The 3:15 slot at the Austin Ventures stage turned out to be a tough assignment for Lake Street Dive, a New England band slotted into the Indian Summer sweltering heat of ACL Fest’s second-weekend opening day. They weathered it well, with a rootsy jazz sound spiked by frontwoman Rachel Price’s showcase vocal delivery and a guitarist who doubles on trumpet (Mike "McDuck" Olson).
The band’s hardcore faithful following crowded up front and provided consistent enthusiasm for the foursome, which also features drummer/vocalist Mike Calabrese (who sets up at stage left instead of the usual back-center spot) and upright bassist Bridget Kearney. On the fringes, audience members sought shady areas back near the food booths and at the adjacent beer hall, still within earshot of the music but a bit far for viewing given that the Austin Ventures stage has no video screens.
Songs such as "Seventeen" and "Bad Self Portraits" from the band’s most recent album provided Price with plenty of opportunities to show off her bluesy style and range. Lake Street Dive has a singular presence on the present Americana music scene, but longtime Austinites might draw some comparisons between the foursome and Marcia Ball’s early-’70s group Freda & the Firedogs, which featured a similar mishmash of rootsy styles with a strong-voiced female singer out front.
While their sound is distinctive and instantly appealing, Lake Street Dive doesn’t necessarily have songs that stand out as instantly memorable. The closing "You Go Down Smooth" was the closest they came to such a sure-fire standout song; it was a good follow-up to a cover of Hall & Oates’ "Rich Girl" that proved they have talent as interpreters as well. And just to make sure they established their Central Texas cred, they noted that they’d been on a tour of Lockhart barbecue joints yesterday, hitting Smitty’s, Kreuz and Black’s all in one afternoon. "Rachel ate her weight in barcecue yesterday," Calabrese quipped at one point. Wait till they find out about La Barbecue and Franklin…