The festival future is female
Here’s a fun bit of Austin City Limits Music Festival trivia: How many women have headlined the fest over the years?
Let’s take a minute to count them.
Oh hey, that was fast.
In its 16-year history, the Austin City Limits Music Festival has had exactly seven female-fronted acts as headliner. Emmylou Harris helped lead the festival in 2002, its first year, followed by Sheryl Crow, two years later in 2004. Icelandic art-pop provocateur Björk was on the top tier in 2007 followed by Alison Krauss (who shared her headline set with rock legend Robert Plant) in 2008, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in 2009 and M.I.A. in 2010.
After that, ACL’s lineups go very dude-heavy. Between 2011 and 2018, the only female-fronted act to close out one of the festival’s two big stages is Florence + the Machine, who played the second weekend in 2015. During that same period, ACL Fest booked 48 male headliners.
We understand that there’s a complex formula of tour schedules, ticket sale potential and budget restrictions that dictates who ends up at the top of a major festival lineup, but still, we feel ACL Fest can do better.
The good news is, this year’s lineup has a very strong roster of female artists on the second and third tiers of the lineup. Here are six acts with potential to ascend to the top spots over the next few years.
1. Janelle Monae (4 p.m. Sunday, American Express). With her long-established “ArchAndroid” persona, Monae’s daring dance pop has always existed within the realm of science fiction, but she upped the ante when she dropped “Dirty Computer” this year. Her first album in five years was accompanied by a 48-minute “emotion picture” about a dystopian world where nonconformist humans (Dirty Computers) must be cleansed. Through the metaphor of her character’s fight to save her own humanity the album comes to life as a celebration of femininity, sexual freedom and American diversity. She executed the video with dazzling technicolor theatricality we’d love to see recreated on stage after dark.
2. St. Vincent (7:30 p.m. Saturday, Miller Lite). Technology vs. humanity was also a motif when 35-year-old art pop savant Annie Clark played ACL Live earlier this year. Dressed in bright orange, thigh-high stiletto boots with an artfully cut bodysuit to match, Clark took the stage as the guitar-wielding anime heroine leading the fight. She unleashed furious licks, standing in front of a “Tron"-like LED panel that occasionally burst into flurries of strobes in a performance that was both visually stunning and viscerally fierce.
3. Camila Cabello (6:30 p.m. Sunday, American Express). Sure, Cabello is only 21, so this might feel like a premature call, but in the two years since she left the girl group Fifth Harmony, her career has exploded. The Cuban-American singer-songwriter’s debut album “Camila” landed at the top of the Billboard 200 chart when it dropped in January and since then, the sultry lead single “Havana” has racked up over a billion (yes, with a b) spins on Spotify. The video for “Havana” took the top trophy at the VMAs this year and she’s up for five awards at the American Music Awards next month. Her star is rising fast.
4. Chvrches (6:30 p.m. Saturday, Honda). Onstage, the Scottish trio’s defiant dance tracks explode in a glitter bomb of shimmering synths, sweeping lyricism and raw passion that sends ripples of heady emotion through massive crowds. We also think the band deserves extra lineup-boosting points for lead singer Lauren Mayberry’s tireless resistance to misogyny in the music industry. Give the lady some pyrotechnics already.
5. Sylvan Esso (7:30 p.m. Sunday, Homeaway). Much to the chagrin of guitar enthusiasts, musical trends over the past decade have elevated hip-hop and electronic music over the power chord rumbles of the past. But with the clear emotion in Amelia Meath’s earnest voice laid over quirky trip hop beats from her husband and producer Nick Sanborn, the electro duo has found a musical formula that even grouchy old rockers can appreciate.
6. Tinashe (5 p.m. Sunday, Miller Lite). This one's another early call, but the smoky R&B artist thrilled audiences at South by Southwest this year with a tightly synchronized dance team who lit a fire behind her blunted soul. In the months since, she hasn’t been resting on her choreographic laurels. Instead, the 25-year-old singer and dancer is shifting her slick moves into battle mode with a turn on the reality show competition “Dancing with the Stars,” where she earned the highest score of the night on the show’s glitzy season premiere in September.