Austin city spotlights: Zach Person, Superfónicos, David Ramirez shine at ACL Fest's BMI stage
A stroll through the guest lounge behind the BMI Stage reveals that the performance rights organization takes great pride in the artists it presents every year at ACL Fest. Photos document the early career appearances of artists who went on to much bigger things: Luke Combs, Maren Morris, Khruangbin and Billy Strings among them.
Some major Austin artists also made early appearances on the BMI Stage, including Gary Clark Jr. (2011) and Shakey Graves (2013). Though BMI is based in New York and does a lot of business in Nashville, it also opened an Austin office in 2019.
Five Austin artists played the BMI Stage this year, three of them on the fest's final day. We caught all three of those sets. Here's a brief recap:
Zach Person: first time playing ACL
Performing as a guitar-drums duo with his longtime collaborator Jake Wyble at noon, Person brought his bluesy rock tunes to a fest-opening time slot that found him going up against fellow locals Nané and Blk Odyssy on other stages. He focused on songs from his recent self-titled debut album such as "How Long" and "Crossroads," also playing a new tune called "Remnants" that came out a few weeks ago while Person was on his first European tour.
The sound mix is important with Person's music, and it was good at the fest, allowing the weight of his often socio-politically relevant lyrics to be heard above the hard-edged wall of sound he and Wyble create. Sunday was Person's first-ever ACL Fest performance; odds are good that it won't be his last.
Superfónicos: a joyful dance party
The eight-piece Austin group made a splash at ACL Fest in 2018, shortly after they'd released a debut EP. They announced from the stage that they're currently working on their first full-length release, telling Austin360's Deborah Sengupta Stith in an interview after their set that they've been recording with Black Pumas guitarist Adrian Quesada at his Electric Deluxe studio.
The band drew a sizable crowd tor an hourlong set at 3:30 pm. that was heavy on Latin and African rhythms, with instrumentation that included horns, keyboards, guitar, bass and lots of percussion. They got the crowd dancing and singing along on lively tunes such as "Suelta," the title track from their 2018 EP. Song lyrics were primarily in Spanish, while band members conversed with the audience mainly in English between songs. Their joy at being back onstage after playing very few shows during the pandemic was clear as they declared, "You might be the most beautiful crowd ever!"
David Ramirez: on the rise
Somewhat surprisingly, this 5:30 p.m. slot was Ramirez's first appearance at ACL Fest, even as he has risen to the stature of a solid club-level draw both locally and on tour in recent years. Set highlights such as "My Love Is a Hurricane" and "Stone Age" made clear he's one of Austin's best singer-songwriters, delivering insightful lyrics with a resonant and deeply emotional voice.
Backed by a three-piece band, Ramirez went back-and-forth between full-on rockers and softer, more jazz-influenced numbers. Of the three locals who appeared Sunday on the BMI Stage, he seems the most likely to have a national breakout, largely because he's already made a good deal of progress in that direction.