ACL Kicks Off 8th Year in Austin

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In its eighth incarnation, the Austin City Limits Fest was off to its best start ever Friday, thanks to two little digits: 7 and 8. After years of triple-digit days and grassless, dusty "lawn" seats, Zilker Park barely flirted with the 80-degree mark Friday.

But organizers didn't leave it to chance that the grounds would be pleasant this year. Even better than the cool breeze -- which turned downright chilly by the time Kings of Leon and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs took opposite stages at the end of the night -- was the grass. Real grass. Lots of it. Green and velvety like a Hawaiian golf course, it coaxed people out of their flip flops to enjoy its softness. ACL's parent, C3 Presents, paid some $2.5 million to have new sod laid and sprinklers installed to keep it alive, soft and soaking up the heat (should it ever begin to beat down).

Some things haven't changed. Parking is still a pickle. With next to none available near Zilker or downtown even under the best circumstances, residential streets nearby are guarded by big orange signs warning, "No Event Parking". Naturally, they're flanked on either side by rows of parked cars along each curb.

And even with AT&T as a sponsor this year, it's still tough to get call out. But necessity is the mother of creativity, and at each of the eight stages the air is nearly crowded as the ground below it -- with flags, balloons and the like marking territory, so separated festival-goers can find each other. One crew is marking its location this weekend with a12-foot blowup doll. Another carries a homemade sign with tendrils of Tecate taped together that reads: "…And They Will Know Us by the Trail of Beer Cans".

Amazingly, by the end of Friday the grass was not only still present and untrampled, but clean -- save for a smattering of cigarette butts. Roving recyclers had done their job well, meandering the grounds with a smile and a giant bag to collect any wayward beer cans, plastic cups and paper inserts.

A perfect Texas sunset capped off a perfect day, followed by a full moon and the noticeable absence of mosquitoes for the first night in recent memory.

Enter Saturday's rain. It's not as thick as the heavy sheets predicted, but the crowds are noticeably thinner, and it's anyone's guess how many die-hards will actually show up for Dave Matthews. Sure, the most recent album is great, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a soul in Austin who hasn't seen this band already. Possibly two or three times.

My guess is that not even a hurricane, however, could keep every ticket holder from seeing Pearl Jam Sunday.

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