Austin City Limits Music Festival 2020 will be a free streaming event on the festival’s YouTube channel that includes replays of ACL sets from past years, alongside a few new performances.
The broadcasts will run from 7 p.m. to midnight on Oct. 9-11. Not up for five hours of couch-festing each evening? Here’s a six-pack of picks from our critics:
Deborah Sengupta Stith’s picks
Willie Nelson, 9:39 p.m. Friday, archive performance. The Red Headed Stranger’s sublime sunset performance from 2016 will warm your heart and kindle your Texas pride.
Billie Eilish, 11:15 p.m. Friday, archive performance. Good luck getting the kids to bed early. Delivering her sophisticated pop noir with self-assured individuality, Eilish’s ACL Fest sets proved she’s the tween idol our young girls need.
Black Pumas, 8:30 p.m. Saturday, new performance. In an era of pervasive hopelessness and hurt, Austin’s breakout sensations make soaring music to soothe your soul.
St. Vincent, 10:05 p.m. Saturday, archive performance. Annie Clark’s 2018 ACL Fest sets were brilliant explorations of sexual power dynamics, analog emotion in the digital age and the potency of passion when it finally breaks free.
Gary Clark Jr., 9:40 p.m. Sunday, archive performance. No one puts the Austin in ACL better than Gary Clark Jr. With fiery licks and sweet falsetto, he reminded us last year why he’s our hometown hero. Then, to close his set, he brought out blues upstarts the Peterson Brothers and dynamic rap duo Blackillac for a thunderous cover of the Beatles classic "Come Together" that felt like ATX history. Bonus points if you tune in early for the triple threat of new performances from emerging Austin talent from Los Coast (7:50 p.m.), Mobley (8 p.m.) and Jackie Venson (8:55 p.m.).
The XX,11 p.m. Sunday, archive performance. Let’s be honest, you probably skipped their 2017 set to catch Jay-Z. While their textured dream pop might not have been the right way to close a night of festing in Zilker Park, it’s a lovely way to close a weekend at home, cuddled up with someone you love.
Peter Blackstock’s picks
Paul McCartney, 10:15 p.m. Sunday, archive performance. If you were there in 2018, you’ll want to watch it again. If you weren’t, this is a great opportunity to see that special moment you missed -- arguably the pinnacle of ACL Fest’s 18 years in Zilker Park.
Willie Nelson, 9:39 p.m. Friday, archive performance. I actually wasn’t at this one, opting for a smaller-stage set by Amanda Shires in what was a tough choice. (Hey, I get to see Willie a lot.) So it’s nice to have a chance to see what I missed, four years later.
Mélat, 7:55 p.m. Friday, new performance. One of several shows filmed recently at Austin park locations, this one was done at Zilker Botanical Gardens, which sounds like a great setting for this rising local star whose music blends pop, R&B and other genres with style and substance.
Spoon, 8:50 p.m. Friday, archive performance. The hometown heroes’ most recent appearance at the fest featured a great set, though we’ll tune in partly just to see if the camera crew caught what happened right before they took the stage: a skydiving team dropped into Zilker from above while the sound system blasted Tom Petty’s "Free Fallin’," just a few days after Petty died.
Alabama Shakes, 7 p.m. Sunday, archive performance. Frontwoman Brittany Howard had a breakout performance on her own at last year’s ACL Fest, but this set revisits her chart-topping band’s much-talked-about 2015 visit, which included a taping of the "Austin City Limits" TV show in addition to two Zilker performances. With the Shakes on hold while Howard stretches out on her own, this should be a nice reminder of the band’s power and chemistry.
My Morning Jacket, 11:35 p.m. Sunday, archive performance. Has it really been nine years since MMJ — which has a large and devoted Austin fan base — played the festival? They’ve made many other stops here since then, but seeing them again in Zilker, where they played three of the first 10 ACL Fests, will be a welcome sight.
Wild Card: Barton Hills Choir. This one hasn’t been slotted into a date and time yet on the schedule, but the elementary school choir’s performances have been a highlight of the fest for years. They’ll be doing "Flaming Lips’ ’Race for the Prize’ into Wilco's ’Kamera,’ with footage of the kids recording mixed with footage of the festival over the past few years," according to choir director Gavin Tabone.
The first (and hopefully only) virtual rendition of ACL Fest will largely be a curated selection of excerpts from past festival sets. Peruse our reviews from the archive to preview the event.
Paul McCartney (2018)
What we said: "For a couple of hours, Sir Paul made it feel like everyone was together. A massive crowd started gathering at the American Express stage on the east side of the park about an hour before McCartney and his band went on at 7:45 p.m., and very few people left until the final note of the "Abbey Road" side two suite rang out just past 10 p.m. … At 76, Sir Paul sometimes strains to hit the high notes, and he punctuates each song with a ginger little jig befitting someone his age. McCartney has loved music the way the 18th-century classical masters did, and he’s left us with that level of legacy." — Peter Blackstock
What we said: "The Abingdon, England, rockers -- (Thom) Yorke, Colin and Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, Philip Selway, and touring second drummer Clive Deamer of Portishead — excel at tweaking dials and honing in on humanity’s soul. At ACL, the band can make you stare at the void in self-reflective despair, then swiftly thrill with the warm, vibrant guitars of 2007′s ‘Bodysnatchers.’
"Twenty-three years since debut release ‘Pablo Honey,’ it’s a stunningly crafted two-hour best-of that leans on the heft of opening and closing album tracks like ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out),’ and encores like sprawling suite ‘Paranoid Android.’" — Ramon Ramirez
Billie Eilish (2019)
What we said: "Eilish’s brand is Halloween chic, spooky memelord, dancing because the boomers let the world burn and then hid the water buckets. Her talent’s not just branding, though. It’s entertaining. She moves with ease and commands an army with an expression. Her shoulder only shrugs on one side, and she flicks her green press-on nails like she’s studying for her Hogwarts A-levels. (It’s cooler than that sounds. Sorry, I’m 30.) Her voice is pure and haunting, but she’s not afraid to go torchy or droning. When Billie Eilish tells you to open up multiple mosh pits in a crowd packed tighter than canned ham, it just kinda happens. ‘Wider,’ she says. Don’t make her flick a nail again." — Eric Webb
» RELATED: ’Bad Guy’ Billie Eilish is the pop distruptor young girls need
Willie Nelson (2016)
What we said: "Trigger and Willie, who’ve obviously been down the road with each other more than a few times, shot out of the gate with ‘Whiskey River’ and ‘Still Is Still Moving To Me.’ The sweet fight in Willie’s voice was unmistakable. The tumbling twang of his strings, even if I hadn’t heard them from guitar to ear before, lit up deeply felt memories of a Texas life, from Gruene Hall trips to Hays County fairs at Christmas to radio waves in my grandpa’s truck on trips from Round Rock to Luling. Even the clouds of pot smoke tasted just like I’d always hoped they would." — E.W.
St. Vincent (2018)
What we said: "The artist spoke to the audience several times during her set, calling it a ‘miracle’ that she and her band and the audience were all together. No matter what’s happening outside in the world, she said, ‘this moment’s ours.’ And she made it hers, playing and moving and singing and sweating with precision and passion, throwing her whole body into flaming solos on her unique, brilliantly colored geometric guitars." — Kayleigh Hughes
What we said: "It’s much to the indie-rock band’s credit that although co-founders Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno are hitting middle age, their fan base still stretches well into a younger generation. Many 20-somethings danced and sang along as the band reeled off 13 songs from their past five albums, including four off this year’s ‘Hot Thoughts.’ It helps that Daniel and Eno have been keen on recruiting younger players into the band’s ever-shifting lineup over the years. Gerardo Larios (formerly of Austin band Money Chicha) and Alex Fischel, the group’s most recent additions, largely laid the foundation with mood-setting keyboard work. Daniel punched through the haze with cutting vocal and guitar leads as Eno and bassist Rob Pope, who’s been with the group for 10 years, kept precise and often thunderous time." — P.B.
LCD Soundsystem (2010)
What we said: We might not have written up their 2010 set, but their 2016 performance was a fave. "LCD Soundsystem threw the kind of party on the Honda stage that breaks your heart just to make you feel you better. ... It was the kind of sensory spectacle -- laser guns, drum machines, the complexity of human relationships -- that makes you love the stranger standing next to you." — E.W.
My Morning Jacket (2011)
Like everyone else in Zilker Park that night, our attention was focused on Stevie Wonder. The band was "really, really devastated" when they learned that they were booked opposite the R&B legend, MMJ lead singer Jim James told the American-Statesman before their set that year. Here’s your opportunity to experience one of the most overlooked sets in ACL Fest history.
The XX (2017)
What we said: Speaking of overlooked sets, the band shared their set time with Jay-Z. "The XX’s headlining set brought a lot of flashing lights and hit straight for the heart. It was the anti-turn-up, where a mellow romance like ‘Say Something Loving’ is the closest to a stadium singalong. Plenty of folks danced with their eyes closed, trance-like. If that’s your ACL bag, you wouldn’t get that vibe from ‘99 Problems.’
"This was truly a safe space for the wayward sad kids, electro fans and romantics: ‘I mean it when I say we have so much love for your city,’ (singer/guitarist Romy Madley) Croft said at one point." — E.W.
Gary Clark Jr. (2019)
What we said: "‘Austin, how we doin’ besides hot?’ Clark asked with a smile early on, before adding a sincere ‘It’s good to see you.’ From the opening anthem ‘Bright Lights Big City’ through a set built mainly on 2019′s groundbreaking album ‘This Land,’ Clark pressed forward resolutely, gradually gaining momentum along the way. … As the sun sank to the horizon, the scene turned into a good-vibes party of mutual respect between the audience and Clark, whose 13-strong backing band spiked with horns and backup singers gave him spot-on support throughout. — P.B.
Sylvan Esso (2018)
What we said: "Throngs of faithful fans sang and danced along up front as Nick Sanborn spun sound beds on his keyboard for partner Amelia Meath to sing over, weaving spells of enchantment on tunes including ‘Hey Mami’ from their self-titled 2014 debut to ‘Radio’ from last year’s follow-up ‘What Now.’ It’s impressive how much devotion Sylvan Esso draws from such a minimalist production. A great dancer, Meath inspired the crowd to groove along with her sleek moves. — P.B.
Alabama Shakes (2015)
What we said: We didn’t do a full review of Alabama Shakes’ festival set, but we caught their "Austin City Limits" taping a night earlier. "Howard is a force of nature. She channels spirits when she performs — Janis Joplin, an old Southern preacher, thousands of unnamed voices who howl in agony over love lost and never regained. Her face contorts as the raw, unbridled emotion moves through her. Her body convulses. Just when you think she might actually explode she shifts her energy downward, driving into her hands as she viciously shreds her guitar. The effect is exhilarating." — Deborah Sengupta Stith
» RELATED: Alabama Shakes’ stardom wasn’t a given, but the band has fully earned it
What we said: "It’s easy to see why the international star grabs fans from all walks of life despite any language barriers. His charisma, guitar skills (let’s not forget Juanes used to be a metal head) and showmanship all work together to bring unforgettable polished performances." — Nancy Flores
What we said: We didn’t review this one, but we did catch the French rock stars at the fest in 2013. "You see, there are two different bands named Phoenix. One makes très cool modern disco tunes perfect for popular consumption. The other powers through flashy, pulse-pounding New Wave rock perfect for popular consumption. To the delight of all packed into the sardine tin called the Bud Light stage on Sunday night, both Phoenixes showed up in full force." — E.W.
What we said: "I am not ashamed to admit that I went to more than my fair share of Phish shows back in the mid-'90s. The Grateful Dead helped introduce me to improvisational music — which led to my nascent interest in jazz — but Phish really extended my appreciation for improvisation, introducing me to a wide range of contemporary bands. Following a decade that included an extended hiatus and what seemed to be the end of the band, the Vermont quartet is back in full force. With their set chock full of mostly older classics, they might not have inspired me to drop everything and pack up my car and hit the road, but they did give me a thrill on Night 1 of the fest." — Matthew Odam
Oops, we were busy with other sets and missed the Bay Area house music heavyweight.
Twenty One Pilots (2015)
What we said: "Skeleton pajamas and ski masks. A drummer in a hoodie with alien headgear. Red risers and a red microphone cord strewn from a crane. Black body paint. Post-Sublime stoner raps perpetually undercut by guttural pop choruses.
"Columbus, Ohio, duo Twenty One Pilots is trying. The act — Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun — exists at the intersection between 311, the emo sugar of their Fueled By Ramen labelmates, and an admirable weirdo desire to forge a lane with floral-print coats, dusty upright pianos, and ‘woah’-soaked call-and-response hooks. It’s cheerful stuff that lands blows with the occasional reggae groove bolstered by Dun’s pummeling kit."— R.R.
Queens of the Stone Age (2013)
What we said: "Since slapping together the first incarnation of the hard rock band Queens of the Stone Age in 1996, Queens singer/leader/guitarist/sole constant member/very tall guy Josh Homme has been turning a certain kind of minimalism into a certain kind of maximalism.
"His riffs are usually simple and circular, the music often ovoid in shape, big guitars and sometimes keyboards abound. The maximalism comes in when he has three guitars playing tiny variations on those riffs, leads and solos popping out of the tune and then sliding back in.
"The quintet cranked through a rock solid hour and a half of maximalist music, reaching back to their 2002 breakout album ‘Songs for the Deaf’ and playing a large amount of material from (2013’s) ‘...Like Clockwork.’" — Joe Gross
String Cheese Incident (2003)
What we said: To preview the band’s second ACL Fest appearance (they also headlined a year earlier, during the festival’s debut run), we noted, "These Boulder, Colo., noodlers tap into the spirit of the Grateful Dead, mixing elements of bluegrass and funk as if they came from the same source."
Durand Jones and the Indications (2018)
What we said: "The band, which began at the University of Indiana’s school of music, flipped classical training into DIY basement buzz in the past two years — and it has the goods. Jones is more than just a spin-kicking James Brown impressionist. And he kept our attention Saturday, having to compete with frequent cheering from the adjacent craft beer tent that was playing the Texas-Oklahoma game." — R.R.
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats (2016)
What we said: "Early in the show, Rateliff assessed his enormous ACL crowd: ‘Man, there’s a lot of you! In the sun! Lots of white people getting burned out there.’ Sunburned or not, the crowd seemed in good spirits, especially excited to hear ‘Shake’ and radio hit ‘S.O.B.’ … Rateliff and band threw themselves into the performance like the greats, with bruising tambourine, intense facial expressions, and coordinated dancing by the horn and sax players." — Erin J. Walter