With a bill so handsome as to include Okkervil River, Yeasayer, Beck and Erykah Badu, it was simultaneously shocking and expected that so many locals didn't show up. Upon thumbing through the endless musical calendar of the Chronicle, it all made perfect sense: Austin, the self-proclaimed live music capital of the world, may very well be.
Shocking is the caliber and quantity of music. I walked out of a late Sunday show on Fourth Street to a consistent soundtrack of local music. And it spills from all corners: the bars, the clubs, the taco stands, the corner stores. Better yet, as is perhaps the writer/reader scene here in Portland, Austin exhibits a tight but demanding relationship between musician and listener.
A solid sound is needed to please the careful ear and as I watched Conor Oberst dip into a nine-minute version of "Corrina Corrina" I witnessed the conversation. Like a fervent football fan, the audience dissected Oberst's work, turning it into Xs and Os and cheering on his many tweaks and changes. I saw it as the Portland fanbase of a few decades from now.
Expected was the range of out-of-town ACL attendees. As one local put it after a sip of Lone Star beer in North Austin, “I forgot Austin City Limits was even happening this weekend.” Which reminds me, lesson one, Portland: Enough with the 21 and over venue segregation. Austin at large scoffs at such a thing, preventing an easy straight shot to the front row for teeny boppers and the like.
Whereas the Austin airport has Waterloo Records, PDX has a Rogue pub. Portland's musical talent is obvious, but people aren't coming in throngs just for it. Which is fine, because with the lack of certain expectations comes a greater flexibility in sound. Both towns win, for different reasons.