Image Credit: Getty Images

The rain cleared out, bare feet sunk happily into mud, and the Roots took the stage for a high voltage show. ?uestlove and Frank Knuckles killed it on drums and percussion; Tuba Gooding Jr. had a great solo on the sousaphone. If guitarist and showman extraordinaire Kirk Douglas and the Machine’s Florence ever reproduced, their child would come out with sparklers for hair and jazz hands for ears. Black Thought kept the delighted audience on its toes by finishing every song with “Thank you, and good night!” before rolling into another number.

 Neil Young and Jack White held down opposite ends of the park at the end of the night. Young, who rocked out like it was still 1970, understandably attracted an older crowd, many of whom surely came straight from Steve Earle’s cozy set of staples like “Guitar Town” and “Copperhead Road.” These were mellow folks happy to look up at the sky from their portable chairs.

I was sad to leave him, and them. But Jack White put on an impressive show: Wearing suspenders over a white tee-shirt (a dead ringer for a grown-up Max from Parenthood), White interspersed the newer solo tracks in his set with White Stripes classics (“Hotel Yorba,” “Ball and a Biscuit,” “We’re Going to be Friends,” set closer “Seven Nation Army”) and shined on the Raconteurs’ electric “Steady as She Goes.”

At the end of the night, I ran into a 8 1/2 months pregnant friend and her 3-year-old daughter, both of them a little mud-crusted, who’d just enjoyed 10 straight hours of ACL fun. Now that’s rock and roll.

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