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Austin City Limits 2008, Day 3: Nicole Atkins & the Sea, Okkervil River, plus the Swell Season's Austin City Limits taping

September 30, 2008  |  4:34pm
For me, the last day of a festival can go either way: I've either hit my stride and am entertaining delusions of being able to keep up the pace for another few days, or I'm dragging my feet through the dust, struggling to make it from tent to tent and ruing the fools who thought hosting an outdoor music event in [insert Southern state here] in [insert summer month here] was a good idea.

When we landed onsite Sunday at ACL, I was in the latter mindset, and powered off to see Nicole Atkins & the Sea as the rest of our crew headed off for the press area. The crowd was smaller than the one assembled for Fleet Foxes at the same spot 24 hours before, but it felt as though we were several thousand feet closer to the surface of the sun. The break after her first song found Atkins contemplating the invention of a tambourine with a built-in fan "for next year" before she and her band jumped back into a set of a new songs plus tracks from her 2007 debut, Neptune City. "Cool Enough" took on an unanticipated meteorological irony, and the chorus of "Brooklyn's On Fire" could have easily been tweaked to apply to ACL's host city. Atkins proved herself a solid, straight-ahead frontwoman of a solid, straight-ahead rock band, her gigantic voice a fair match for the expansive AMD stage and the sweltering mid-day sun.

Kate and I were back at the same spot for Gillian Welch later in the afternoon, and Kate will have her thoughts on that great performance soon. I had every intention of coming back for Neko Case an hour later, but instead found myself unable to do much more than limply fan myself in the shade, overdoing it on the Sweet Leaf Tea and hacking violently whenever an errant breeze would stir up the parched ACL dust. No really, it was awful: The night before, during Roky Erickson's set, I found myself thinking, "Why on earth does he have a smoke machine?" before realizing that the cloudy matter swirling in the stage lights was just the general dusty atmosphere of the festival grounds. The folks walking around in surgical masks looked more than a bit creepy, and probably had some freaky sunburns, but I found myself envying their free breathing by the end of the day.

By 5:30, my youthful energy was spent and I was feeling certain the festival had seen the last of me. (Cue foot-dragging, ruing of fools, etc.) Kate and I had plans to head out a bit early that evening-- more on that in a second-- but I pulled it together for a few songs of Okkervil River's AT&T Blueroom set, and I'm so glad I did. They're a band that's been a faint blip on my radar for a while, but really came into full view with this year's The Stand-Ins, which I count among  the year's best. Black Sheep Boy, my first exposure to the band, hardly seemed conducive to the amount of fun being had on stage this night. The risible scorn "Singer Songwriter," definitely my favorite Stand-Ins track, felt downright gleeful against the backdrop of a nearly-cloudless blue sky and the colorful cloud, and it was nothing short of a bummer that I had to head back to base camp after only three songs.

But that's because Kate and I were headed off to the UT campus for the taping of the Swell Season's appearance on Austin City Limits-- you know, the TV show that started all this mess. It was the first ACL taping for both of us, and was a dream come true to be there at all for any band, not to mention this one in particular. It was a special night with quite a few surprises, and while we're not sure if we can share any of them with you quite yet, we will when we can!

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