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True headliners naturally emerge in ACL Fest of Wonder, West

Staff Writer
Austin 360
My Morning Jacket performs opposite Stevie Wonder on Saturday night at ACL Fest.

When this year's Austin City Limits Music Festival lineup was released, the reaction from many was that Saturday headliner Stevie Wonder was the true headliner for the whole fest and better suited for Sunday night, when he wouldn't have to compete with another act. Sunday headliner Arcade Fire is popular but doesn't have the same far-reaching fan base or the decades of hits and legend status. Despite the difference in stature, the Montreal indie rock act put on a headliner-worthy show to close out the festival Sunday night.

Judging by reports of how small the crowd was for Saturday co-headliner My Morning Jacket — and the people lining up early in front of Stevie's stage — Wonder drew a fest-closing size crowd on Saturday night. It was so large that people who weren't close to the stage had a hard time hearing the legendary singer. Sound was bad enough toward the middle of the crowd and farther back that some fans to decided to leave early. C3 Presents declined to comment on the issue, which sparked a hearty debate, even among our own team covering the fest .

Though the crowd for Arcade Fire on Sunday night wasn't as big as Wonder's Saturday audience, it was filled with passionate fans. Those who chose the Arcade Fire set over going home experienced a band at the peak of its creative energy, delivering one heck of a show. It was a performance that made the May show at the Backyard, also packed with energized versions of songs from the group's three albums, feel average in comparison.

"We love Austin, we love playing here, we had to beg them to let us play and we're happy to be back," lead singer Winn Butler said from the stage. Song after song, that sentiment showed, especially when a supercharged "Month of May" steamed forward like a freight train, and "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" inspired a spontaneous dance party behind the soundboard.

Stevie Wonder said during his set that he would like to play the festival again; here's hoping the same holds true with the Arcade Fire.

Other fest highs and lows:

The headliners: As mentioned above, Sunday headliner the Arcade Fire brought it, but so did first-ever hip-hop headliner Kanye West, whose mixture of talent and absurdity was at worst a spectacle and at best one of the more mesmerizing ACL Fest acts in recent years. Wonder's show was in many ways the opposite of West's. Except for a few moments of political/spiritual banter, Wonder showed why he is so loved, with hits — "Higher Ground," "I Wish," "Superstition" — and inspired covers, including opener "How Sweet It Is" and Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel."

Get on your feet: A surprisingly crazy set from hardcore-musician-turned DJ Sonny Moore, aka Skrillex, had what seemed like the entire crowd at the Google+ stage moving around dinner-time Saturday.

The weather: It rained! Not much, but we'll take what we can get. And the clouds kept things on the cool (well, cool for Austin) side.

Too much fun? The medical tent saw a steady steam of 100-150 patients each day, with the most common issues being "suspected overdose" and dehydration, according to the Austin-Travis County EMS. A few festgoers commented that the event seemed a little more alcohol-fueled than usual, a hard thing to measure, of course.

Scan-a-palooza: Three-day passholders were required to scan their wristbands as they entered and left the park. Leave without scanning and you might get the third degree at a special security table after trying to re-enter. I ended up there Sunday, where people were getting asked about when they had left, what time they had arrived and how long they had been at the fest. Crying happened.