Western swing band Asleep at the Wheel has played every Austin City Limits Music Festival since day one, and the elementary-school Barton Hills Choir has been part of the fest for a decade or so now. The two acts helped kick off the fest with a local flair early Friday afternoon, delighting crowds on the Honda stage an Austin Kiddie Limits stage, respectively.
When the Wheel's "Miles and Miles of Texas" rang out across the grounds at noon, it felt like ACL Fest was officially christened. Two songs in, Wheel leader Ray Benson traded his trademark stetson for a Beto O'Rourke ballcap, as the band launched into a rousing rendition of "Pencil Full of Lead" by Paolo Nutini, a Scottish songwriter who Benson met at ACL Fest many years ago.
They slowed things down for Guy Clark's "Dublin Blues," getting a hearty reaction from the crowd when Benson sang the key line, "I wish I was in Austin, at the Chili Parlor Bar." Much of the set focused on the group's album "New Routes," released last month.
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As the Wheel wound up their set with "Seven Nights to Rock" and "Big Ball's in Cowtown," the Barton Hills Choir was gearing up over at Austin Kiddie Limits, beginning with the Talking Heads classic "Wild Wild Life" to salute David Byrne, who plays the fest at 3:45 p.m. today. But the real highlight was a nod to tonight's headliner, Paul McCartney, as the choir played the extended side two suite of "Abbey Road."
Hey @paulmccartney — the elementary school Barton Hills Choir helped kick off #aclfest today by singing the side 2 suite of #AbbeyRoad. pic.twitter.com/p6SaRMMDDP
— Peter Blackstock (@Blackstock360) October 5, 2018
Judging from recent set lists, we might hear some of that material again at the end of the night when McCartney plays on the American Express stage. But there's nothing quite like hearing it from dozens of kids, with choir leader Gavin Tabone and his band plus guest singer Andy Harn from local band HeartByrne backing them up. "And in the end, the love you make/ Is equal to the love you take," they sang at the end. That's the spirit of ACL Fest today.