With reigning Grammy Album of the Year winner Kacey Musgraves playing on one end of Zilker Park and ’90s rockers Third Eye Blind at the other, pianist Bruce Hornsby and his band the Noisemakers did their best to fill up the middle with a 6 p.m. set in the Tito’s Tent on Sunday at the Austin City Limits Music Festival.
Hornsby’s not without his own Grammy hardware. He’s won three, including the coveted Best New Artist award in 1987. And while he probably remains best-known for “The Way It Is,” the mid-’80s single that launched his career, he’s had an impressive and varied career since then. That long journey was more the focus of this hourlong set, which only scratched the surface of what Hornsby and his band have done, and can do.
A telling comment at the end of “Country Doctor” from his 1995 album “Hot House,” which grew longer with an extended instrumental jam: “We love to play new things in the middle of our songs, and that was a little bit of that.” It’s easy to understand why Hornsby likes to stretch it out, as his five-piece crew might well be the all-around most talented backing band at ACL Fest this year.
Of particular note was drummer Chad Wright, whose lively rhythms helped the ensemble swing marvelously in and around genres including jazz, blues, folk, rock, world beat and more. Emory also stepped out front on washboard when Hornsby switched to dulcimer on a tune from the group’s 2016 album “Rehab Reunion.” Other songs in the set focused on Hornsby’s recent collaborations with Justin Vernon, a.k.a. Bon Iver.
Hornsby, who also played state senator Kirk Watson’s annual fundraiser at Zilker Park on the Thursday before the fest began, will be back in the same time slot for Weekend Two of ACL Fest. He’ll also to town later this month as a guest performer at the sixth annual Austin City Limits Hall of Fame induction ceremony and TV taping, which this year honors Lyle Lovett, Shawn Colvin and Buddy Guy. That show is set for Oct. 24 at ACL Live.