From giant-crowd singalongs with Paul McCartney to ubiquitous rockers in Metallica T-shirts to the next-generation celebration of home-state rapper Travis Scott, the Austin City Limits Music Festival swept through two weekends in Zilker Park, finishing Sunday on a steamy afternoon and evening with plenty of sweat and smiles.
The fest closed with the auto-tuned rap antics of Houston titan Travis Scott, who was bumped into the Sunday headline slot when R&B/rap artist Childish Gambino was forced to cancel a week before the festival. English rockers Arctic Monkeys played across the park as ACL wrapped up its 17th edition of the annual extravaganza.
Fans of Metallica, the first metal act ever to headline the fest, showed up early and rocked out hard on both Saturdays of the festival, many traveling from destinations across the state. But, the largest act of both weekends in terms of stature and audience size was McCartney, who crammed more than two hours of Beatles and Wings nuggets into sets that drew massive crowds ranging from teens to seniors and all ages between.
For festival staff, no news is often good news, and the two weekends went off without major disturbances or disruptions. Thunderstorms loomed over each weekend at various times, and gates opened about an hour late on the first Saturday as the tail end of a morning storm cleared out. But, that turned out to be the only delay.
Not that conditions were ideal for festgoers. Heat and saunalike humidity were inescapable both weekends, and overnight rains on Saturday and into Sunday of Weekend Two eventually resulted in enough accumulated water to create lots of muddy patches across the grounds.
More restrictions on bags and other carry-in items went into effect this year, though advance word kept the changes from being a major sticking point at the three entry gates. The tree-shaded Austin Kiddie Limits area once again offered a cooler getaway spot for families, and the relatively new Barton Springs stage — introduced last year on the south side of Barton Springs Road — once again proved to be a welcome addition to the festival’s footprint.
A few more observations about the music:
• Since 2011, ACL Fest has booked 48 male acts and just one woman on the top tier of the lineup, but some of the most talked-about sets of the 2018 fest came from female artists. Performing with radiant positivity and a tightly choreographed dance team, Janelle Monae put in stunning sets both weekend. Guitar-wielding heroine St. Vincent and Scottish electropop trio Chvrches also showed their star potential in evening sets, while singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile made the most of a high-profile Saturday-afternoon slot on one of the two big stages.
• Over the past several years, ACL organizers have diversified the fest’s lineup. Hip-hop and R&B artists including Lil Wayne, Vince Staples and Tinashe constituted a fair portion of this year’s high profile-bookings. A few Latin artists also made a big splash at the fest, with Camila Cabello taking us to “Havana” on Weekend One, Puerto Rican rapper Residente leading a cathartic cumbia punk call for love, and Chilean singer Mon Laferte burning bright as the sun in her Saturday afternoon sets.
• ACL Fest has increasingly trended toward younger attendees for the past decade, though 2018 offered a reminder that older artists still appeal to much of the crowd. Remarkable Friday afternoon sets by David Byrne of Talking Heads fame generated almost as much buzz as McCartney’s night-closing slams, and tons of fans turned up to hear Prince’s band, the Revolution, in the Tito’s tent both weekends.
What’s next for the fest? It’s hard to imagine ACL ever nabbing a bigger-name headliner than McCartney — unless or until Beyoncé opts in. This year, at one point, the fest reportedly almost had Fleetwood Mac, until the ouster of Lindsay Buckingham changed the band’s plans — but that might have pushed the fest too classic-rock, anyway. Could someday Katy Perry or Lady Gaga be a possibility?
See you next year.