We flew into Austin for our semi-annual trip to the Levitation Music Festival on April 27th. I dropped my sunglasses in the Austin airport, cracking the left lens. It wasn’t in a spot that affected my vision, but it still wasn’t a good sign. There were no festival-related gigs going on that day, so we spent our first day in Austin getting good food, and checking out the Sfanthor wax museum and a couple wrecka stows before settling in for a nice sleep at the Air BNB house we’d reserved months ago.
Day 1 of the festival was actually April 28th. The Thursday night pre-festival shows are always worth flying into town a day ahead of the full festival. My wife and I have seen great bands at the Thursday night shows: A Place to Bury Strangers, Night Beats, Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, Elephant Stone, and more.
The festival had expanded the Thursday night shows from two venues to three this year. Unfortunately they also added separate admission prices for each venue. Buying a weekend pass to the festival got you into the Thursday night shows for free in previous years. The Levitation promoters have stated they hope to return to this format in the future. I hope they do, as shelling out another $30.00 (for two people) per venue wasn’t something I couldn’t afford. I had to choose just one of the venues, so I chose the Empire – a converted auto mechanic garage with indoor and outdoor performance areas.
We’d get to see Night Beats, the Blind Owls, the Hollow Trees, Al Lover, the Golden Dawn, and Studded Left there. It meant missing Blaak Heat, The Well, Death Valley Girls, Silk Rodeo, the Turns, Vinyl Williams, and the Coathangers at the other venues, but I won’t skip a chance to see Night Beats, the Golden Dawn are Texas psych legends, and the Blind Owls were a new discovery that sounded like they were good rockers.
They were. The Blind Owls were the first band we saw at Levitation, and they kicked it off well. They, like us, arrived late due to heavy traffic on I-35, so their set was cut a bit short. “No slow ones,” my wife said as they launched into early 1960’s garage-style rock that knocked you back on your heels.
I met most of them afterwards and told them I’d be playing them on WSND this summer. They said they’d send their full-length album for me to play there. Let’s hope so, because everything from it sounds great.
I saw posters at Empire advertising the official app for the festival. I downloaded it and then I learned what everyone else was learning.
Levitation Austin 2016 had been cancelled.
Travis County Emergency Services pulled the plug on the festival due to flash flooding the previous week causing the festival grounds at Carson Creek Ranch to be oversaturated with water. Further flooding was a serious concern, mostly for the camping and parking areas. There were also predicted heavy storms due to hit Austin the following day around 1:00pm – exactly when the festival started. These storms were supposed to bring hail, 60mph winds, rain, and maybe a tornado or two.
We were stunned. We’d flown from Indiana for this. We knew that thousands were descending upon the city for the festival, many from even further away. People and bands come from England, Australia, South America, Europe, Africa, Japan, and even more countries for this festival. Campers would be left without places to stay. Bands would be left without gigs. Vendors would be left without sales.
The Levitation folks were as shell-shocked as any of us, but they promised full refunds for purchased tickets, and that they would scramble to find venues for makeup gigs throughout the weekend. Those gigs would be a separate admission price, unfortunately, and would likely sell out since thousands would be competing for tickets to a small venue. The upside was that the proceeds from these shows would go to victims of the recent flooding.
The word quickly spread as we watched the Hollow Trees play their trippy and heavy psych rock.
After that came a good set by the Golden Dawn, who played to an appreciative crowd.
Back inside, people were drowning their sorrows with any drinks they could buy. We sat in the Control Room, the Empire’s interior performance space, for part of psych-DJ Al Lover‘s set and mused on what we were going to do all weekend. Would we still get to see Brian Wilson, Lee Scratch Perry, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Caribou, Slowdive, the Black Angels, David J and the Gentlemen Thieves, or any of the 20+ bands we wanted to see?
We were cheered by the Night Beats, who have yet to play a bad set whenever I see them. This set was faster and angrier than their Levitation Chicago set in March. It was as if they were saying, “You know what? Screw you, bad weather.” and venting everyone’s frustrations. One great highlight was them including a new cover of Bo Diddley‘s “Mama, Keep Your Big Mouth Shut.”
We caught the first part of Studded Left’s (a side project of Indian Jewelry) set inside before getting some nice food truck BBQ and then heading to our rented bedroom to sleep off our travel exhaustion and blues.
Tomorrow: Scrambling for tickets, crashed websites, breakfast in outer space, Travis County ES faces wrath, and gangster kittens.
Keep your mind open.
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