I Survived Untapped Austin

Who knew Canadians loved well tequila so much? I sure as hell didn’t, and paid dearly for the previous night’s misunderstanding of the Canadian shot of choice. It was late Saturday morning, and I still had a two and a half hour drive ahead of me where a large assortment of beer, and indie bands awaited me in Austin, TX, neither of which I was particularly in the mood for. Armed with 3 hours of sleep, and BC powder, I set out to see what the hubbub was all about at the Untapped Festival.

Luckily for my cheap liquor hangover, the day was overcast. In fact, several meteorologists had called for a complete wash-out over the weekend due to a cold front that was moving through Texas. Rain came down non-stop in Houston on Friday night, so I was expecting more of the same for Saturday. Much to my relief, there wasn’t a drop of water falling from the sky which meant two things – I wouldn’t have to show up sporting a poncho (sorry ladies), and I wouldn’t have to fight to keep my beer from becoming a watered down version of it’s former self. Stupid meteorologists, what do they know?

The event was held at Carson Creek Ranch, a small park located on the Colorado river just north of the Austin airport. While the parking was plentiful, I opted to go the responsible route, and take a cab to the event. There’s a small road leading to the ranch that progressively became less of a road, and more of a dirt path much to the chagrin of the cabbie. The taxi dropped me off near a sign of rules at the front of the ranch. “No hanky panky”, and “No nothing” were among the commandments which were undoubtedly about to be broken by the hundreds in attendance.

Two main stages marked the front and back of the festival, with several beer tents scattered in between. A small fleet of food trucks, and vendors lined the northern most wall near the first aid tent. Everything from lobster rolls to bratwurst was offered for a little fuel between beers. Speaking of beers, if you purchased the beer package, you were given a card good for twelve 2 oz samples anywhere in the festival, as well as a cup. Unfortunately, my media pass didn’t come with either, so I bought one of each from one of the beer gardens.

While waiting in line for my first sample at the St. Arnold’s tent, one of the concert goers pointed out that my cup was laughably tiny in comparison to theirs. He proceeded to chuckle as he walked away with his larger sample, filled to the brim with delicious rye Icon. I sheepishly handed the St. Arnold’s rep my shot glass, and cursed to myself as I finished it in a single swig. Sure, they were samples, but I didn’t like feeling that I had gotten the old huckle-buck when everyone else seemed to have been issued big gulps in comparison.

After trying some Weizenhammer from Brooklyn brewery, I opted to buy a full can of Oskar Blues Yella Pils before heading to the rear stage to check out the action. Bear Hands were in the middle of fumbling through their set. I’m not sure whether it was the singer’s off pitch performance, or just the music in general, but I just wasn’t feeling it. A few sips later, I decided it was a better idea to keep hitting up the brewery tents instead of watching the Brooklyn natives lazily belt out their hits.

Even though the festival was sold out, the beer lines moved quick. I was able to sample a Myrcenary double IPA from O’Dell, a White Rascal witbeer from Avery, and a pecan porter from (512) in just shy of 20 minutes.

As dusk rolled in, Phosphorescent took to the front stage. The indie-folk song writer most famous for “Song for Zula” did not disappoint. The drawn out twang of the steel guitar accented the slow folk in a way that was perfect for that time of the evening. Several couples box stepped their way into the sunset, as Matthew Houck’s raspy serenade floated through the crowd. Technical issues arose during his finale, and the band had to restart the song awkwardly about 3 times before they could find a mic that worked well enough for the vocals.

Losing interest in the concert after the second restart of Phosphorescent’s tune, I wandered over to the food trucks to get my grub on. Settling on poutine and jalepeno watermelon agua fresca, I had a seat under the ranch’s only wooden pavilion to plan my next attack. The night was getting shorter, and I still had several samples left on my card. Before I could decide what to do, Black Joe Lewis began their set on the rear stage, forcing me to go to the nearest tents between the pavilion and the stage.

As quick as I could, I visited the Lone Pint tent for a Jabberwocky double IPA, the Samuel Adams tent for a 13th Hour aged belgian strong ale, and Ballast Point for a bit of Sculpin IPA. If you’re thinking to yourself “sounds like you had a lot of IPA’s”, you’re right, I did. While I find IPA’s to be refreshing, some of the people in the lines weren’t shy about criticizing the brewers for having too many on hand. I understand that IPA is all the rage at the moment, however, I couldn’t help but sympathize with the handful of disappointed denizens. A little more variety would have been nice.

Wasting little time with my samples, I rushed over to catch Black Joe Lewis. The local Austin funk outfit had the crowd hooked with their brass boogie. Your personal dancing prowess meant nothing to Black Joe Lewis; you were going to move whether you liked it or not. From the lows of the tenor sax, to the distorted treble of the guitar, each instrument sounded perfect. At one point, Lewis jokingly questioned the audience’s buzz, but from the looks of the many improvised dances, there was no shortage of at least a mild inebriation.

Once Lewis’s set ended, several of the brew tents were sold out, and were in the process of breaking down. I made a power run around the remaining tents, and completely lost track of everything I sampled from that point. Since it was the end of the night, I was more worried about utilizing the rest of my samples than anything. Plus, the few beers left were mainly IPA’s, so it didn’t really matter too much to take note of each little variance between the brews.

Grabbing one last full beer, this time a Founder’s Black Rye, I joined everyone else at the main stage to see Manchester Orchestra end the night. Turns out, it was going to be something I will never forget.

As the band fired up “Pride”, the sky began to light up behind them. The effect that the lightning brought to the slow, doomy jam was absolutely breathtaking. Each flash seemed to take cues from the band, and everyone cheered every time it happened. A chill rode in on the wind, which was picking up increasingly as Manchester Orchestra fed on the energy of the atmosphere. It was goddamned magical.

With the wind kicking up, they transitioned into “Top Notch”. Once again, the song choice matched the weather like it was planned, which drove the crowd into a frenzy. It’s at this point that I’d like to apologize to meteorologists for my slight on them earlier.

They had that forecast in aces, son. Aces.

Andy Hull paused after “Top Notch”, and said, “Looks like we’re bringing in the storm.” Untapped erupted in a roar when Manchester played the opening of “Shake it Off”. The storm kicked into high gear, and about 45 seconds in, the 60 MPH wind blew the backdrop, and roof off of the stage. Watching that happen was absolutely amazing for about 10 seconds, until the fans realized what was going on. As soon as the band stopped playing, the rain hit like a ninja, coming out of nowhere to kill the mood.

Manchester Orchestra booked it off stage when the out of control roof of the stage threatened to physically whip them. Along with the band, the wind helped their instruments vamoose, sending amps tumbling face flat in puddles, and the drums strewn about as if some yeti had grown tired of playing with them. One of the Untapped organizers took to the mic shouting “Get away from the stage, we have severe weather coming”, and pandemonium ensued.

Tents blew over in the torrent, sending the brewers into panic mode, chasing down their belongings. Most of the attendees fled to their cars, while those of us taxi, or Uber riders took shelter under the wooden pavilion. The temperature felt like it had dropped at least 30 degrees, and everyone one in the pavilion huddled up like a bunch of penguins. Hail pelted the festival grounds, blowing under the wood roof, before dancing through a bedraggled forest of ankles.

Fifteen minutes had passed before the rain died down, allowing for everyone involved to focus on regrouping before making arrangements to depart. A mass exodus of cars made escape nigh impossible, and emergency personnel were warning the remaining people that another cell was on it’s way. Rumors of looting circulated, and some of the ruined beer gardens were slyly sacked of any of the storm’s casualties.

About 30 of us gathered under the first aid tent to wait out the rest of the storm. Although the past 30 minutes were intensely hectic, the general mood was excitement. Similar to a horror movie, we had just been scared to the point of a good time. No one could shut up about how bonkers Manchester Orchestra’s two and an eighth song set was. If only the tempest had held off for 2 more songs, it might have been the best live music experience I ever witnessed. It was still close though.

Once the car line died down, the stragglers were able to catch their preferred ride home. Not before wading through ankle deep water, though. I’m just glad the port-o-potties weathered the squall. That kind of complication would have made walking out quite the gambit.

Despite being saturated with rain, and IPA’s, I ended up having a blast at Untapped Austin. With a decent mix of musicians, and a plethora of breweries, it’s a unique, laid back festival that’s not too demanding, or overwhelming. Untapped Ft. Worth featuring De La Soul is coming up on May 9th, and both a Houston, and Dallas festival will be happening later on in the year.

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