We’re only a couple of weeks into the new year, and it already feels like the 2020 music festival season is off to a running start. Two of the biggest national festivals, Coachella (which takes place for two weekends in April in Indio, Calif.) and Bonnaroo (set to rock a field in Tennessee on June 11-14) have released their lineups. Meanwhile, closer to home, tickets are on sale for Austin City Limits Music Festival, scheduled for Oct. 2-4 and 9-11 in Zilker Park.
No one is passing us ACL Fest insider information; many artists only have a few dates on their 2020 calendars right now. But over the last several years, with the festival business surging, more and more high profile acts are structuring their road jaunts around the national festival calendar. So it stands to reason that some of the artists playing the first two massive outdoor fests of the year will still be working the festival circuit by the time our little shindig in the park rolls around in October.
Here are a few predictions about who will and will not be in the ACL Fest mix. The percentages are completely arbitrary and do not involve math of any kind.
The likely contenders
Rage Against the Machine. It’s an election year, and the politically charged rap-rockers are back in action for the first time since 2011. The band is kicking off a run of reunion dates with a border town tour that starts in El Paso on March 26. They headline Coachella in April. Late last year, the internet exploded over a "leaked list" of international tour dates that put the band in Brazil on Weekend One of the fest, but it was debunked. It’s easy to believe the band will be up for resistance rocking the capital of Texas in October. Likelihood: 72%
Vampire Weekend. This is the surest of sure shots. With three prior ACL Fest appearances under their belts, they are fest regulars, beloved by Austin audiences. In addition to a Bonnaroo appearance, the band is set to play four international Lollapaloozas this year. (Lollapalooza is produced by C3 Presents, the same Austin-based company that produces ACL Fest.) Vampire Weekend’s fall tour schedule has a Weekend One-size hole between a Sept. 30 Oklahoma City date and an Oct. 6 appearance in New Orleans, and it ends before Weekend Two. Likelihood: 95%
Lana Del Rey. America’s patron saint of sad girls, whose latest album "Norman (Expletive) Rockwell" landed on a slew of year-end best-of lists, shows up near the top of both of the Bonnaroo and Coachella lineups. Her last Austin concert was an Erwin Center show in early 2018. When she played a sunset ACL Fest set in 2014, she drew a huge crowd. We predict ACL will continue their new (and long overdue) trend of programming female headliners, and our girl will get top-row billing this go round. Likelihood: 70%
Run the Jewels. Have the explosive aggro-rappers ever skipped an opportunity to play an Austin fest? They’ve played ACL Fest twice, in 2015 and 2017. Before that, they put in appearances at Fun Fun Fun Fest, Sound on Sound Fest and South by Southwest. Their "RTJ4" album is out this year, and the group is playing Bonnaroo and Coachella. We are very confident that Killer Mike and El-P will kick it with us in Zilker Park. Likelihood: 75%
Bassnectar. The Cali mix-master first played ACL Fest in 2009, before any kind of electronic music was a focus at the event. A party-rocking fave among Austin audiences, he played again in 2012 and 2015. His 2020 calendar is pretty sparse at this point, but he hasn’t played Austin since 2016, when he headlined Euphoria Fest, so there should be quite a bit of excitement among his local fans. Likelihood: 80%
Black Pumas. Let’s hear it for the hometown heroes. The rock-and-soul phenoms just added a third Stubb’s show in May after handily selling out the first two. They have an appearance on "The Tonight Show" later this month before they head to the Grammys to face off against Billie Eilish, Lizzo and Lil Nas X for best new artist. We’ll be very surprised if they don’t make their debut appearance at Zilker Park this fall. Likelihood: 87%
The strong maybes
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. Late last year, the former Drive-By Trucker announced plans to spend December in the studio, which means a new album this year is likely. Right now the group has just a smattering of dates on their calendar, but surely a tour is in the works. In the past, Isbell’s opted to play multiple-night stands at top concert halls like ACL Live and Bass Concert Hall instead of large arenas. His last Austin appearance was at Old Settler’s Festival, a far more intimate festival than ACL Fest. Still, he has Bonnaroo and two other festival gigs on his calendar. If there’s any time to bring his powerful message music to the masses, it’s now. Likelihood: 59%
Flume. It’s shaping up to be a big year for the electronic music innovator from Australia. His 2019 release, "Hi This is Flume," is up for a Grammy for best dance/electronic album. He’s headlining Coachella and Bonnaroo. Right now, his 2020 tour roster only has a handful of festival dates. His last ACL Fest appearance was in 2016, and he feels like a solid bet for one of this year’s EDM headliners. Likelihood: 57%
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. The Aussie rockers are playing high-profile sets at both Coachella and Bonnaroo. They’ve never played ACL Fest before, but their last two Austin sets have been at C3-operated Stubb’s Amphitheater. Their current North American tour is a run of spring dates that’s missing a southern leg. Likelihood: 62%
DaBaby. The only thing that could have made Lizzo’s epic ACL Fest set last year bigger would have been an appearance by the red-hot rapper, who joined her for his "Truth Hurts" remix verse at Made in America Fest a month earlier. There was no reason for the North Carolina rapper to drop in last year, but now he’s on the lineup for Coachella and Bonnaroo. The only Texas date on the first leg of his North American tour is a March 20 stop in Corpus Christi. He’s no stranger to South by Southwest — in 2017, he roamed the streets of Austin wearing nothing but a diaper — and a few open dates on his schedule might indicate a pop-in on the March madness. The biggest thing that could preclude an ACL Fest appearance is a headline spot at Jmblya 2020. Likelihood: 47%
Megan Thee Stallion. No one owes us an ACL Fest set more than the head hot girl, who missed her set last year. Festival organizers told the American-Statesman that the Houston rapper, whose career was skyrocketing, "did not leave her hotel until after her scheduled time and didn’t arrive on time to perform." This year, she’s on the lineups for Coachella and Bonnaroo. Would the festival book her again? Would the hotties trust her enough to show up if they do? Possibly. It’s also very possible that ACL Fest will pass and Hot Girl Meg will take top billing at Jmblya. Likelihood: 45%
Miley Cyrus. Sure, we pegged the pop superstar as an ACL Fest possibility last year and turned out to be wrong. But 2019 was a turbulent year for Cyrus, including a divorce, vocal cord surgery and the delay of her expected release, "She Is Miley Cyrus." Does a Bonnaroo appearance bode well for an ACL Fest set this year? Maybe. Likelihood: 42%
Sorry friends, not this year
Frank Ocean. We desperately want to believe the Coachella headliner might play ACL Fest. We really, really do. But we’ve been burned by many a SXSW pop-up that never manifested. We dare not lead you down the path of thousands of Camp Flog Gnaw attendees who made the wrong bet on the fest’s surprise headliner last year. After rumors of an Ocean appearance proved false, angry fans booed Drake off the stage at the L.A. fest. If Flog Gnaw organizer Tyler the Creator couldn’t secure a headline spot from his old Odd Future homie, I doubt we’ll fare much better. Likelihood: 15%
Tool. There are still tickets available for the L.A. rockers’ Erwin Center show on Jan. 21, which makes it unlikely the L.A. rockers, who headline one night of Bonnaroo, will be back at Zilker. Likelihood: 17%
Travis Scott. The Houston rap superstar last played the fest in 2018, when he was bumped into the Saturday night headliner spot after a foot injury forced Childish Gambino to cancel. That reason alone would eliminate him as a 2020 headliner, but beyond that, Scott’s fall calendar is now dominated by his own Astroworld Festival in Houston. Likelihood: 5%