Lizzo and a whole lot more
Our team shares some favorite moments from ACL Fest's two weekends
Lizzo. The weather. Lizzo.
We were there for both weekends of the Austin City Limits Music Festival, and we're still feeling good as hell as we bask in the musical afterglow. Our team shares a few highlights before we start resting up for next year's fests, which will be Oct. 2-4 and 9-11, 2020.
Yola: The British soul singer's 45-minute set in the Tito’s tent on the final day of Weekend Two felt like the full-scale arrival of a major talent. Backed by a four-piece band, she served up song after song from her solo debut album, “Walk Through Fire,” delighting some audience members who knew what to expect and amazing others who didn’t. By the end of it, the crowd at the small venue had swelled well outside the cover of the tent, and rapturous applause followed every number she played. Much as Lizzo’s 2016 set at the fest suggested much bigger things to come (borne out by the massive crowds that greeted her at the fest this year), it felt like we’ll be seeing Yola here again before long, on a much larger stage.
Brittany Howard: “It’s really been awesome watching the reactions,” Howard told us by phone a few weeks before ACL Fest began, as her band was beginning to tour behind her just-released solo debut, “Jaime.” In Austin, those reactions were amplified by the vast expanse of the Zilker Park grounds that filled up with fans both Saturday afternoons at the Honda stage. Howard fed off the energy and excitement, channeling it into hourlong sets that combined her love of classic soul music with envelope-pushing, multigenre explorations plus bold politics-is-personal statements. With or without her band Alabama Shakes, Howard is a firecracker whenever she takes the stage.
Weyes Blood: Playing Weekend One only, this singer-songwriter (aka Natalie Mering) on Seattle’s influential Sub Pop label left a mark with a beautiful hourlong set on the BMI stage. Switching between keyboards and acoustic guitar and sometimes just singing, she mixed songs from this year’s “Titanic Rising” with selections from earlier albums on the indie label Mexican Summer, plus a stunning cover of Procol Harum’s 1967 classic “Whiter Shade of Pale” that proved perfect for the breathtakingly high flights of her voice.
The start of the Cure’s sets: The British band’s two-hour stretch to close down the Honda stage both Saturdays included lots of highlights as they brought old favorites back to life, from “In Between Days” to “Just Like Heaven” to “Friday I’m in Love” to “Boys Don’t Cry.” But what lingered the longest, and brought us back to see them again on Weekend Two, was the epic grandeur of singer Robert Smith’s entry onto the stage as the band played the extended instrumental intro of “Plainsong,” the opening track of 1989’s “Disintegration.” Smith gazed out across the Zilker Park landscape, soaking in the moment and smiling gratefully as if he fully understood and appreciated the magic of the moment as deeply as all the thousands of fans in the audience.
The end of Gary Clark Jr.’s sets: Our hometown hero lit the city skyline alive at sunset both Saturdays with hourlong performances that focused on his groundbreaking 2019 album, “This Land.” But it was the closing cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together” that rang out like a beacon across the grounds like a christening. Austin duo the Peterson Brothers joined him for the glorious moment both weekends, with rappers Zeale and Phranchyze from Blackillac getting in on the action as well for Weekend Two after they’d played earlier in the day on another stage. For this fleeting moment in time, we were one city, indivisible, with Gary, as he and the band and the crowd sang the chorus in unison: “Come together, right now, over me.”
DEBORAH SENGUPTA STITH
Lizzo: The Minneapolis singer/rapper rocked Zilker Park with a booty club soul revival and self-love communion. The gluteal gyrations were spectacular; the calls for love, compassion and positivity were inspiring; and “Truth Hurts” was explosive. Two weekends in a row, Lizzo drew massive crowds that seemed to stretch from the Miller Lite stage all the way to Barton Springs. On Weekend Two, she called it the “biggest (expletive) crowd I’ve ever seen in my life.” In the hours before her set, we wandered the field, collecting love letters to Lizzo from her fans. It was an experience that underlined the profound impact of Lizzo’s gospel of self-love. KUTX DJ Elizabeth McQueen summed it up beautifully: “Her music heals me and everyone I know.”
Gary Clark Jr.’s ATX superjam: It’s always a joy to see Austin artists show up and destroy at ACL Fest. Shoutout to Alesia Lani and Austin360 Artist of the Month Kady Rain, who both put in excellent early afternoon sets. But no one put the Austin in ACL better than Gary Clark Jr. With fiery licks and sweet falsetto, he used his 6 p.m. Saturday set to remind us why he’s our hometown hero. Then, to close his set, he brought out blues upstarts the Peterson Brothers and dynamic rap duo Blackillac for a thunderous cover of the Beatles classic “Come Together” that felt like ATX history.
Childish Gambino: In his final performances as his rap/R&B alter ego, actor Donald Glover left it all on the stage.
Women leading the way: Festival bookers take note: From Billie Eilish redefining pop stardom for a new generation of tween/teen girls to Kali Uchis’ steamy Spanglish sensuality to Rosalía’s buoyant flamenco pop to Lizzo breaking Zilker Park, the excitement and buzz at ACL Fest 2019 was all about the ladies.
Robyn: I am confident that I can't accurately convey what I felt after seeing the Swedish pop singer's Weekend Two headlining set. So, the words I've got: It was a physical and emotional rush that I felt well after I woke up the next morning. Robyn created something heart-achingly beautiful and propulsive. It was a nonstop, euphoric ride of lights, dance and songs from "Honey" to "Be Mine!" to "Call Your Girlfriend." On "Dancing on My Own," the lights went up on the crowd. Robyn and the music went silent, and an entire ACL Fest audience sang the chorus as loud as they could. The singer looked back at us, smiling and hugging herself. “I don’t want to be hyperbolic,” I told a friend right when the set ended Sunday, “but that was the best thing I’ve ever seen, right?”
Metric: “If you’re up, be up. If you’re down, be down,” singer Emily Haines said. “Either way, I wanna hear you.” The Canadian indie gods made my face bones tingle with a wall of guitar noise, and Haines cut me open with the shard of stained glass that is her voice. So good, so loud, so kind.
Orville Peck: He wore a mask and rode right into our hearts. Mysterious queer desperado Peck has a bit. Your mileage might vary, but in this reviewer’s opinion, it’s a very good bit. The big-voiced country provocateur kept his cards close to his impeccably lined jacket, content to shroud himself in a concept higher than Willie Nelson. But when he let the notes be as wide as West Texas and let his boots scoot, I was sold.
The Band Camino: The Tennessee pop-rock band with a penchant for anthems stopped by to talk to us on Austin360 Radio. They charmed us under a blanket on the coldest day of the fest. Once a band has recited the lyrics to a late-1990s Christian rock classic with you — "Dive" by Steven Curtis Chapman — it's hard to think of much else the rest of the day.
The Salt Lick's brisket nachos: Always and forever the best value at the ACL Eats food court. I stake my reputation on it.
Jenny Lewis: She never disappoints. I saw her at Gruene Hall earlier this year, when she was still road-testing songs from her latest, "On the Line," and that was a magical night. She's brought the theatricality up a notch or 10 since then, without sacrificing the ache, beauty and humor that infuse all she does. Her sunset set during Weekend One was perfection.
Orville Peck: My first time seeing the masked cowboy singer and now I'm a fast fan. I thought the costume might be distracting, and then I quickly forgot about the fringe over his face and was swept up by his voice, dance moves and vibe with his band. I am there for his theatrical take on country music that is both modern and classic.
Cardi B: Some people were mad about her late start and left before her Sunday night Weekend One-only headlining set. I was all in and so glad I stayed for her high-energy, high-kicking show. I saw "Hustlers" midweek and left with the same reaction: More Cardi B, please.
Robyn: The Swedish electropop queen mother closed out the festival for me, and it was majestic. Girl can throw down the disco-funk dance moves, and watching her in the front row performing timeless hits like "Call Your Girlfriend," "Missing U" and "Dancing on My Own" was sexy and sublime — just like the smile she had on her face for much of the show.
Orville Peck: He was divisive among the American-Statesman ACL Fest crew, but I thought his early Saturday performance Weekend Two was a sparkling, innovative homage to true classic country. His subversive "masked gay cowboy" persona is spectacular, but it wouldn't have made such an impression if he didn't have the chops to back it up and then some. His mournful molasses baritone; heart-wrenching, subversive lyrics; and guitar virtuosity make it concrete: Peck is an icon and a star.
Duckwrth: I've said it before and I'll say it again: Los Angeles rapper Duckwrth is the most talented and exciting artist you're not listening to yet. It's like he couldn't write a dud song even if he tried — his set was ferocious bangers top to bottom — and his energy is explosive.
Childish Gambino's historic farewell: Catching Childish Gambino's swan song on Weekend Two was nothing short of extraordinary. From the choir to shirtless Donald Glover's wide-eyed dancing and stroll through the crowd taking selfies, it felt like witnessing something huge — not just a show but a spectacle. Bonus: Some Jonathan Demme-caliber direction from the live camera crew made looking at the big screen feel like watching a classic concert film in the making.
A better-aligned lineup: It wasn't just Lizzo, Robyn and Cardi B. Top-notch female talent dominated the entirety of the ACL Fest lineup, including Brittany Howard, Billie Eilish, Rosalía, Tierra Whack, Kali Uchis, Shura and Weyes Blood. It was refreshing to see the fest break up its historically dude-heavy roster, and even better that it was with some of the most talented humans making music today.
The cathartic chaos of Idles: British punk band Idles may have delivered the most grinning per capita at ACL Fest 2019. Good times were courtesy of the GIF-worthy dancing of guitarist Mark Bowden (half Slinky-legged Big Bird, half hip-shaking Elvis), a vortex of sweat-soaked fans moshing and slamming about, and a kid on his dad’s shoulders shredding at a guitar the band thrust into the crowd. Though the music sounded furious, its message is all about inclusiveness and love, summed up well by singer Joe Talbot, who screamed, "Long live open-mindedness!"
Julia Jacklin: February’s “Crushing” is the most descriptive album title of the year. The Sydney songwriter tells compelling, stirring tales about the toll that casual misogyny takes on her psyche. Early on the Honda stage, “Don't know how to keep loving you, now that I know you so well” was a stop-eating-your-kimchi-fries-and-look-up chorus.
Idles: Lots of punk bands want to kick the tires and cause a scene. Bristol’s Idles asked moshers to “respect your neighbors.” It’s anthemic, hard-charging rock with self-awareness: When a Weekend Two fan shouted “I love you” to frontman Joe Talbot, he challenged the constraints of worship with corrective grace: “You love the idea of me.”
Robyn: The Swedish pop legend’s headliner set was a lesson in subtlety. Built around 2018’s slow-building “Honey,” the first half was atmospheric and tense with slow-burning gems like “Ever Again.” The back nine? Pure dancing-in-circles catharsis anchored by the hits.
K.Flay: The Stanford-educated rapper leaned into Charli XCX and Carly Rae Jepsen vibes on this year’s “Solutions,” and her live show was thoughtfully fleshed out with a tight backing band and one memorable hook after another.
Guns N’ Roses: The combustible hard-rockers are touring on a beefed-up lineup and legacy setlist. Along the way, the band’s proven that the daring and flippant “Use Your Illusion” is a true bookend to an era of maximalist and excessive releases dating back to the Beatles. It’s basically “A Night at the Opera” but if it was about the end of American exceptionalism. At ACL, GNR rewrote its history.
Backstage at ACL Fest 2010 with Austin360: