ACL Fest delivers one last shooting star with Jon Batiste's brilliant Sunday set
Even when you knew what was coming, Jon Batiste's performance on Sunday evening at the Austin City Limits Music Festival was transcendent.
Some of us had seen him here in Austin recently, taping the festival's namesake television program in July at ACL Live for an hourlong episode that's set to premiere this Saturday, Oct. 16, on PBS stations nationwide. Tens of thousands more crowded around the T-Mobile stage for Batiste's 7:30 p.m. set that, all apologies to headliners Tyler the Creator and Duran Duran, felt like THE big event at Zilker Park on the fest's final day.
Decked out in a shiny silver suit jacket with matching shorts (hey, he's got the legs for it, and it was a good way to beat the heat), Batiste and his oversized band gave the crowd a tour de force of music steeped in his native New Orleans culture but soaring far beyond it. Solar-system images projected on the screen behind the stage underscored that this performance was out-of-this-world.
A highlight in an hour full of highlights was "I Need You," a hit single from Batiste's acclaimed 2021 album "We Are" that became ubiquitous over the summer thanks to its placement in an Olive Garden commercial. "Hold on, we can't play this song because it's a character," Batiste paused briefly at the outset, before donning a cowboy hat and attacking the piano like he was grabbing the reins of a bucking bronco.
Most of the time, Batiste and his band — which included Austin musicians Paul Deemer (trombone) and Lauryn Gold (sax) — radiated energy from the stage. Occasionally he brought things down for a quieter passage, most notably for the closing bars of an extended medley in which Batiste played a classical melody on piano and added inspirational lyrics such as "Don't stop dreaming, don't stop believing" and "Let's soak up the day and dance the night away." (Pretty neat trick there, quoting both Journey and Van Halen.)
Batiste likes to tell his audience that "this is more than a concert, this is a spiritual practice," and Sunday's performance lived up to that billing. Soon enough he'll be back at his day-gig as bandleader and musical director for "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert." But the future likely will bring more and more concert and festival appearances for Batiste. The world needs more of what he has to offer.