About the time powerhouse singer Nicole Atkins and special guest E.B. the Younger of Denton indie band Midlake broke into a slow dance in the middle of Atkins' set early Friday afternoon on the BMI Stage, it felt like weekend two of the Austin City Limits Music Festival was fully on.
Atkins, a frequent visitor to Austin during South by Southwest whose first-ever festival appearance happened here at ACL in 2007, performed with a seven-piece crew including horns and a backup singer. The dance came in the middle of "Too Late," a song Atkins wrote with Tommy Stinson for a record by Stinson's band Bash & Pop. It was the highlight of a wonderful set that made stage-hopping in the early going well worthwhile.
Previously, we'd caught some of Australian singer-songwriter Fatai, who rose to prominence in her home country on its version of the TV show "The Voice." Fatai's YouTube channel features several covers of well-known songs — Friday's set included "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" from the movie "Frozen" and even a jazzed-up take on "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" — but she also broke out a handful of freshly written originals that suggested the 23-year-old may soon have a follow-up to her 2015 debut EP "Undone."
Kicking things off just after the 11 a.m. gate-opening time on the Miller Lite Stage, Austin's own Curtis Roush filled the western fest grounds with pleasantly mellow psychedelic-folk that extended on the work he's done with well-known local band Bright Light Social Hour. A highlight was Sade's "No Ordinary Love," a tune he'd recently recorded and had hinted on social media that he'd perform at the fest.
Somewhere in the midst of all that, we heard just a snippet of engaging Richmond, Va., indie-rocker Natalie Prass on the big American Express Stage, where Paul McCartney will close out Friday's bill at 7:45 p.m. "We're so honored to be here, especially on this stage. You know why," Prass said slyly during her set, and that wasn't just talk. Last week, we spotted Prass out there in the huge crowd that gathered to see Sir Paul. This isn't just work for many ACL Fest artists; it's a labor of love.