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ACL Music Festival 2013: Top 10 Performances + Photos

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acl 2013 ACL Music Festival 2013: Top 10 Performances + Photos

Upon arrival, Austin City Limits felt like Lollapalooza with a cowboy hat. A place where BBQ-flavored blocks masked deep-dish littered streets, and the skyline shrunk to allow room for that merciless Southern sun. I still thought the same Saturday afternoon, as I poured two bottles of ice water on my head and shoved a few ice cubes down my pants, muttering: “Lolla, we’re still in Lolla. Shit.”

sunday acl misc 2 ACL Music Festival 2013: Top 10 Performances + PhotosTruth: Austin City Limits isn’t Lollapalooza, even if they share producers and stage names.

Whereas Lolla creates a metropolis within one of the country’s biggest cities, ACL offers a state of mind amidst a town’s already-unique subconscious. Everywhere you go around the liberal Texas capital, there are signs about the place being weird and how quirky life is. On paper, it sounds foolhardy, a slogan best reserved for Deadheads and baby boomers, but in practice, it actually suffices.

The town is weird. It’s like Portland made love to San Francisco smothered in peppers, got hitched in Asheville, and spent their honeymoon in ’60s Greenwich Village. The vibe is uncanny, bolstered by artists and artisans who want to influence or extend its oddities. And while Fun Fun Fun Fest admittedly best captures its fiery, youthful yin, ACL forever represents the abyssal, encompassing yang to the city.

There’s just so much going down in Zilker Park. Seven stages, not counting the Kiddie counterpart at eight, offer an endless supply of music that pulls a Thoreau and sucks the marrow out of the industry. To go from Eric Church, to Atoms for Peace, to Neko Case, to Phoenix, to Shuggie Otis, to Lionel Richie all in two or three hours? Well, I’m surprised anyone kept their sanity, and a bit sad for anyone who did.

Bottom line: The whole thing’s a trip.

Photography by Heather Kaplan, unless otherwise noted.

Bravest Performance

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Savages

Temperature: 91° F, Clear Skies

Wardrobe: None more black. Vocalist Jehnny Beth’s typically pale demeanor shared the same shine as her fiery red flats. As she stared deep into the sweaty abyss of her hundreds of fans, she acknowledged what we could only scream mentally, “It’s really hot out here. I feel myself burning.”

Only at ACL… could you go from the feel-good country jubilance of local favorites Asleep at the Wheel into the sordid post-punk fervor of London’s Savages. Odd scheduling or clever joke?

Is that Jesse F. Keeler? Nope. Although, you’d be fair to assume so as a stranded passerby. On-stage, Ayse Hassan’s droning sludge shares much with the DFA1979 bassist. Live renditions of “City’s Full Of” and “Shut Up” coagulate with Fay Milton’s percussion in the same way that Keeler does alongside Sebastien Grainger. At times it feels like the two sounds are all that matters.

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Choice soundtrack for Streamate users into BDSM: “Hit Me”

Number of potential Streamate users into BDSM in the crowd: A few. In fact, one guy toward the center couldn’t suffocate his own incessant cat calling toward Beth during the facetiously sexual song. Surrounding representatives of the male gender were not pleased. This writer included.

Wait, wait — what about Gemma Thompson? Fantastic. She’ll be key in helping the outfit swerve away from becoming another Manchester re-run in the future. Judging from her stoic demeanor and dexterous fret-work, the guitarist has enough adventure and empathy to win us over for years without ever looking too impressed. Choice.

Best Happy Hour Special

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Wild Belle

What’s on tap? A Chitown microbrew of reggae, psych pop, and island jazz, courtesy of Elliot and Natalie Bergman.

Sounds dangerously close to Yacht rock. A modern twist, for sure. Natalie’s vocals — a raspy Nico cowl by verse, a Victoria Legrand echo by chorus  — help stave off the label, but there’s no retreat to the mainland with Wild Belle. Songs like “Love Like This”, “Happy Home”, and “Keep You” bobble around with “five o’clock somewhere” basslines and shimmer from non-dairy saxophone. It’s likely what was swimming around Jim Morrison’s mind on Venice Beach so many decades ago.

I could be biased… if only because the previously unforgiving Austin sun was romantically hitting the hay, so to speak. Blood orange explosions rippled with Halloween purples in the forthcoming night sky. Beautiful.

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Hell’s Belles: Vampire Weekend’s country of sound and fans over at the nearby AMD Stage thwarted much of the band’s set, and they weren’t too pleased. (They even went on 15 minutes late, which sucked.) At one point, Natalie smokily jabbed, “I love that Vampire Weekend song. We got one just like it…” before going into the very “Oxford Comma”-like “Shine”.

“She’s like the Blake Lively of indie rock.” Can’t argue there, Heather.

“It’s Too Late”, Baby. “It’s Too Late.” Their hit single sounds even more playful on-stage than it does on record. It doesn’t get better than Elliot’s sax melody, especially the way his Jesus hair touched the sky.  Sorry, Tim Capello.

What the hell month are we in? “June”, apparently. The weather and the vibes confirmed that.

Best Would-Be Headliner

Queens of the Stone Age

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“You rockers, you rollers, you out of controllers — do you feel alright?” Josh Homme couldn’t have been more cordial. It was misleading, though, as he clobbered everyone with a four-track opening assault of “Feel Good Hit of the Summer”, “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar…”, “No One Knows”, and “Burn the Witch”. The whole thing tackled even the most able-bodied rockist.

Especially that one guy. Did you see him, too? The clumsy Neil Young-looking dude with the buttoned-open denim shirt, straggly hair, and scarecrow smile? He just wanted to party, find that special someone, and share his drunken vibes during the band’s …Like Clockwork medley of “My God Is the Sun”, “I Sat by the Ocean”, “The Vampyre of Time and Memory”, and “If I Had a Tail”. The way he mumbled under his breath, caressed people’s shoulders, stumbled into bands of bros, and swayed his head back and forth made you realize how much he really gets Queens of the Stone Age.

“Aw, shucks” missed opportunity: It’s a shame Homme didn’t play “Kalopsia” in honor of said guy.

…Like Clockwork Revisted: Upon its initial release, I didn’t really care much for the album. Songs like “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” and “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” crawled rather slowly, making for intriguing listens over pummeling experiences. To their credit, however, they re-injected the group’s bizarre anti-matter that percolated in Lullabies to Paralyze and dissolved on Era Vulgaris. Yet they forgot to add the “punchy hit” to spearhead the album — think “No One Knows”, “Little Sister”, or “Sick Sick Sick” — which has since made …Like Clockwork something much more comprehensive.

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Really, it’s an album for the stage, as the track’s meandering bridges and refrains get to stretch out in a way that’s less jammy and more propulsive. Homme’s breathy delivery adds a human element that felt oddly missing from the album’s tracks, while Grohl’s designs are fully realized by Jon Theodore who might be the Jack Irons of his generation. Pretty sure Homme and Dean Fertita could have fiddled around on “Smooth Sailing” for 10 extra minutes and still have the crowd eating from their palms.

Muse vs. QOTSA: If ACL wanted to save some bucks, they should have just given Homme the headlining spot and left Muse overseas. It’s not like Matt Bellamy & Co. are schilling around anything new anyhow, and what’s more, Homme’s a shoe-in for the ACL crowd. He’s a regular in these parts, having appeared at SXSW, past ACLs, and various tapings for the titular series. Not surprisingly then, fan loyalty was sweltering Friday night as thousands rushed the stage, preferring their blues from the desert as opposed to the future a la Depeche Mode. In an ideal situation, they would have had another hour, and judging from their rapturous closing performance of “Song for the Deaf”, they could have used three.

Loudest Wake Up Call

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Deap Vally

Son of a bitch, I need my coffee. Not for Saturday. Proving sleep’s for wimps and health’s for dummies, Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards sweat through a fevered brunch hour that brought Zilker Park to their senses — well, the few hundred that showed up. Troy wasn’t at 100%, suffering from an autumn cold, but she tortured her guitar nonetheless and kept things “extra raspy” like “an old man who’s been smoking”, as she admitted.

Rust Never Sleeps: Like a pair of ripped jeans, the wear and tear added another dimension to Troy, who yelped and crackled through heavier cuts like “Walk of Shame”, “Gonna Make My Own Money”, and “Drought”. Their brand of Detroit-influenced garage rock aims to be scrappy, so the extra rust only proved they were doing their job. And well.

“Son of a bitch!” missed opportunity: Sticking around the festival and sweating missiles instead of accepting Troy’s invitation when she asked: “If anyone wants to go to Barton Springs with me later… I’ll be there.”

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Photo by Phillip Roffman

LOL Claire’s: Troy and Edwards wear friendship necklaces — half-heart pendants? — and it’s adorable.

Takeaway quotes:

“Austin’s one of the coolest cities and we’ve been to a lot of them this year.” Edwards wasn’t lying.

“Thank you for waking up early.” Much obliged, Ms. Troy.

Most Popular Non-Headliner

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HAIM

Someone put on Kool & the Gang, y’all: Some might argue for Lorde, but last week belonged to the sisters Haim, who finally issued their long-awaited debut album, Days Are Gone, to unsurprising critical acclaim. It’s a moment the Los Angeles collective have been savoring for years, and their managers and agents no doubt popped six or seven cases of bubbly by Friday night. And they probably ordered another half dozen when they peeked around the AMD Stage early Saturday afternoon to see, well, 80% of the festival swarming it. Somewhere someone was cueing this up on Spotify.

When Rust Goes Bad: Unfortunately, a not-so-funny comedy of errors plagued opening numbers “Falling” and “The Wire”, arguably their two strongest tracks, leaving a very fatigued Danielle without any guitar. Audibly suffering vocally, the singer tinkered with her own pitch, changing many of the verses on the fly as her guitar skittered in and out.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

“Ducks fly together” moment: Fortunately, she’s always surrounded by two incredibly adept sisters, and both Este and Alana swooped in to lift her up harmonically. It’s easy to write chemistry off when it’s a familial thing, but they’re working with a bond that’s more Dessner than Followill.

Why their ACL performance was The Moment: “It’s kind of awesome we could spend our album release week with you — where it all began,” Danielle professed, referring to their SXSW debut two years prior. From closet-sized bars to city-wide parks in under 700 days…yeah, not too shabby.

Haim > Any meteorologist: “It’s too hot for leather.” -Danielle

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Ballistic II: Este vs. Alana: They’re all vocal characters up there, but Este mostly handles all their on-stage PR. “Bass face” notwithstanding, she’s a fucking stitch and a half, and Saturday’s tsunami of fans never once startled her. Instead, she became their de facto leader, an Eva Perón, motioning to security and stage hands to “please get water for everyone” at various points. Her younger sister, Alana, a.k.a. Baby Haim, soaked up the attention, too. (As someone with a younger brother can attest, we call this “Cindy Brady Syndrome.”) “Holy shit,” she screamed at the crowd. Later adding, “We’re freakin’ the fuck out. We’ve been a band for six years and our debut just fuckin’ came out.” To celebrate,  she climbed down into the photo pit, where she high-fived everyone who could reach her. Let the rivalry begin.

Learn it. Know it. Live it. “Shirts are for work. This isn’t work. This is fun.” – Este Haim

Don’t Believe the Hype: On Sunday, Days Are Gone officially went #1 in the UK. Judging from Saturday’s successful reception, they’ll probably have similar chart success stateside. Robert Smith’s Robert Smith, the Followills still remain the Followills, and Lionel Richie’s Lionel friggin’ Richie, but nobody was more popular than HAIM this past weekend.

GIFs by Phillip Roffman

Weirdest Hour

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Grimes

“We might just do it without a keyboard — it’ll be super awkward.” It wasn’t. Technical snafus aside, Grimes performed to what might have been the largest crowd in her career thus far. Thousands overwhelmed the Honda Stage in droves, baking and heaving and sweating under the still-unforgiving sun, and they just wouldn’t leave. They needed their Grimes fix, apparently.

It was the Mickey Mouse ears. Duh. Or the dancers. Really, it could have been a combination of anything; there was a lot to look and marvel at. The dozens of flowers being tossed everywhere, Grimes’ multi-colored hair (and her modified Girl Scout’s uniform), the two dancers who treated the 50+ minutes as an all-you-can-do aerobics routine, and, yes, a pair of “Mickey Mouse” ears (really, more like cubbins ears) atop the impish savant.

Why this is a Big Deal: In theory, Grimes’ anomalous subversion of pop shouldn’t be so popular. It’s a Mama’s Casserole of pop, EDM, hip-hop, noise, R&B, industrial, and about seven other ingredients that would no doubt elicit upset stomachs from the casual bear. Or maybe just a “that’s weird” in a snotty, condescending voice. Yet how the 25-year-old Canadian managed to rope in over 10,000 devoted fans sans keyboard or any supporting musicians wasn’t just confounding, but rather enlightening.

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Enlightening? Why not. This isn’t Pitchfork, or ATP, or even SXSW (despite its location) — it’s Austin City Limits, a mainstream festival that embraces the culture of a city that prides itself on being weird… yet still books The Eagles. Now, I wouldn’t say Grimes’ music is weird, but it’s alternative in the way the genre was supposed to be, hearkening back to the days of The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, or even as late as Björk. Given that the festival’s hosted the Icelandic goddess in the past, it’s not exactly surprising to see Grimes on the bill; what’s shocking and weird is how normal it is for everyone now.

Get to your point. Basically, it’s a fucking great feeling to actually see the evolution of a musical trend. That’s what Grimes’ Saturday afternoon performance proved.

Chillest Crowd

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Wilco

Temperature: 64° F, Clear Skies

Average age: 38.8

Yeehaw Tweedy: It seems that Jeff doesn’t go anywhere without a hat anymore, and he’s addressed this in the past on-stage. At ACL, it felt fitting, just as it did last year at Kentucky’s Forecastle. Coupled with his more hefty demeanor these days, though, he’s starting to look a hell of a lot like this guy. I love it.

That moment you realize A Ghost is Born turns 10 next year: #mindblown. When Tweedy plucked into “Handshake Drugs”, the nearby singalong of grey hairs made me realize they were probably in their mid- to late-forties when they picked this album up. I was only 19. Jesus.

Making Nels Cline… 58 years old this coming January.

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Okay, enough with the ageism. Look, everyone has their own personal crises, right? If it’s not the fear of death, it’s the ensuing notion that time’s slipping by and things change. If you’d let me speak, the point I’m trying to reach is actually more of a compliment than a young man poking fun at old timers — it’s just one spawned out of fear.

What makes Wilco so unique is their timeless appeal. Their average fan at ACL might have been pushing 40, but it’s not like they don’t have teens, twentysomethings, and so on at their disposal, either. That’s the crux of their music — it’s a little bit of country, a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll, and it involves a little bit of everyone. They’re a relevant band for those either keen or disinterested in relevant music. That those two polarizing types of fans appreciate Wilco together is what makes their shows so enjoyable; the people are always just straight up great.

Ashes of American Flags: No, just festival flags in general. The whole schtick makes sense, and it’s fun to see the different things people string on long poles, but when four or five of these art projects are within 20 feet of the stage, and slouching within visibility no less, they quickly evolve from friendly markers to mortal enemies.

Missed FG opportunity: No “Muzzle of Bees”? In this town? The Friday Night Lights season two opening song would have been a rather choice nod to the town that housed the show. It’s also just one of their best tracks, too.

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“I love when we’re playing in the same key as the opposing band. Do you guys hear that?” Tweedy might be the only frontman to pull off the passive-aggressive thing without losing one lick of charm.

That moment you realize Wilco only has an hour… is insufferable. At an hour in they’re usually just getting started; regardless, they tackled the insulting short runtime with a fair share of hits (“War on War”, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”), deep cuts (“At My Window Sad and Lonely”, “Forget the Flowers”), and jams (“Impossible Germany”, “Art of Almost”). It was like a bite-sized version of their sprawling sets; accomodating and satisfying.

“To be continued…” Tweedy getting all theatrical.

Fastest Penultimate Lap

Divine Fits

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Number of days past since A Thing Called Divine Fits hit stores: 404

How many gigs left? Two. One at CBGB Festival on October 12th and another at next weekend’s ACL.

“Divine” opportunity missed: If only Southside Flying Pizza offered a special Fits ‘za called, “Would That Not Be Slice?”

Worst idea ever: See above.

Lowest point for fans suffering from body dysmorphia: Hearing Jack Skellington doppelganger Dan Boeckner joke about his weight, stating: “I just wanna apologize for getting so fat over the year”; “Fat piece of shit Dan Boeckner, what a dick”; and “Despite America, I’m still skinny.” Hilarious, but many dinners were skipped by several that night.

Well, isn’t that funny… hearing Britt Daniel sing “I don’t wish the titties would show” on their exceptional cover of Frank Ocean’s “Lost”.

Awkward turtle moment: When the guitar pedals went zilch and Boeckner was still gnashing into his axe, even though everyone else had already faded out. He still looked cool, just angry.

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Why there needs to be a second LP: The worst thing any can do is let chemistry fall wayside. With only 15 tracks to their name, a few of them covers, Boecker, Daniel, and drummer Sam Brown remain satisfied whilst performing, and that’s very telling — especially for a side project. But really, Divine Fits has never felt like a side-project, more like an extended affair, the sort that feels right because it’s working. It’ll never be as powerful as either Spoon or Wolf Parade, but upon their debut, Fits felt fresher and more vital than either party — at least to them.

Blame it on the underrated Transference, or a secret desire for new wave, but there’s an electricity to Daniel’s aura that just wasn’t there two or three years ago. Same with Boeckner, only now he’s more assured, like the rabid, out-of-control sibling who finally got the keys to the house for the weekend, only instead of disappointing everyone, he’s proven how mature and focused he’s grown over time. “For Your Heart”, “Baby Get Worse”, and “Chained to Love” make up some of his best work to date, and given “Love” was a new track, it only proves they’re hardly out of gas.

But, we want Spoon. And Wolf Parade. Yeah, ditto. All I’m saying is that it’d be nice to see the Fits return in a couple of years. Another Thing Called Divine Fits, per se? You got it.

Most Inventive Stage Prop

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Tame Impala

National Geographic‘s opening narration via Heather Kaplan: “The Swinging Sixties were in full force over at the Honda Stage, where the savage Australians, genus Tame Impala, were causing an uproar — a tiger’s roar. A tiger name Gavin.”

Kevin Parker’s new pal: A large plush tiger that watched him do his thing while lounging on a nearby monitor. As Parker explained, “This is Gavin, by the way. Gavin, the epileptic tiger. Gavin says hi.” Many waved.

Number of stage technicians who looked like Aaron Paul: 1

They were definitely “into it”: The three girls blowing glitter around like it was magical fairy dust. One of them even had vials of varying colors tacked on to her belt. During “Solitude is Bliss”, gold flecks sprayed everywhere, falling on nearby shoulders and onto the lawn of Zilker Park. Many happy thoughts were discussed.

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“Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?” and “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”… both still sound like Oasis 45s played at 33⅓ rpm and through a thick layer of vaseline.

Charming rookie line: Parker gushing midway through his set that, “You have to be sympathetic to our excitement, because it’s our first time at ACL.”

They were definitely “out of it”: The two tweens that popped out from the front, only to cry like banshees off to the side as the set rolled on. One friend needed to drag her away as things got messy, though it seemed like both were still dedicated enough to not let their emotions thwart their viewing of Tame. #devotion

Annnnnd there goes 20 percent of the crowd… about 30 seconds following “Elephant”, which happens to stomp even louder live.

Best Headliner

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Lionel Richie

Whoever went from Atoms for Peace into Phoenix into Lionel Richie… you win at life.

Number of seconds into the set before Lionel was glistening in sweat: -45

“They said it was gonna be a few people. They didn’t say it was gonna be everybody.” There are singers and there are performers and sometimes there are both. Few fit into that rare third category — especially today’s crop of artists — yet Lionel Richie has long been a general at the frontline. Having been active since 1968 with the Commodores, Richie’s catalog isn’t just rich, but incredibly lush. He’s got hits, he’s got ballads, he’s got rockers, he’s got lovemakers, he’s got funk anthems, he’s got reggae, he’s got it all. So, it was genius planning on C3’s behalf to hire the legend, give him the biggest stage, and the last two hours of the weekend.

Lionel’s reaction to Atoms for Peace across the park: “Is that god coming to get me?”

Bizarre Happy Gilmore moment: When Lionel teased the crowd that he’d invited Diana Ross to tag along down to Austin for “Endless Love”, only to get denied. He had a backup plan though (“I’m looking into the audience and I see 30,000 Diana Rosses”) and it worked tremendously (“Who needs Diana? C’mon!”).

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“I was there when you had the record” crowd: Danced hard. Oh, so hard.

“My momma played it for me every day and night” crowd: Dry humped hard. Oh, so very hard.

Ray, if someone says Lionel Richie is a god, you say, “YES!” An hour into the set, after tearing up “Penny Lover”, “Easy”, and “Running with the Night”, Lionel sat at the piano with a glass of wine and offered a little moonlight action. Rivaling Tom Jones levels of savvy, he rolled through three songs — “Still”, “Oh No”, and “Stuck On You” — complete with three stories and the same hilarious introduction of “Grab your compact disc, your cassette, your eight track… and you call on Lionel Richie.” By the third song, when he asked “Who ya gonna call?” no one thought of Venkman, Stantz, Spengler, or Zeddmore. Okay, maybe Venkman.

The Piano Bards: Billy Joel and Lionel Richie: During his piano medley, specifically “Stuck On You”, it hit me that Richie is the man Billy Joel always wanted to be but never became. While Richie pines about lost love, it’s almost like Sinatra, where there’s an understanding that the love actually happened. With Joel, it’s harsh and realistic, more like an episode of HBO’s Hello Ladies, where the night more than likely ends with a frozen dinner than a warm lover. Basically, we’re all Billy Joel, but we really, really, really wanna be Lionel Richie.

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“Beer you, beer me, beer us together.” What every bartender had to hear last night in Austin.

Did they really just throw Van Halen’s “Jump” into “Dancing on the Ceiling”? Yep. That they did.

Wait, wait, wait, AND “Brickhouse”? You didn’t think he’d forget, did you?

When your festival ends with extended live performances of “All Night Long” and “We Are the World” and then blares Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” over the PA… it’s easy to think life doesn’t get better than this. And it’s harder to think it ever will.

“I didn’t write this phrase but lemme say it: ‘I’ll be back.'” All of a sudden an extended two-week vacay in Austin sounds totally rational.

Gallery

Photographer(s): Heather Kaplan, Phillip Roffman

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