Erykah Badu might be an actual living goddess. Catch her whole set at ACL Fest Weekend 2.
For lovers of strong female performers, the toughest dilemma of Austin City Limits Music Festival Weekend One came at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. St. Vincent, Tierra Whack and Erykah Badu were scheduled to play simultaneous sets. When I asked Amy Corbin, head honcho of ACL programming, the best way to navigate this dilemma, she said, “Wear comfortable shoes.”
Was it really possible to see all three? And if so, was it a good idea? Your faithful correspondent laced up her sneakers and headed out into the field to find out.
St. Vincent, we want you to shred
7:30 p.m. St. Vincent. A sexy guitar lick signals the beginning of the set. But wait, that's not Annie Clark on the six-string. The lights come up to reveal her looking much blonder than she was the last time she played ACL Fest. From a distance, she looks like a '60s flight attendant. With a trio of singers at her back, she sings “Digital Witness.” This is abstract artsy St. Vincent and she’s not grabbing the crowd.
7:37 p.m. She picks up the guitar. Here we go. “Shred, Annie, shred,” I mutter under my breath. She does not shred. Instead she whisper-sings “Down.” This is a slow start and I’m a little bored and antsy.
7:44 p.m. She faces off with her support guitarist and they trade licks. As they settle into a bluesy riff it occurs to me that there are intricate details to this set that I’m missing. People around me are talking. This set seems designed for a club. Does it really work in a festival setting?
7:48 p.m. “New York isn't New York without you love,” she sings wistfully. Oh snap, my favorite St. Vincent song. But also, time to move on. Perhaps this wasn’t the greatest plan, but I’m in it to win it now. I hustle off toward Barton Springs road.
Tierra Whack: whiplash and laughs
7:50 p.m. Tierra Whack is freaking out because she just cursed in front of a child. She brings a little girl onto stage. “Who are you here to see?” she quizzes the child. The child goes nervous mute. “Please say me, please say me,” Whack coaxes her. The child relents and Whack hugs her.
7:52 p.m. The child stowed on the side of the stage, Tierra Whack goes back to her set. “Make some noise if you love your mom!” she shouts. The crowd cheers. “Make some noise if your mom cheated on your dad!” she shouts. More people cheer than probably should. For a few minutes she spits fire then abruptly stops.
7:56 p.m. “Back to ‘Whack World,” she says. As she leans over the front barrier a security guard holds her legs to stabilize her while she plays “Pet Cemetery.” The song is only a minute long, which is good because she decides it’s not working. “I just farted three times. This is not a good position,” she says.
7:58 p.m. “Let's get it turnt,” she says, delivering a quick hit of “Clones.” Then she stops to vibe with the crowd again. The whiplash effect is real, but she is very funny.
8:02 p.m. The lights strobe wildly and Tierra Whack decides she wants to do a controlled yell experiment. She holds her hand low then raises it up asking the crowd to follow her with their volume. She is thoroughly charmed when this goes as planned.
8:05 p.m. She quick mixes through to “Walk the Beat,” crooning about fashion clothes and fancy clothes.
8:08 p.m. Momentum is not a thing in this set, but Tierra Whack is working the audience hard and she’s crazy charming. “This is a lot of good energy. I love this crowd,” she says. There is really no telling what’s going to happen next, but I have one more stop so it’s time to move on.
Erykah Badu: best set of the weekend from an actual living goddess
8:10 p.m. As I arrive at the Miller Lite stage, Erykah Badu is talking about vibrations. This is definitely the biggest crowd of the three I’ve seen. It doesn’t seem particularly windy, but Ms. Badu’s hair and her blouse are billowing behind her. Does she have a fan? Can she conjure spirit energy to flow around her? She has a huge ensemble on stage with her and the sound is divine.
8:13 p.m. “Austin you’re so weird. You're some weird (expletive). Promise me to keep the (expletive) that way,” she says. She sings “Honey,” her backing ensemble clad in matching striped polos and shorts (jumpsuits?). Their voices spin around each other in tight harmonies. This is sonic bliss. Maybe the best thing I’ve heard all weekend.
8:16 p.m. Erykah Badu wants us to know she loves us. She also wants us to know that it’s never too late to change. We could wake up tomorrow morning and decide to do something different and just like that the universe will offer us a new beginning. She tells us we can be like a lotus flower, born anew every morning and shrinking to death each evening. The crowd goes wild as she slides into “Tyrone,” her chorus of singers fleshing out the most soulful but hilarious diss song in history.
8:21 p.m. She tells us we are some “wild (expletives)” before segueing into “Bag Lady.” Again the ensemble swells with glorious sound and she blows in the wind that is not blowing. As she reminds us to “pack light,” it seems entirely possible that she is an actual living goddess. From Dallas. Because we are living in very strange times and nothing is surprising any more.
8:23 p.m. She asked us to each raise one hand into the sky with our thumb tucked into our palm. As we perform this gesture (which we Indians might call a mudra), she says we will feel the heat build in our palm. And when we do it in unison this gesture can unify us, transcending race, sexual orientation and other differences, she says.
8:24 p.m. “I’ll see you next lifetime,” she says and she puts on the ludicrous oversized top hat that only she can pull off and leaves the stage. Six minutes early. This was not part of the plan. Of course I want more.
8:25 p.m. As the crowd disperses, it slowly sinks in that FOMO can be the mother of bad decisions. Mistakes were made. If you’re going to ACL Fest weekend two, I highly recommend Ms. Badu.