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Who should I see at ACL Fest 2021? Austin360's official guide to the lineup

Let's cut to the chase. There wasn't an Austin City Limits Music Festival last year, and it returns to Zilker Park this year for two weekends, Oct. 1-3 and 8-10. You're overwhelmed with decisions, we know. So, we made them for you.

Here's what acts to see at ACL Fest. Find full coverage at austin360.com.

What to see at ACL Fest on Friday

Peter Blackstock's picks

1 p.m. Asleep at the Wheel (Honda): The only band to play every single ACL Fest is also the only Austin band that has existed for 50 years and is still going strong. Ray Benson’s group will celebrate its golden anniversary later this month at Waterloo Park, but in the meantime, catch them in their traditional festival-kickoff slot.

2:30 p.m. Joy Oladokun (Lady Bird): Daughter of Nigerian immigrants, Nashville-based Oladokun has earned widespread praise for her two-volume set “In Defense of My Own Happiness,” released last year and this year. She’s gotten enough attention for the emotional impact of her songs that she scored a coveted “Austin City Limits” TV taping while she’s in town.

Tkay Maidza performs at the Waterloo Records day party during South by Southwest in 2017. She's on this year's ACL Fest lineup.

5 p.m. Tkay Maidza (T-Mobile): A native of Zimbabwe who now lives in Australia, this eclectic 25-year-old artist blends hip-hop, synth pop and more on the three volumes of her “Last Year Was Weird” EP series released across the last three years. (And those years have all been weird enough that we fully endorse the extended series.)

6 p.m. Surprise Performance (Tito’s): Austin’s Black Pumas and Houston’s Megan Thee Stallion, twin Texas titans of recent stardom, anchor the two big stages at this hour. Nestled between, in the Tito’s Handmade Vodka tent, is a slot labeled simply “Surprise Performance.” Might be worth showing up at the start, just out of curiosity and the chance for something special. If it turns out to be not your thing, head east or west for the marquee sets (or to the adjacent food booths at dinner hour).

8 p.m. George Strait (Lady Bird): Will the country legend’s die-hard fans that sell out the Erwin Center every time he plays there go to Zilker for his first-ever ACL Fest show? Or will it be more a case of younger-generation festivalgoers checking out this dude their parents and grandparents listen to? Our guess is a mix of both, but we’re intrigued to find out. Either way, it’s a lock that Strait will deliver a fine performance that stays faithful to the way his hits sound on the radio.

Never seen King George live? ACL Fest is your chance. George Strait headlines Friday night.

Deborah Sengupta Stith's picks

1 p.m. Nané (Lady Bird): Your new favorite Austin band wants to sweep you up in glorious swells of sound, rock your body and start your fest right. 

1:45 p.m. Claud (Vrbo): We’ve got a “Soft Spot” for the Chicago singer-songwriter’s thoroughly charming bedroom pop. 

3:15 p.m. Skip Marley (Miller Lite) A third-generation Marley who’s emerging as the heir apparent to his grandfather’s crown.

5 p.m. Tkay Maidza (T-Mobile):  A Zimbabwean Australian rapper singer who can spit fierce bars over an Afro house groove then slay a cover of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind”? 

5 p.m. Moses Sumney (Miller Lite): Whether the Ghanaian American crooner is draping his silky falsetto over rich orchestral soundbeds or quiet acoustic soul, he creates enchanting sonic adventures.   

Black Pumas perform on Night 1 of a run of five sold-out shows at Stubb's BBQ on May 26.

6 p.m. Megan Thee Stallion (Honda) or Black Pumas (Lady Bird): Oh gods of impossible festival choices, what hath thou wrought? Will you revel in the yonic power of a modern-day sex goddess who will make you feel yourself in all the right ways, or lay down your burdens and lift your spirits with the most life-affirming rock & soul outfit in the world?

7 p.m. Chet Faker (Miller Lite): The Australian singer-songwriter artfully weaves wistful nostalgia into modern electronica. Exhibit A: his downtempo take on “No Diggity.” 

8 p.m. Miley Cyrus (Honda): Wait, you’re going to skip a legitimate Texas legend for a set that will almost surely end with “Party in the U.S.A.”? Look, Miley’s evolution from child superstar to unrepentant party girl to powerful artist with genuine maturity and depth is one of the most fascinating pop transformations of my lifetime. I’m in. 

Eric Webb's picks

1 p.m. Nané (Lady Bird): On the record, I think Nané and frontman Daniel Sahad are poised for a good ol’ fashioned breakout this year. Soulful and full of energy — and blessed with Sahad‘s instantly iconic hair — the band’s ready for the biggest stages. For months, I thought their song “Always On My Mind” was Brittany Howard every time I heard it on the radio before I knew better, which is about as high of praise as I can think of. Nané plays at noon on the Miller Lite stage for Weekend 2. 

Nané performs on May 21 at the Paramount Theatre. The rising Austin act will play ACL Fest this year.

2:30 p.m. Nothing, Nowhere (Honda): Scratch your emo itch with Joe Mulherin, who takes influences from his youth like Sunny Day Real Estate and American Football and synthesizes all those feelings into SoundCloud-ready confessions. Maybe the only artist at ACL with a song that references “Danny Phantom”? Weekend 1 only. 

4 p.m. Machine Gun Kelly (Honda): Join me in my morbid/rabid fascination toward this long, loud man, who pivoted from making just-fine rap to, last year, putting out one of my favorite recent pop-punk albums, “Ticket to My Downfall.” Plus, if you’re invested in Pete Davidson, there’s a not-zero chance he pops up, too.  

ACL Fest schedule by day:Black Pumas vs. Megan Thee Stallion and more tough choices

5 p.m. Tkay Maidza (T-Mobile): For fans of AlunaGeorge or Junglepussy, this rapper and singer might be just the ticket. Weekend 1 only. 

5 p.m. Moses Sumney (Miller Lite): Sumney was captivating when he played the small tent at ACL Fest in 2019. This R&B/soul shapeshifter, a friend of Sufjan Stevens, will be a nice breather for your first day. 

6 p.m. Megan Thee Stallion (Honda): Real hot girl s—. After her aborted booking in 2019, I thought we might never see Meg in Zilker Park. But few have had a higher rise in the two years since than this fierce lyricist and charismatic force: Grammys like whoa, a culture-defining “Saturday Night Live” appearance, a hosting gig on HBO Max’s fun “Legendary,” an excellent album with “Good News,” everything about “W.A.P.” … gonna be hard to get a spot here, y’all.  

Miley Cyrus headlines Summerfest on Sept. 17 in Milwaukee. The pop superstar will headline the first night of ACL Fest.

8 p.m. Miley Cyrus (Honda): Listen, as someone who has an indelible memory of hurtling down the highway and being excited to hear “See You Again” on the radio back in the “Hannah Montana” days, I feel qualified to say that it’s about time we see Miley on the headliner stage. Whether it’s the hits era of “Wrecking Ball,” the sea-salt chill of the “Malibu” period or her current Joan Jett cosplay with songs like “Midnight Sky,” the lady’s got great pop tunes and knows how to put on a show.   

What to see at ACL Fest on Saturday

Peter Blackstock's picks

1 p.m. Sir Woman (Tito’s): A couple of years into the run of this band that began as Kelsey Wilson’s side-project to the beloved indie group Wild Child, we’re getting the sense that Sir Woman may be pulling a Shinyribs, akin to when Kevin Russell’s current band ultimately overshadowed and outlasted his long-running outfit the Gourds. It’s too early to tell for sure, but for now, just revel in the soulful pop vein she’s mining with this sprawling ensemble.

Kelsey Wilson of Sir Woman performs at Mohawk in 2019. She'll take the stage at ACL Fest in October.

2:20 p.m. Surfaces (Honda): Maybe the biggest band ever to come out of College Station, the duo of Forrest Frank and Colin Padalecki delivers party-hearty pop grooves that have connected enough for the band to sell out a recent Stubb’s show. They got so much attention for their early songs "24/7/365" and "Sunday Best" that no less than Elton John joined them on last year’s single "Learn to Fly."

3:30 p.m. Katie Pruitt (BMI): The Nashville-via-Atlanta Americana singer-songwriter had just released her acclaimed debut album “Expectations” in early 2020 when the pandemic hit. But she’d already turned heads in Austin with live performances during South by Southwest and elsewhere. Expect Pruitt to be a solid draw at the smaller BMI stage, which typically features worthy up-and-coming acts.

4:30 p.m. Phoebe Bridgers (Lady Bird): Nominated for best new artist at the Grammys earlier this year (she lost to fellow ACL Fest act Megan Thee Stallion), the Los Angeles indie singer-songwriter is one of the festival’s hottest rising stars. She’s released just two albums, but both are of a quality that suggests Bridgers is a long-term career artist. She’ll also tape the “Austin City Limits” TV show on Oct. 7.

5:20 p.m. Missio (VRBO): After breaking big out of the gate with the single “Middle Fingers” a few years ago, the Austin electronica duo of Matthew Brue and David Butler quickly broadened their horizons with the impressive album “The Darker the Weather / The Better the Man” in 2019. This year’s “Skeletons,” the third in a series of EPs, includes an abbreviated recast of the Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize.”

6:20 p.m. Modest Mouse (Honda): One of the Pacific Northwest’s best-known indie-rock bands for nearly three decades, Modest Mouse returned this summer with “The Golden Casket,” its first album in six years. The lineup has shuffled a bit across the decades, but singer-guitarist Isaac Brock remains the band’s guiding creative force.

Breakout Austin indie-rock artist Dayglow, aka Sloan Struble, will bring pop joy to ACL Fest.

7:30 p.m. Dayglow (VRBO): It seems significant to me that among the three of us who write regularly about a broad range of music for the Statesman/Austin360, all of us appreciate Dayglow. Sloan Struble’s pop explorations while at the University of Texas have exploded into a full-blown career that has brought him from a small-stage appearance at ACL Fest 2019 to this much higher-profile slot.

Deborah Sengupta Stith's picks

12:50 p.m. Amber Mark (Lady Bird): A smoky voice, smooth R&B grooves seasoned with splashes of bossa nova and hints of disco, and the most sensual cover of “Thong Song” you’ll ever hear. Sounds like everything you need to start your Saturday right. 

1:35 p.m. Yendry (BMI): With sly sexiness and a voice that aches with emotion, the Dominican Italian singer is on the verge of a global breakout.  

2 p.m. Moziah (Tito’s): Sunny hip-hop and R&B rich with unexpected flourishes and soaring soulful vocals. 

3:20 p.m. AG Club (Miller Lite): The Bay Area hip-hop group flexes their crew power with styles that run the gamut from melodic and introspective to vaguely menacing.

4:20 p.m. Phoebe Bridgers (Lady Bird): The folk-rock standout’s set falls smack dab in the middle of a full day of female artists on the skyline stage. What a time to be alive. 

5:20 p.m. Gina Chavez (BMI): A jubilant Latin pop interlude. 

Billie Eilish introduces a performance by Foo Fighters at the MTV Video Music Awards at Barclays Center on Sept. 12.

6:20 p.m. Doja Cat (Lady Bird): Rising from the bovine basement of the internet to become a chart-topping pop star, the singer/rapper’s excellent 2021 release “Planet Her” is a Lil Nas X-level argument for the long-term viability of viral sensations.  

7:20 p.m. Dayglow (Vrbo): The genial pop wunderkind and Fred Rogers superfan makes the upbeat therapy pop your pandemic-battered soul needs. 

8:30 p.m. Billie Eilish (Lady Bird): The defiant wordplay of “Therefore I Am” and the rage releasing climax of “Happier Than Ever” will overshadow the downtempo, introspective tunes on the pop superstar’s new album in an ACL Fest set for the ages.

Eric Webb's picks

12:05 p.m. Sun Room (BMI): Beach-rock vibes for your Friday night hangover. A little Best Coast meets Hunx & His Punx meets Parquet Courts, but on muscle relaxers. Weekend 1 only. 

12:50 p.m. Frances Forever (Honda): Speaking of sun, listening to the dreamy Massachusetts mind behind the viral hit “Space Girl” is a great way to keep easing into Saturday. 

2:20 p.m. girl in red (Lady Bird): In the immortal words of Billy Eichner, let’s go lesbians! Norwegian singer-songwriter Marie Ulven Ringheim’s lush tunes have become synonymous on the internet with queer romance (and heartache), and they go much harder than they seem to at first blush. 

Remi Wolf opens for Cautious Clay at the Scoot Inn in 2019. She'll play ACL Fest this year.

3:20 p.m. Remi Wolf (T-Mobile): Liiiterally dare you to listen to any song by this California funk-pop trickster and not smile from ear to ear and then back to the other ear again. (Sorry, gross.) Listen to “Monte Carlo” for a taste of the funky-funny sauce. 

4:20 p.m. Phoebe Bridgers (Lady Bird): We all know what 4:20 means … time to openly sob in a park, right. With a dedicated fan army of “Pharbz” supporting her, Bridgers has scaled the indie-rock heap in a short order. “Motion Sickness” and “Kyoto” are the bangers, but the slower album cuts kinda make the case that Bridgers is her generation’s Joni Mitchell. (Is that OK to say? We’ll say it.) 

5:20 p.m. Gina Chavez (BMI): Spend your early evening with a fearless talent from right here in Austin. Weekend 1 only. 

6:20 p.m. Doja Cat (Lady Bird): Does anyone write with the kind of spectacularly unhinged wit that Doja does these days? Probably, but they’re not chart-toppers who take over TikTok every time they breathe, like Ms. Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini. 

Doja Cat seems a safe bet to see at ACL Fest, wouldn't you say so?

7:20 p.m. Dayglow (Vrbo): What else can I say about Sloan Struble’s sunny, smart indie pop that we haven’t already written in these pages? The hometown hero’s “Fuzzybrain” made him a rising star, and this year’s “Harmony House” is one of the best albums of the year, an effervescent and wise-before-his-time collection of songs that leave you crying on the dancefloor.

8:30 p.m. Billie Eilish (Lady Bird): Watching the reigning empress of all popular music at ACL Fest in 2019 was like watching a snake charmer in action, except the snakes were all sweaty kids in a park. Honestly, kind of scared to see how much her power has grown by now. 

What to see at ACL Fest on Sunday

Peter Blackstock's picks

12:15 p.m. and 1 p.m. Shooks and Calder Allen (Vrbo and Tito’s): Musical talent often gets passed down through the generations in Austin, as these two acts attest. Charismatic indie band Shooks is fronted by Marlon Sexton, son of Bob Dylan guitarist Charlie Sexton. And troubadour Calder Allen is the grandson of Terry Allen, the great Lubbock songwriter/sculptor. The kids are all right.

More:Olivia Rodrigo is taping 'Austin City Limits' — but chances of getting inside are 'Brutal'

3:30 p.m. Tenille Arts (BMI): There’s typically not much country music at ACL Fest — this year’s George Strait headlining slot being a huge exception — but if you have a hankering for twang, check out this Canadian upstart with the unusual given name (she was born Tenille Jade Dakota Arts). Her third album, “Girl to Girl,” comes out later this month, following on the momentum of her 2019 top 10 country single “Somebody Like That.”

4:30 p.m. Band of Horses (Lady Bird): Formed in Seattle nearly two decades ago but now based in South Carolina, Band of Horses has had some lineup changes in recent years but remains focused on frontman Ben Bridwell’s roots-leaning indie-rock songs. Five years past 2016’s “Why Are You OK,” they seem overdue for a new record; perhaps this set will feature new material.

St. Vincent looks through a camera she took from pit photographer Erik Voake, not pictured, during her performance at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2014.

7:30 p.m. St. Vincent (T-Mobile): Now with two Grammys to her credit, eclectic Dallas musician Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, is one of contemporary music’s most adventurous acts. Early tenures with the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens turned out to be just pit stops for an artist who’s gone on to push the boundaries of pop and rock in fascinating new directions. This year’s “Daddy’s Home” found her working with major-league producer Jack Antonoff (also leader of Bleachers, playing the fest at 4 p.m. Friday).

8:30 p.m. Duran Duran (Honda): So Stevie Nicks dropped out? No problem, here’s another 1980s hit-machine happy to pick up the slack. The English new-wave poster-boys still feature four members of its most productive period in founders Nick Rhodes and John Taylor, singer Simon LeBon and drummer Roger Taylor. Yes, there’s a new album, “Future Past,” coming later this month. But it’s perfectly understandable if you’re there for “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Rio” and the band’s other ’80s MTV staples. 

Duran Duran performs in concert at the Austin360 Amphitheater at Circuit of the Americas on April 22, 2016. They'll headline the final night of ACL Fest this year.

Deborah Sengupta Stith's picks

12:15 p.m. Deezie Brown (Miller Lite): Put the ATX in Austin City Limits for the Screw-country native who wants to move the South forward. 

1:45 p.m. Public Library Commute (BMI): The artist also known as Conrad Hsiang makes breezy pop songs that sound like summer. 

3:30 p.m. Cautious Clay (Miller Lite): If you prefer your indie rock with a double shot of searing soul, this is your jam. 

4:30 p.m. 070 Shake (Tito's): Let the tortured heartbreak of “Guilty Conscience” soundtrack a cathartic release for your deepest regrets.  

Karol G will bring her reggaeton tunes to Austin City Limits Music Festival this fall.

6:30 p.m. Karol G  (Honda): Her Nicki Minaj collab “Tusa” skyrocketed her to international stardom, but the Colombian singer has a whole catalog of reggaeton bangers to take you into the home stretch of this fest. 

7:30 p.m. Tierra Whack (Vrbo): For fans of powerful female artists, this is the toughest conflict of the fest. The Philly rapper’s jaw-dropping versatility and infrequent Austin visits give her a slight edge, but you can’t go wrong with Erykah Badu or St. Vincent either. 

8:30 p.m. Tyler, the Creator (Lady Bird): In the most stunning reversal of the modern music era, the artist who once snidely delivered cupcakes to feminists protesting Odd Future’s homophobic lyrics and graphic descriptions of sexual violence started to rap about kissing boys and unrequited love. His last two albums might be the greatest argument against cancel culture ever made. 

Tyler, the Creator performs at the Scoot Inn during South by Southwest in 2011. He'll headline this year's Austin City Limits Music Festival for both weekends, playing opposite Duran Duran on the schedule.

Eric Webb's picks

12:15 p.m. Jany Green (BMI): An Alaska-to-Los Angeles move inspires this artist’s sublime, sun-inflected dance jams, which makes a great case for outlawing snow. Weekend 1 only. 

1:45 p.m. Public Library Commute (BMI) or Kennyhoopla (T-Mobile): Two great undercard options on this overall-kinda-sleepy Sunday lineup. In Conrad Hsiang’s Public Library Commute, you’ll get sweet and pensive dreamcore. In Kenneth La'ron’s KennyHoopla show, you’ll get a pop-punk transfusion straight to your veins. Public Library Commute plays Weekend 1 only. 

More:City approves updated ACL 2021 safety plans which include stage front mask zones

3:30 p.m. Cautious Clay (Miller Lite): I never got to catch this silky-voiced Cleveland native when he took over South by Southwest a couple years ago. God does give second chances, amen. 

4:30 p.m. Band of Horses (Lady Bird): Much like Charles Foster Kane with his sled, my mind is forever chasing the contentedness that filled my heart when I first watched Band of Horses at ACL Fest in college. In my memory, it was golden hour. Was it? Don’t burst my Rosebud-ble. 

6:30 p.m. Greta Van Fleet (Lady Bird) or Trixie Mattel (Tito’s Handmade Vodka): People like to roast Michigan family band Greta Van Fleet, saying their retro-minded take on rock is just a warmed-over Led Zeppelin imitation. Joke’s on you! I did not grow up listening to Led Zeppelin, except for trying to decode the Satanic message in “Stairway to Heaven,” and I think the little curly-haired guy with the high voice in Greta Van Fleet sounds great. Now, for Weekend 2, I must bump them for America’s favorite country/surf rock/drag artist. I cannot imagine that the tent stage will contain the fans of Trixie Mattel, the rare “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestant whose music is actually, like, good.   

Tierra Whack performs at Weekend 2 of the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2019.

7:30 p.m. Tierra Whack (Vrbo): Listen to the Philly phenom’s “Living Single”-referencing verse on Beyonce’s “My Power,” and then let me know where you are standing for her set, and I’ll meet you there. 

8:30 p.m. Duran Duran (Honda) or Tyler, the Creator (Lady Bird): The ol’ cop-out shuffle over here; no apologies. Before the original Sunday headliners evaporated, the Stevie Nicks vs. DaBaby choice was as clear as a moonlit witching hour. Now, I genuinely think this is one of the harder headliner choices to make in a while. Dance in the sand to “Rio” with the hunks of yesteryear or tremble in an “Earfquake” with one of hip-hop's most intriguing groundbreakers. Maybe split your time! 

What's happening with ACL Fest?

Find complete coverage, including the latest health and safety updates, at austin360.com.