By now it should be clear that Austin should never doubt Gary Clark Jr.
Okay, so when our hometown hero took the American Express Stage just before sunset on Saturday at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, the crowd was not the jam-packed scene Clark probably deserved in a homecoming after one of the best years an Austin musician ever had. This was no surprise, really: Everyone knew that this year's ACL Fest it-kid, Billie Eilish, would draw massive throngs across Zilker Park on the Honda Stage.
Clark was undeterred. "Austin, how we doin' besides hot?" he 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. Searing guitar solos, plus a guest turn by local rapper Kydd Jones on "Feeling Like a Million," led to a midsection in which Clark brought things down a bit for a couple of slower tunes from the new record, then back up to fever pitch with the punk-fueled rocker "Gotta Get Into Something."
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. Happy to be back home after a long year of touring — he told us earlier in the day in an Austin360 Radio interview that he and wife Nicole are expecting their third child — Clark planted the seed that sowed the crowd's energy, then drew from it as he drove the show home.
His falsetto reached high on "Pearl Cadillac," a lovely tribute to his parents that brought the set almost to a close. One last perfect touch: He brought out the Peterson Brothers, one of many Austin acts he's taken out on tour with him over the past few years, for a blazing rendition of the Beatles' "Come Together," which he recorded for a movie soundtrack a couple of years ago. It echoed both Paul McCartney's appearance on this same stage at last year's ACL Fest, and a set across the park earlier in the day by Brittany Howard, who finished with the Beatles' "Revolution."
"Once again, it's good to be home," he concluded as the sun finally sank below the western horizon when the song reached its end. "I'll see y'all somewhere gettin' tacos or something."
We'll be there, Gary, wherever you are.