AUSTIN, Texas — When I first walked through the gates of Zilker Park last weekend — home of Austin City Limits Music Festival — I needed a moment to marvel. I took a deep breath of the 90-degree air and gazed at Austin’s skyline just beyond the headliner stage, wiggled my toes in the sumptuous green grass, noticed the lawn chairs clumped around trees and inhaled a tantalizing scent of barbeque and Tex-Mex. All I could think was: “This is exactly what a music festival should be like.”

Last Friday afternoon, raspy and soulful as ever, Ray LaMontagne’s mellow set was a nice amuse-bouche to the festival. Chart-toppers Foster the People played an energetic show, closing out with a killer techno-dubby version of “Pumped Up Kicks” and a dramatic stage dive. Once the sun went down, however, a schism was revealed among ACL-goers: Those Who Went to Coldplay and Those Who Have Taste. I was the latter.

There’s nothing quite like witnessing thousands of heads simultaneously turn to the sky, hands throwing diamonds in the air as Kanye West descends like Zeus with “Can we get much higher?” booming, while a dozen furry-clad dancers writhe primordially around on stage. OK, so maybe it wasn’t exactly a huge surprise for those of us who live-streamed his Coachella performance in April instead of studying for finals, but seeing it on a tiny YouTube screen really doesn’t do it justice.

Boxing out for Kanye meant sacrifices — no Mavis Staples, no Santigold, no beer and no bathroom breaks. We endured an entire hour of Nas and Damian Marley spazzing out to a weird conglomeration of reggae and hip hop beforehand. But being 15 to 20 people back from the front row was worth every bruise, elbowed rib and flat-tired sneaker.

While the show’s setup was nothing short of extravagant (the forklift, a ridiculously trippy light show, ballet dancers, a medieval-looking background, an outfit change), Yeezy’s mic cut out for a good portion of his verses of opener “Dark Fantasy,” and his voice was hoarse. The “He’s totally gonna bring out Jay-Z!” hype-fest circulating through the crowd was crushed when West jokingly started rapping from Watch the Throne: “ ‘’Ye can we get married at the maalll … ’ Just kidding, just kidding, wait for the tour y’all,” to loud groans from all.

On Saturday, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings’s arrival was delayed a half-hour due to Skrillex’s dubstep banger only one stage away. When Welch finally took the stage with Skrillex’s weird, squelching techno still audible, she quipped, “Well, I wasn’t expecting the Martian landing next to us, but I guess we’ll do what we can.” The married couple’s rootsy, backcountry harmonies and Rawlings’s absurdly talented guitar playing made their show nothing short of transcendent. No other point in the festival provided such intimacy between artist and audience.

Saturday night presented a conundrum: Is it worth it to see a headliner — specifically a legend like Stevie Wonder — even if the sound quality is poor, your view obstructed, the crowd unnavigable and the sound from My Morning Jacket bleeding over so clearly as to be able to discern what song they were playing? It was tough, but we decided to cut our losses and head over to Jim James and Co. a few songs into Stevie. Luckily, we arrived just as the band launched into a face-melting version of “Mahgeeta” that saved the night.

“Let’s get rowdy, this is motherfucking Texas!” cried Ryan Bingham of Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses on Sunday afternoon. Maybe it was because it was hot as hell, or because there was a fiddle player onstage, or maybe I was just delirious from the heat — but for the first time all weekend, I felt like I was in Texas, dammit — and I was feelin’ it. Bingham’s gravelly voice, Southern twang, distorted guitars and fiddle easily made him ACL’s ideal act.

You never would have guessed by the crowd that Arcade Fire was the headliner of Austin City Limits. Considering the band was the last show, performing unopposed, Grammy-album-winner-of-the-year and a former Coachella headliner, the audience was kind of a buzzkill. Call me naïve, but I was expecting some earth-shattering sing-along action during “Wake-Up,” and all I got were some lukewarm “Aaahs” from about every third person.

As I made the 20-minute uphill trek back to my car on Sunday night to rally for the three-hour drive back to my house in Houston, I wasn’t thinking about my painful sunburn, my ruined sneakers, that I was covered in probably a dozen other people’s sweat or even that my hair was beginning to dred itself — the only thing running through my mind was this: I need to move to Austin one day.

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