ACL Live Review: Yola

Like Lizzo, UK singer circles back from SXSW as a powerhouse

When Yola played SXSW in March, she emerged as one of the fest’s breakout acts, riding in on the hype of her Dan Auerbach-produced February debut LP, Walk Through Fire. Her powerhouse vocal talent proved undeniable, but the British singer still hadn’t polished her set for maximum impact – a slow, restrained build into blowout closer “Faraway Look.”

Photo by Gary Miller

Her Sunday afternoon ACL Fest set, by contrast – weekend two only – presented a perfectly paced and explosive 45 minutes that drew some of the most fervent applause of all the acts in the Tito’s tent.

Belting from the outset with “Lonely the Night,” Yolanda Quartey immediately induced a crowd eruption mid-song, winding into the explosive chorus amid a crush of equally bursting cheers. Even the following smooth country sway of “Ride Out In the Country” gave way to a deep-throated groove as she strummed her acoustic guitar out front of a backing quartet.

Her calming introductions seeped with appreciation to the packed crowd in prefacing the autobiographical “Walk Through Fire,” and she posed like a goddess as her hair blew back into a dark crown from the stage fans through the lift of “Faraway Look.” Her brand of throwback country pop in “Love All Night (Work All Day)” and the organ-whirling “Still Gone” kick with Seventies Dolly Parton or Linda Ronstadt flair, but spiked Aretha Franklin’s deep soul.

Adding to the set’s exceptional polish was the medley of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” and Joe Cocker’s arrangement of “The Letter,” meshing the former’s poignant vocal versatility with the latter’s cathartic fury. Closing out on “It Ain’t Easy,” Yola baited the crowd with a gritty, guttural howl.

“Tell me, is it easy?” she shouted as the crowd rejoined with a rousing “No!”

Like Pink Sweats and, notably, Lizzo, Yola left SXSW with considerable promise and buzz, but returned to Austin and ACL Fest at the top of her game and dominated.


Sunday, Oct. 13, 2:45pm, Tito's stage

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Yola, ACL Fest 2019, Yolanda Quartey

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