Oh, ACL, how we have missed you! The Austin three-day festival, located at the heart of the city in the beautiful oasis of Zilker Park kicked off the second weekend on October 8th. It was the last weekend for the two-week festival and it was a heater! The first day of ACL came charging with a stellar lineup with straight-up Texas second-summer heat — I’m talking 90+ degrees, with a million percent humidity. The festival was ready for it, with water stations everywhere, cooling fans nearby, plus the many groves of oak trees kept me cool for most of the day.
Early in the day, I found Maggie Rose opening at the T-Mobile Stage. She is a new discovery for me and I was immediately drawn to her, as Maggie belted out a soulful mix of rock ‘n roll, folk and funk! Her fully engaged audience kept right up with her, swaying their hands from side to side. With recent touring support for Kelly Clarkson and Jason Isbell, she was a great start to the full day of festivities and an awesome opener to the T-Mobile Stage.
A short walk over to the Tito’s Stage, known as the emerging and local artist stage, I found Q.
They are an upcoming Austin-based R&B, funk/soul singer, who turned up Friday midday. With a clear fan base (all of whom knew their every song), the young singer did not disappoint. Although it took some encouragement to get Q on stage and when Q declared “I’m so tired right now” shortly before Q stated “this is my first festival”, the band stepped up. They carried Q right into the hot zone, as they belted out the most glorious, funky songs — definitely worth checking out more music from Q!
Back at the T-Mobile Stage, Durand Jones & The Indications were waiting. They are an Austin-based band that taps into a 70s soul vibe. This is a must see band! The sultry soulful vocals of Durand Jones was pure music bliss. And, although I didn’t catch much banter from the band, the “My Body, My Choice” shirts worn by the backup vocalists said it all and added to the energy of the performance.
I headed over to catch Skip Marley — another must-see performance of the night. This was Skip’s second appearance at ACL and he turned up for it! First off, he sounded amazing on the Miller Lite Stage (the third largest stage) with a full backing band and two backup singers. The 25-year-old grandson of the late Bob Marley brought some much needed modern-day reggae to ACL. The hour-long set included songs off his new album, plus some classics from Bob Marley!
New this year was Best of Austin Drag at the *new* Bonus Track Stage.
It was a small stage, tucked away in the grove of live oaks next to the wine grove. The shade was a nice reprieve from the midday sun and the entertainment was not to be missed. The full-on drag show included many local celebrities, showcasing their talent, personalities and lip-syncing musical chops.
Next, I headed over to Machine Gun Kelly on the Honda Stage. With his debut rock album, the former rap artist turned pop-punk was a pleasant surprise to catch. The very charming and ever-engaging performer captivated audiences when he appeared out of a pink XXX pill bottle and lit up the stage with the claim, “Damn Austin you have some good food!” As he performed, he ran up the camera man scaffolding and hung upside down. One of the few full sets that I caught from a full day of music in hopes I would catch “Rap Devil” or perhaps something else off his past albums, but no such luck. Walking away from the stellar set one thing was clear — Machine Gun Kelly is clearly the King of Pop Punk and ACL is down for it!
The one thing that happens in Texas is, as the sun starts to set, it gets even hotter… Right around 6:30pm, I headed over to the Lady Bird Stage to see the Black Pumas. The GRAMMY-nominated Artist of the Year happens to also be THE Austin breakout band! And, their homecoming performance did not disappoint. As they rocked out during the hottest time of the day on the west-facing Ladybird Stage, Black Pumas reminded all of us why they are so amazing. The soulful, R&B rock ‘n roll mix of their recent album boomed across the festival. There is really just something to be said for the epic guitar riffs and masterful vocal stylings of the band that captures the soulful R&B rock sound Texas is known for and it was even better seeing it live in the city where it was made!!
Prying myself away from the Black Pumas stage, I headed to Eryka Badu. Thankfully she was 30 minutes late, so I did not miss a beat. She was all that I hoped for: she came out in her signature bucket hat, looking like a mesmerizing mystical goddess as she walked up to the drumming pad and pounded out a beat. So very simple and yet profound, she dazzled the audience with her gorgeous harmonies, lyrical poetry and dope production skills. She sang a few songs off her albums and improvised — both vocally and musically — with her band and backup singers. As I enjoyed the glorious set, I was pulled back into reality as hordes of people started walking away and cutting in front of me, all heading early to see Miley Cyrus at the stage next door.
The best part of ACL is their programing and booking.
Usually the closer heads off with a throwback band and a major top-of-the-charts act. That Friday night closed out with George Strait (the granddad of country music), who played directly and literally head-to-head with a newer generation of country-pop royalty, Miley Cyrus. With an almost 10-hour day of musical festivities, I opted for the throwback sounds of the country giant. It was a nice end to the first day of the second weekend and we soaked in the sweet songs of an era long gone. George Strait filled the massive stage with his Texas-based band (Ace in the Hole), 13 players deep, playing all of his classics while drawing a massive crowd. Cheers to two more days!
Cover photo by Charles Reagan; thumbnail photo by Dusana Risovic