Imagine a music festival without overwhelming crowds. Without corporate sponsorships so bright and in-your-face it makes your eyes bleed. Without an over-abundance of “scenesters” or frat jerks whose main goal is to get wasted and party. Instead, picture an incredibly solid mix of old and new bands, room to freely roam about near the scenic bank of a river amongst music enthusiasts just as passionate as you. This is no dream—it’s Austin Psych Fest, one of the most unique and downright pleasant festival experiences you’re ever likely to have.
Serenity and positive vibes seemed to emanate from Carson Creek Ranch, home to the 7th annual Austin Psych Fest, created by the Reverb Appreciation Society (aka Austin band The Black Angels et al). From the time of arrival, throughout the weekend and until the time my feet wearily carried me to my car late Sunday evening there was nothing but good music and good times. The only real drawback was the dustbowl of an open field area where the main ‘Reverberation Stage’ was, making bandannas/handkerchiefs a must. But take a short walk down to the riverbank where the smaller ‘Elevation Stage’ resided and this was alleviated; of course the enclosed ‘Levitation Tent’ was also a great respite from the midday sun and kicked up dust.
Now, on to the music. The great thing about this festival is that there really was no “bad” music. If you liked the overall musical principles of the main acts of the festival, chances are you’d also really enjoy the majority of other bands. So even when there were stretches of hours where I hadn’t heard a note from any of these bands prior to now, every time it turned out to be pleasant surprise and another band to follow on Spotify.
King Gizzard and Lizard Wizard provided a rambunctious lo-fi soundtrack as I entered the festival on Friday afternoon and walked around its grounds, familiarizing myself with the grounds. As you enter the park there’s a huge open field containing the main stage where King Gizzard was playing, and to the left were merch booths, lounging tents and a food court. Keep going back and you reach a tree line that opened up into sloping ground sculpted to function as levels of an amphitheater with the stage at the bottom, on the banks of the Colorado river. It was here at this scenic spot that Quilt took the stage.
This Boston four-piece was the perfect music to listen to while watching the serene river lazily flow. Most songs were dominated by soft female vocals, but there was also a dash of crunchy guitars in several songs, just to make sure you sat up and took notice of this band and the dynamics it was capable of. This is the music you put on during a lazy Sunday and just drift away.
Over on the main stage Shannon and The Clams opened their set with a tease of The Zombies’ “The Way I Feel Inside” before launching into a blistering set of 1950s surf-inspired garage rock led by the commanding and sneering vocals of Shannon Shaw. Their last song saw the group shout “DIE!” ad nauseum until the crowd was unsure if it was a joke, a serious statement, or just a band having fun in the moment. Maybe it was a little of all three.
Bringing their bluesy revival of Sabbath-inspired rock, Graveyard took the stage. On the agenda for this evening: crunchy, heavy riffage, macabre imagery/lyrics, and grandiose rock that simultaneously could be score to a medieval battle seen or cause some of the festival’s only moshing. This Swedish group really got the crowd stirred up, fists pumping in the air and even wild cheers when they had completed a particularly slow, long and epic number that would likely lose a typical crowd. But this was a festival of music lovers who revel in these raw moments that let your spirit wander. There was something primal about the performance that’s hard to put into words.
Energy stayed high as The Black Lips took the stage, tearing through a blistering set of songs the crowd seemed to know by heart, as the entire front section of the audience moved and churned to the beat, with one of the only appearances of crowd surfers for the entire weekend. The sheer energy of crowd pleasers like “Family Tree” gave the band a feel of a winning combination of the Ramones and 1950s greasers rock and roll. Two saxophonists joined the band for several songs, which fleshed out these numbers to mammoth Stooges’ ‘Fun House’ proportions. I’ve seen this band several times but this time they seemed to hit harder and more effectively. This is a band that has refined their ramshackle tendencies into a controlled fury.
Night descended on the fest and true legends of psychedelic rock took the stage. The Zombies were one of the most anticipated bands of the festival, and they did not disappoint, playing hit after hit against a spinning, psychedelic blur of liquid colors for a backdrop. They opened with “I Love You” and continued with a mini-set of songs from their artistic zenith, 1968’s ‘Odessey and Oracle.’ The band reminded us that Rolling Stone had ranked it as one of the 100 best albums of all time, before launching into “A Rose for Emily,” and “Care of Cell 44.” Before playing the song “This Will Be Our Year” we were told this was one of Dave Grohl’s favorite songs and was even covered by the Foo Fighters.
Of course “Time of the Season” got the biggest response, with the entire crowd singing along, enraptured. A complaint was verbalized somewhere in the crowd that the name-dropping was totally unnecessary and took away from the performance, but I won’t hold it against them. They’re probably used to playing and having to remind people who they are and exactly why they’re so damn important to rock music, but someone should have told them that here in this festival with this crowd, we all knew and loved them, so it wasn’t necessary.
The Dandy Warhols played next, entering the stage with very casually and launching into an incredibly mellow set. It’s been a few years since seeing this band live, but this seemed a little more sedate than their usual show; perhaps they crafted their set with Psych Fest in mind. Courtney and company created a tripped-out atmosphere instead of rocking people. To be honest it was lost upon me after the energy of the Black Lips and the happy nostalgia of the Zombies.
Over in the Levitation Tent, Brown Sabbath was playing. This was a unique experience to say the least, with a band performing a set of Black Sabbath classics, except the sound was bolstered by a full horn section, giving these rock classics an almost Ennio Morricone-like twist, considering the songs’ epic nature to begin with. Set opener “Black Sabbath” substituted vocals for horns blaring out Ozzy’s lines, and for other songs a man in a poncho belted out the Sabbath numbers to the best of his ability and created an experience that any fan of the original material owes it to themselves to experience.
Back over at the Dandys, a commotion could be heard from crowd. On stage with the Dandy Warholds was the majority of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, performing a song I didn’t quite recognized but one that Courtney Taylor-Taylor claimed they had not played in 15 years. It was a triumphant moment, one that seemed to make all the petty competition depicted in the movie ‘Dig!’ a distant memory. They followed this up with their biggest hit “Bohemian Like You,” before returning to mellow meanderings. One endearing moment was when Courtney said he was excited to have seen the Zombies, and the Dandys would come back and play for us in 30 years, like the Zombies.
The Black Angels closed out the main stage in grand, mind-altering fashion, with an incredible light show and a string of hypnotic crowd-pleasers. Leaning heavily on material from their two latest LPs, ‘Indigo Meadow’ and ‘Phosphene Dream’ the set was fantastic as usual. The band tore through a tripped-out set that was ravenously eaten up by their devoted faithful, everyone in the audience bobbing along and singing the words into the early hours of the next day.
Lead singer Alex Maas profusely thanked the audience for coming, saying that without us this festival wouldn’t be possible in the first place. This may be true to a certain extent, but without Alex and company’s passion for music and the vision to create something so beautiful as this fest, we’d be stuck seeing these bands in 20 different venues stretched across several years, if ever, instead of enjoying a three day nirvana.
Written By Jarad Matula
OurVinyl | Associate Editor
Photos By Matthew Danser