I think of music festivals in terms of high school, or summer camp. Lollapalooza, Coachella and the ilk may host tens and hundreds of thousands of attendees, of varying ages and actual interest in music, but some social mechanics are all still there: what you do when you’re bored, the indiscriminant judgement of character on the most petty of outward appearances, the laws of attraction, clique strata and Art School Kids.
Austin Psych Fest, hosted this past weekend at Carson Creek Ranch in Austin’s outskirts, hosted fewer than 5,000 people — about the size of a large high school. Despite having three large stage areas with attendance hardly near cap, it felt snug yet inviting, with hammocks dangling from the trees, the Texas capitols’ affinity for food trucks representing, and a satisfying range of what qualifies as “psych” music.
A round of rain hardly elevated festivities from “appropriately groovy” to “post-adolescent mud-hippie batsh*t” and the crowd stayed cool, even polite, and thoroughly committed to the music lineup of this sixth annual fest. (Though, this doesn’t mean it didn’t make for great people watching. The gorgeous Elevation Amphitheater, with its various tiers leading down to the green creek’s edge, may as well have been called the Football Stadium Bleachers. The blissfully short bathroom lines were a veritable Fashion Avenue.)
But for programming with such a genre-leading tilt, the lineup was definitely above average, delivering long-jams, space rock, stoner punk, experimental electronica, psychedelic blues, acid, prog and world. Immaculate Noise favorites like Black Angels, Os Mutantes and Goat introduced their excellent new albums with varying degrees of success (great, cheesy, trainwreck-in-slow-motion, respectively). The fest’s variety is its strength, even though sticking largely to rock. The majestic tunics on Tinariwen contrasted with the goobery costumes of King Khan & BBQ Show; Man Or Astroman’s hilarious banter was near-opposite of solid shoegazers No Joy, whose stage presence lived up to its name; Masaki Batoh’s fascinating Brain Pulse Music improvisations were as affecting as Boris’ well-practiced deep-space drones.
I wasn’t wild on headliners Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s one-noting and reunited Moving Sidewalks’ drummer artlessly plodding over rock hero Billy Gibbons. The phoniness of Island Records signees Deap Vally wrecked a perfectly good Sunday afternoon slot. And It doesn’t cease to amaze me that Vietnam is still a band that gets booked. And of course, you could crack the jibe that there were five bands with the word “Black” in their name, one “Wolf” band, one “Deer” band, and several with death, the dead, the dying and drugs. But what was overwhelmingly good-feeling was the diversity in performers, especially with the heartening number of bands with women in them, averaging out better than your Coachellas and Bonnaroos.
Below I outline some of my favorite live performers from the 2013 Austin Psych Fest, or as I’ll call it, Psych Fest High School. Included are Tinariwen, King Khan & BBQ Show, Acid Mothers Temple, Suuns, Man Or Astroman?, Spectrum, Indian Jewelry, The Saint James Society, Tjutjuna and Dead Skeletons.