The 2013 iteration of Austin Psych Fest is, for the first time in its six year history, a completely and thoroughly outdoor affair, reachable via a 10-15 minute drive east from the city along Texas State Highway 71, through a well-developed subdivision, onto Giraffe Pen Road (giraffes seen: 0), to a moonscape ad hoc parking lot in what feels like the middle of nowhere. It is actually Carson Creek Ranch, described in the festival literature as “a scenic 58 acre ranch nestled on the banks of the Colorado River just five minutes from downtown Austin, TX and Bergstrom Int’l airport.” It is a beautiful place.
In addition to the 64 bands scheduled to play 2013 A.P.F., there is: a meticulously curated selection of vinyl for sale; a dozen or so food vendors peddling tacos, doughnuts, hot dogs, chicken and waffles, Spanish tapas, and West African fusion; vintage clothing pop-up shops; an art show with trippy posters; a General Store selling cigarettes, candy, and minor First Aid items; and something called The Moving Sidewalks Experience. There is camping ($60 per person). There are so many porta-potties that your typical 2013 A.P.F. attendee can rest assured knowing that everything has been thought of and maximally calibrated for his/her enjoyment.
3:30 P.M.— We have navigated byzantine back roads, parked our car, and are traversing the enormous parking lot. The attendees come from all directions, haggard-looking, on foot, as if they’d been walking years to get to this place. Airplanes whoosh overhead at distressingly low altitudes on their paths to and from nearby Austin-Bergstrom Int’l Airport. Everywhere there are blankets and posters and afghans with mandalas and other abstract multicolored patterns meant to signify “psychedelia.”
4:45 P.M.— Bass Drum of Death are playing on the Reverberation Stage, one of three stages at this year’s festival. The Oxford, MS-based group is pounding out tuneful, scuzzy garage-rock about the usual subjects (girls, drugs), but the ominous clouds and late-afternoon calm-before-the-storm lend a vaguely threatening edge to Bass Drum of Death’s set.
6:00 P.M.— In front of the stage, two young mothers are bouncing small children in BabyBjorn carriers while listening to the Besnard Lakes, whose expansive, atmospheric shoegaze is a better fit for the weather and seems to trail the clouds across the sky. The airplanes overhead are actually perfect.
6:30 P.M.— The Levitation Tent. A guy in front of me is wearing a jacket that appears to be made of shimmery snake skin, imprinted upon which are images of the cosmos. We are both watching Lumerians, whose music one of my 2013 A.P.F. companions describes as the kind she would want to listen to “if she were driving a race car.” There is a sort of trance-inducing, Autobahn-esque krautrock element to it, and the Levitation Tent feels charged with an ecstatic oblivion. The band’s much-noted visual projections are working to optimal head-swerving effect, as lead singer Tyler Green commands the audience with preternatural calm.
After Lumerians’ set, we head back to the Reverberation Stage for Tinariwen, a band of Taureg musicians from the Sahara Desert in northern Mali, whose career is frankly mind-boggling. Surely they are the only band founded in resistance to an oppressive dictator to play Austin Psych Fest, this year or any. The descending sun broke through the clouds for the first time during their set, sending golden crepuscular rays across Carson Creek Ranch. Austin Psych Fest during day one’s magic hour was a rather pretty place to be.
9:35 P.M.— I am sitting in the Sailor Jerry’s Tattoo Trailer, a dinged-up airstream back of backstage wherein bands and other assorted industry- and press-types can come get inked up while imbibing Sailor Jerry rum. One of the members of Bass Drum of Death is considering it. My companions and I are flipping through three volumes of Sailor Jerry-designed tats, which are free in this here trailer. Many of them look cool, but a not-insignificant portion of the tattoos on offer are of topless pin-ups girls, like the ones you’d expect to see on the nose cone of an F-4 Phantom. A professional and, to the untrained eye, super-competent tattoo artist is currently tattooing…something…on a girl. A representative for Sailor Jerry’s named Dana Dynamite is upselling the tattoos with free rum. I take the opportunity to drink more free rum and watch some of the Raveonettes on the Reverberation Stage. An hour or so later, we head to the Levitation Tent to watch Silver Apples. At many music festivals, the legacy and importance of Silver Apples would likely not be met by concomitantly large crowds, but not so in the case of A.P.F. 2013. The Simeon is still cool.
11:30 P.M.—Day One headliners Black Rebel Motorcycle Club command the biggest crowd so far, and what is there to really say about them at this point in their long, pallid career? Either you are into the San Francisco trio’s pastiche of U.K. trad-rock, oceanic shoegaze a la Ride, and Mississippi Delta music, or you are not. I lean toward the latter conclusion. The BRMC got up there and did their psychedelic-sample-sale thing, unleashing their full arsenal of swampy riffage, emotionally-raw Spiritualized-style gospel, endlessly repeated desert-fried guitar vitriol, and assorted pedal pyrotechnics. In their all black everythingness they capably affected “badassness.”
12:45 P.M.—We elect to skip out on the remainder of Acid Mothers Temple’s brain-crushing drones (which work better indoors, anyway) in favor of resting up for Day Two.
View a few of photographer James Joiner’s photos in the gallery below, and stay tuned for more from Austin Psych Fest.