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The ballad of Trixie Mattel, ACL Fest's first singing drag queen

Eric Webb
Austin 360

"I saw her hair!"

"She's comin'."

These are not thirsty glimpses caught while hunting for a peek at Billie Eilish, no.

Let's cut to the chase, or cut to the crease, as the case may be. Austin City Limits Music Festival has never seen anyone like Trixie Mattel.

The drag superstar — winner of "RuPaul's Drag Race All-Stars" Season 3, host of popular shows including "UNHhhh," cosmetics mogul, honest-to-goodness New York Times bestselling author — also is an accomplished singer-songwriter. And where do we love to hear music, folks? Inside a sun-battered city park on a school night, that's correct.

From the archives: Trixie Mattel talks Austin, Dolly Parton and doubts

Trixie played the Tito's Handmade Vodka Stage, the one inside the small tent, which predictably overflowed into the park thanks to her popularity. Rainbows as far as the eye could see. Accordion fans thworping open. Leather fringe swaying from leather harnesses.

Two minutes before showtime, the masses chanted, "Trixie! Trixie! Trixie!" That didn't even happen for Billie, at least when I saw her.

When Trixie finally arrived, the cheers sounded just like the stuff that came out of the Beer Hall when the Dallas Cowboys played earlier in the day. 

Trixie Mattel performs during Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park on October 10, 2021 in Austin, Texas.

And yet, Trixie was booked on the stage next to the portable toilets. Them's the breaks.

Backed by a three-piece band, she launched into the swinging beach tune "We Got the Look," her baby blue cover-up sparkling under the spotlights.

That wasn't hair on her head, FYI. It was a bleach-blonde tidal wave. 

More:I am mad at Doja Cat for being so good at everything at ACL Fest

Trixie twirled, the cover-up came off, and she was wearing a mini-dress in circus colors. The hemline? Precarious. That's right — a costume reveal right out the gate. Then, a second reveal! Trixie burst into her final form, a blue-and-pink swimsuit. 

Lipstick-curdling shrieks.

"That's what I (expletive) thought," Trixie deadpanned to the crowd.

The best seat in the house belonged to a pair of white shades perched inside Trixie's wig. Full-on Cousin Itt. Later, she pointed out how perfect the hair was for Texas: "Doesn't it have 'bless your heart' written all over it?" 

"Austin City Limits, are you gay?" she asked when the first number ended. If you were not, she humbly requested that you commit to being gay for 60 minutes. If you'd been enduring the music of heterosexuals all day, Trixie thanked you for your sacrifice. 

When she's not strumming a pink guitar and singing everything from country folk to go-go pop to pop by the Go-Go's, Trixie is a comedian. It would have been impossible to write down all her one-liners; even if you could, 82% of them are not printable. (Here, at least.)

Trixie Mattel performs during Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park on October 10, 2021 in Austin, Texas.

"Scream like white trash at a Willie Nelson concert," she said. "Scream like pro-lifers in Texas."

(This was an ACL Fest set, but it was still a raunchy drag show, what with the man in the wig and heels.)

Trixie told the crowd that she's the first drag queen to play ACL Fest. Not strictly true; that honor belongs to Austin's Louisianna Purchase, who made the lineup for 2020's virtual edition. Louisianna also hosted the Best of Austin Drag revue at this year's fest, emceeing the performances of a coterie of local talent. But first singing drag queen? Yes.

Trixie served up the folky-pop of "Yellow Cloud" before breaking for a burlesque-style sip of water. Picture it, you'll get it.

And don't think the music's a gimmick. On "Jesse Jesse," Trixie hit a gorgeous falsetto and played guitar backwards, in heels. That's two up on Ginger Rogers.

A sweating drag queen is a national security threat. Trixie asked the audience for a powder puff. She got one, of course.

"You are all refugees," she said of the heat, with sarcastic concern. "We can get you out of here."

"Girl Next Door" brought the sophisticated side of Radio Disney to ACL Fest.

Then, she asked a tent full of gay people if they liked Lana del Rey, which is like asking the pope if he prefers his Mass in Latin.

"Sad bottoms, assemble!" Trixie called out.

She played her fan-beloved cover of del Rey's "Video Games," a sweetly sad autoharp-tinged take that somehow downplays the camp inherent in the original. And ACL Fest ate ... it ... up.

"We couldn't come to Texas and not get into some yee haw (expletive)," Trixie said after that song. It was at this point that one might have wondered why George Strait was booked above Trixie

Her earlier music is straight-up country, riffing off her image as the Dolly Parton of drag, if Dolly Parton were not already in drag. "Mama Don't Make Me Put on the Dress Again" is an old-school Western story song, and if you can't play one of those in Austin, where can ya?

Trixie Mattel performs during Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park on October 10, 2021 in Austin, Texas.

"Well, I'm comin' home alone for the hundredth time or so/ It gets harder on my hard-earned money's dime/ To the bottle in my basket, will it answer if I ask it?/ 'Doin' right, or am I doin' time?'" she sang.

Then we got a slow and melancholy cover of the Go-Go's "Vacation," which is how it should be done, honestly, and a bubbly "Malibu." 

"My name is Trixie Mattel and I will not be back for an encore," she said, fully winking for the payoff to a running gag about not doing an encore.

The encore? Her cover of "Blister in the Sun." The tent lost it, and the night breeze blew in. 

Trixie took her guitar off feet first. With that hair? Can't be helped.