ACL is hot, tiring, sweaty, overwhelming, and, all too often, outright miserable to attend with kids. Here’s a quick look at a few highlights, split about evenly between the excellent Austin Kiddie Limits section and other stages. Plan it out right, though, and it can be a great time. And remember: hydrate!
First, the four acts that jump out at me the most on the kids’ stage (but you really can’t go wrong all weekend):
Tim and the Space Cadets with Mother Falcon
One of the most intriguing acts scheduled, due largely to the combination. Tim and the Space Cadets play infectious poppy alt-rock, and Austin local heroes Mother Falcon will join them with a killer string section. What that will add up to? I honestly don’t know, but it’s going to be interesting and probably terrific.
This married duo would have the potential of being overly cute, but their indie history (Greg Attonito was a founding member of the Bouncing Souls) helps avoid it. Their record (on Mike Park’s Fun Fun Records) is just crazy fun. Their live show promises to be the same.
Caspar Babypants is the outrageously productive kids’ music project of Chris Ballew (The Presidents of the United States of America). His records are simple but never boring, and his live show — whether solo or with a band — are fantastically engaging.
The Verve Pipe
I’ve been doing a kids’ music radio show for over eight years now, and have seen plenty of “grown-up” artists think they can throw something cruddy out into the family music world and make a quick buck. Having never been that huge a fan of TVP in the first place, I was skeptical of their move into the area. But they’ve just released their second kids’ record (“Are We There Yet?”), it’s clear that they’re taking it seriously. They’ve translated their live show well into the kids’ space, and if the kids’ area isn’t too filled with people who only remember the band for “The Freshman,” it’ll be a fun show.
On the other stages, I’ve flagged a handful of shows you should check out with the littles — but keep in mind that there might be some language you like less.
Asleep at the Wheel (AMD stage)
It’s Asleep at the Wheel. They’re legends. Go dance with your kids.
Shovels & Rope (Austin Ventures)
This act’s press kit refers to it as a “righteous racket” and that’s about right. Guitars, drum kits (put together from discarded parts), and more. They probably sing more songs about murder than you mostly listen to with your kids, but the energy is probably going to overwhelm enough that your kids won’t be permanently scarred.
Blind Boys of Alabama (Zilker Tent)
Now decades old, Blind Boys of Alabama are a vital link to the history of gospel traditions. Playing a wild range of songs, and partnering with people ranging from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon to tUnE-yArDs of Merrill Garbus, they’re just as relevant now as they were nearly 100 years ago when they were founded.
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down (Bud Light)
Thao Nguyen and her band get called folk rock from time to time, but this isn’t the banjos and standup bass set — it’s got more of an indie rock vibe. It might not work for younger kids, but it should be interesting to tweens.
Red Baraat (Zilker Tent)
Awfully hard choice, with Shinyribs at the same time — but Shinyribs you can see around town pretty often. Red Baraat brings a smorgasbord of sounds — North Indian, jazz, funk, hip-hop, and more — that adds up to sheer joy. If you need to tire out your kids before heading home (probably yourself too!), this is the act.
Bill Childs is producer of Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child, a syndicated family music radio show distributed by PRX (http://sparetherock.com). On Spare the Rock Records, he’s also released three benefit compilations of music for kids, including Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti, which has raised over $75,000 in relief for Haiti.