ACL Live Review: Bruce Hornsby

Piano great and his Noisemakers put on a spellbinding set

“The band doesn’t know what I’m doing,” laughed Bruce Hornsby midway through his Sunday evening set closing out the Tito’s tent. “Because I don’t know what I’m doing.” In fact, the beauty of Hornsby and his backing fivepiece lay in the surprises that the band seemed to spring on itself throughout the hourlong set.

Photo by Jana Birchum

From his place behind the piano, Hornsby, 64, played director and reveled in the jams as he pointed to various Noisemakers to pick up a thread of the song. At one point, he even stood and wandered the stage marveling at the band.

The Virginian opened on the keys, riffing to the violin and guitar in teasing his biggest hit, “The Way It Is.” Then he slid into the title track from latest LP Absolute Zero, followed by Justin Vernon collab “Cast-Off.” He returned at the end of the set to his recent work with Vernon for Bon Iver’s “Man (U Like).”

The performance’s most stellar moments were those that gave the band the most range to roam, from “Pastures of Plenty” to the rollicking “Funhouse.” Taking up the dulcimer with washboard and mandolin accompaniment, Hornsby dipped into “Over the Rise” before returning to the piano to close out the eight-song jam with the bluesy medley segue of “Little Sadie/White Wheeled Limousine/Long Black Veil.”

Although the tent appeared half full throughout the set, those in attendance remained spellbound by the band’s patient and intricately building movements. The tunes wandered freely with a joy that almost made the crowd incidental. While Hornsby’s career has taken numerous turns through defining collaborations with everyone from the Grateful Dead to Ricky Skaggs, his musical curiosity and delight in stylistic exploration continue to make him a vital, if underappreciated, force.

Bruce Hornsby

Sunday, Oct. 06, 6:00pm, Tito's Handmade Vodka stage

Check out our daily ACL coverage with previews, reviews, interviews, photos, and more.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Bruce Hornsby
ACL Fest Interview: Bruce Hornsby
ACL Fest Interview: Bruce Hornsby
Viriginia pianist explains the way that it is

Rick Weaver, Oct. 4, 2019

More by Doug Freeman
Crucial Concerts for the Coming Week
Crucial Concerts for the Coming Week
Urban Heat, Jonathan Terrell, Dayglow, Marcia Ball, and a smattering of metal headline our recommended shows

Dec. 2, 2022

Wizard Rodeo Wrangles a Day of Musical Magic
Wizard Rodeo Wrangles a Day of Musical Magic
Eclectic gathering returns to the Long Time sandlot field

Nov. 25, 2022


Bruce Hornsby, ACL Fest 2019, Bon Iver, Justin Vernon

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle