Once upon a time, country and Americana acts were plentiful on the Austin City Limits Music Festival schedule. Much like the TV show that spawned the fest, trad-roots musical genres were pretty much a starting point, before conscious moves toward a larger fan base pushed the horizons much broader.
As such, Kentuckian Tyler Childers' 3:30 p.m. set on the American Express stage felt somewhat like a throwback to ACL Fest circa 2003. Backed by a five-piece band that included fiddle and steel guitar, Childers bounded through an hourlong set that was heavy on backwoods twang and boot-scootin' honky-tonk, even if it's hard for boots to scoot across the Zilker Park grass.
A strong singer with a no-nonsense approach to live performance, Childers used his time on the big stage well, charging through one song after another without wasting time on banter. Almost all the words he spoke to the audience involved introductions of his bandmates scattered throughout the set, a good move as they offered superb support throughout on electric guitar, pedal steel, fiddle, keyboards, bass and drums.
A healthy if not huge crowd likely included some Guns N' Roses fans who staked out territory early, but many were clearly Childers fans who sang along to songs such as "Country Squire" and "Feathered Indians." Projected behind the band was a colorful country-psychedelic image, with a three-eyed eyed goat sitting in a field next to a trailer and a barn behind a multicolored dayglo sky that included both the sun and the moon.
That image was more evocative than most of Childers' material, which is sturdy but unspectacular. He's very good at what he does, but Texans can hear such hard-country fare most any weekend in roadhouses and dancehalls across the state. Still, at a festival now dominated by pop, hip-hop, EDM and other more modern styles, Childers' set felt like a breath of fresh air. Sometimes it's all about context.