2005 ACL Music Fest Preview

All 'picks' no 'sleepers' for the Austin City Limits Music Festival, one blurb at a time


FRIDAY

Austin Collins Band

11:15am, BMI stage

Originally from Houston and now an Austinite, Austin Collins released his debut, Something Better (Fat Caddy), earlier this year to a rousing critical reception. The 26-year-old Collins' brand of alt.country is smart and hook filled, earning him comparisons to Whiskeytown and Radney Foster. – Jim Caligiuri

The Ditty Bops

11:45am, AMD stage

From the city of celebrity drugs and $1,000 baby strollers come Amanda Barrett and Abby DeWald, the L.A.-based duo known as the Ditty Bops. They're ragtime-loving, Busby Berkeley-copping, washboard-playing, slide-whistle-wielding raconteurs, and their self-titled debut spans the early half of last century, covering everything from jazzed-up cabaret-style numbers to Southern folk hymns. – Audra Schroeder

KJAE

Noon, Austin Ventures stage

Nineteen-year-old Austin rapper KJAE recently earned himself a spot as one of three finalists in the Austin Music Foundation's 2005-06 Music Incubator program. Provided a budget for marketing and career development as well as plenty of experienced guidance over a course of 18 months, KJAE benefits from a unique opportunity moving him toward a successful recording career. – Robert Gabriel

Asleep at the Wheel

12:30pm, Cingular stage

More than any group, AATW keeps Bob Wills alive and kicking. The Ray Benson-led Austin swing collective, featuring more than 80 musicians in its three-decade existence, has gotten the Grammy nod nine times. In 2003 they put out both live and studio albums and are now presenting Ride With Bob: From Austin to Tulsa, a musical drama about Mr. Wills' life. – David Lynch

Kasabian

1:30pm, AMD stage

Ad agencies owe a lot to Kasabian. Odds are, you haven't watched TV or a movie trailer in the last few months without hearing at least one of the band's songs, thanks to a hopelessly catchy self-titled debut. With bands like Primal Scream leaving an electronic-rock hole in the landscape of modern UK pop, these lads pick up the spacey pace. – Matt Dentler

Mofro

1:30pm, Heineken stage

Socially conscious Floridian swamp funk outfit Mofro stirs the senses by melding country-blues guitar, a Southern soul backbeat, and strategically sparse organ lines put forth from a Leslie speaker cabinet. Mofro's 2004 disc, Lochloosa (Swampland), laments ecological devastation in Northern Florida's swamplands while chronicling the tenacious culture of those who live there. – Greg Beets

Dios (Malos)

1:50pm, Austin Ventures stage

Hawthorne, Calif.'s Dios (Malos) slipped into national consciousness last year when "You Got Me All Wrong" was featured in an episode of The OC. Although Ronnie James Dio's lawyers made them add (Malos) to the moniker, their healing combination of sunshine pop, psychedelic wooze, and electronic frills remains artfully intact on their self-titled second album, due next month on StarTime International. – Greg Beets

Monte Warden

2:40pm, BMI stage

If the centerpiece of this veteran Austin singer-songwriter's set, "Desperately," seems familiar, perhaps it's because he wrote it with another notable local tunesmith, Bruce Robison. And, oh yeah, last year George Strait rode it to the top of the country charts. Warden's been a hot commodity on Music Row ever since, so expect a batch of new tunes at this rare hometown appearance. – Andy Langer

Wayne Hancock

2:50pm, Austin Ventures stage

Hancock wears his neo-traditionalism as a badge of honor. Based in San Marcos, his mix of shit-kickin' Texas honky-tonk, revved-up country boogie, and bass-slappin' rockabilly is highlighted on the live album, Swing Time, recorded at Austin's fabled Continental Club. – Jay Trachtenberg

DeSol

3:15pm, Capital Metro stage

DeSol is a high-powered, Latin rock juggernaut that has more in common with old-schoolers like Santana and Malothan than the current batch of rambunctious rock en español acts. Based in, of all places, Asbury Park, N.J., they're not afraid to incorporate South American cumbias and salsa de Nueva York into their guitar-dominated sound. Last year's self-titled debut was just reissued on Curb. – Jay Trachtenberg

Mindy Smith

3:30pm, Heineken stage

Voted Best New Artist of 2004 at last year's Americana Awards, Mindy Smith made quite a splash with her debut, One Moment More (Vanguard). Although she grew up on Long Island, Smith currently calls Nashville home, yet emphasizes she's not a country artist but rather a singer-songwriter with edge. – Jim Caligiuri

Morgan Heritage

4:30pm, Capital Metro stage

Roots reggae saunters on through history as the fivepiece progeny of legendary Jamaican singer Denroy Morgan basks in the glory of all things Rastafari. The group's latest, Full Circle (VP), features lead singer Peter Morgan staking his claim to the thrown of superior toasters. – Robert Gabriel

Robert Earl Keen

4:30pm, Cingular stage

He released his 11th album earlier this year, What I Really Mean (Koch), but REK continues to keep things interesting for himself and his audience. The new disc bounces from Celtic to Tex-Mex to gospel to roots-rock, sustaining a willful edge that similar artists have seemingly lost. – Jim Caligiuri

Lucinda Williams

4:30pm, SBC stage

While Live at the Fillmore (Lost Highway), her first concert release and a double disc at that, garnered mixed reviews earlier this year, Lucinda Williams always puts on a memorable show here in her onetime hometown. A recent DVD of a 1998 Austin City Limits show demonstrates her ability to sing about real life with a voice that weaves melancholy with intensity. – Jim Caligiuri

Spoon

5:30pm, AMD stage

Local superheroes Spoon have been churning out complicated rock since 1994. Vocalist Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno helmed this year's commercial breakout, Gimme Fiction (Merge), which balances piano and meticulous electronics while tiptoeing through tattoo-like melodies. They're penciled in for rock's future. – Martin De Leon II

Sara Hickman

6pm, Austin Kiddie Limits stage

While running her own label and winning awards for her musicianship, Sara Hickman is also a partner in a media-design group for musicians and is extremely involved in humanitarian issues, both locally and worldwide. Hickman's children catalog adds the latest Big Kid (Sleeveless), zany and thought-provoking in a way only she can manage. – Jim Caligiuri

Keane

7:30pm, AMD stage

People who only know Keane from their extensive exposure on VH1 are allowed to think the group is the weakest Brit-pop act since the boy band Take That. But anyone who's heard their Interscope debut, Hopes and Fears, knows there's greater depth to this piano-rock trio. Combining the catchier aspects of James and even Radiohead, they've made a subversively accessible UK pop record. – Matt Dentler

Blue October

7:45pm, Austin Ventures stage

These Smiths-obsessed Texans know how to turn morose into melody. With a local following that, on a good day, rivals football, their live shows have been known to bring grown men to tears. Frontman Justin Furstenfeld writes songs that delve into more than just inner demons: His band makes those demons beautiful. – Matt Dentler

Lyle Lovett & His Large Band

8:15pm, Cingular stage

Believe it or not, this is Lovett's first ACL Fest appearance. Strange, given the Klein native's hybrid of country, pop, jazz, blues, and swing, which epitomizes the ACL legacy. Although he hasn't released a new album since 2003's My Baby Don't Tolerate (Lost Highway), Lovett joined Los Super Seven this year to sing Bob Wills' "My Window Faces the South" on Heard It on the X. – Greg Beets

The Black Crowes

8:30pm, SBC stage

With the same swagger as the Rolling Stones, the Black Crowes introduced their classic rock to the world in 1990, leather pants in tow. From The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion to the live collaboration with Jimmy Page, glossy rock will never be the same. – Martin De Leon II


SATURDAY

Kacy Crowley

11:15am, BMI stage

For the second straight year, the ACL scheduling gods have slated Austin's Kacy Crowley for a ridiculously early gate-opening set. But as one of the town's most consistently biting and insightful songwriters she deserves your attention, especially since on the heels of last year's acoustic Tramps Like Us she's been preparing a batch of unapologetically rock-oriented songs. – Andy Langer

Split Lip Rayfield

11:45am, Heineken stage

The departure of founding songwriter and mandolinist Wayne Gottstine hasn't slowed down Split Lip Rayfield for a nanosecond. Now a trio, the Kansas-based bluegrass band on speed continues to tour seemingly nonstop. Word from the road says that Split Lip has a slew of new material that's every bit as intense as the old stuff. – Jim Caligiuri

Tegan and Sara

11:45am, AMD stage

This rock duo overcame initial hype ("They're twins!" "They're catchy Canadians!") with 2004's So Jealous, akin to Sleater-Kinney deciding to become a Bangles cover band. With titles such as "Where Does the Good Go?" and "You Wouldn't Like Me," their songs are the sweetest side of bitter. – Matt Dentler

Casey McPherson

Noon, Austin Ventures stage

Austin's Casey McPherson has played ACL Fest before with his former band Endochine. Since then, the Bono-meets-Jeff Buckley crooner has earned a devout following with a newfound solo career and mastery of the networking site MySpace. – Matt Dentler

Kathleen Edwards

12:30pm, Cingular stage

As genius as Neil Young can be, his songwriting is unmistakably masculine. Thanks to Kathleen Edwards and her recent LP, Back to Me, there's a new "Cinnamon Girl" in town. Edwards, a fellow Canuck, emulates a more radio-friendly side of the country-western genre, and in terms of a folk-rock muse, there's enough frontier in Canada to go around. – Matt Dentler

Asylum Street Spankers

12:50pm, Austin Ventures stage

Futuristic vaudevillians before it was cool, leading the acoustic resurgence before it was tagged, witty as Irish poets and nearly as overserved, this Austin institution is a veritable jukebox of old-time classics, country-blues ditties, naughty novelties, acoustic jazz meltdowns, and spoken-word thought pieces. – David Lynch

The Experiment Experience

1:30pm, Austin Kiddie Limits stage

The Experiment Experience is just what it sounds like: It's a little bit science and a little bit rock & roll. Felicity Fixitup and Underwood Brokit unleash their scientific minds on the ACL crowds – as well as schools and libraries around Austin – combining wacky science experiments using everyday items with music and interactive demonstrations. – Audra Schroeder

Kevin Fowler

1:50pm, Austin Ventures stage

One of the leading lights of the Texas music scene, Austin's Kevin Fowler makes unadorned country music in a Willie Nelson/Waylon Jennings vein. Fowler possesses the songwriting chops, and his charm has been confirmed with sold-out shows throughout the Lone Star State. His latest CD, Loose, Loud & Crazy (Equity), was released in 2004. – Jim Caligiuri

Buddy Guy

2:30pm, SBC stage

Six strings are no match for Buddy Guy's furious riffs and soulful plucking – something he's been doing since Muddy Waters mentored him. Since the Fifties, the Chicago blues prince has been energizing stages as his rusty voice, slashing fretwork, and glitzy energy has made him living history. – Martin De Leon II

Free Sõl

2:40pm, BMI stage

Memphis is hot all year round when it comes to its funky soul. Led by vocalist Christopher Anderson, Free Sõl finds a way to riff on every conceivable tangent of its city's expansive blues tree on their 2004 debut album, 11:11 (Memphis). A hip-hop jam-band known for its live energy, Free Sõl explores musical hedonism with the tenacity of a spry bunny rabbit. – Robert Gabriel

The Weary Boys

3:15pm, Capital Metro stage

Originally from Northern California, the Weary Boys fit seamlessly into the Austin music scene with their bluegrass-informed punk and twang. On their latest self-released disc, Holy Ghost Power, the Wearys visit gospel music, maintaining the rough edges that make them so appealing and highlighting their harmonies. – Jim Caligiuri

Martin Sexton

3:30pm, Heineken stage

It's been a while since sexy troubadour Martin Sexton released 2002's Live Wide Open, charter release on his Kitchen Table imprint. The Massachusetts-based folk singer will finally release Camp Holiday, a collection of a dozen holiday classics done Sexton-style, a treat sweeter than sugarplums. – Melanie Haupt

Nine Black Alps

4pm, Austin Ventures stage

There are only four guys in Manchester's Nine Black Alps, but that hasn't stopped them from gracing the cover of every British music rag in the last few months. Their latest, Everything Is, visits a buffet of gloom-rock sounds from the Nineties, occasionally cleaving open the bad brains of grunge with lyrics like "We'll close our eyes. We'll be dead by sunrise." – Audra Schroeder

Robert Randolph & the Family Band

4:30pm, SBC stage

Since his groundbreaking 2003 ACL Fest appearance, New Jersey-bred sacred steel master Robert Randolph has joined the lofty ranks of living guitar heroes. While 2003's Unclassified (Warner Bros.) was a solid studio debut, watching Randolph & the Family Band perform live is a soul-rockin' revelation everyone should witness at least once. – Greg Beets

John Butler Trio

5:15pm, Austin Ventures stage

Hippie rockers have a new guitar strokin' idol, at least Down Under, as John Butler is as big as Texas in his native Australia. His assortment of blue-eyed funk, reggae, folk, blues, and rock is slowly making waves in North America, built upon recent ACL and SXSW performances and his first American album, and fourth to date, Sunrise Over Sea (Lava). – David Lynch

The Walkmen

5:30pm, Heineken stage

It's been a year and a half since "The Rat" was born, an easy candidate for 2004's best song. The Walkmen's Bows & Arrows (Record Collection) was all drunken sing-alongs and angst-ridden fuck-yous from the Jonathan Fire*Eater spawns. The Tri-State fivepiece is currently recording a follow-up, so expect many new songs and lots of vein-popping fervor. – Darcie Stevens

Dirty Dozen Brass Band

5:45pm, Capital Metro stage

If raising the souls of Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk by way of second-line cipher wasn't enough, Dirty Dozen Brass Band works traditional gospel and spirituals into a parading fervor of unbridled revelry. The New Orleans institution dedicated 2004's Funeral for a Friend (Rope-a-Dope) to founding member Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen and performed it along French Quarter streets to accompany his "homecoming" at St. Louis Cemetery. Robert Gabriel

Jet

6:30pm, Cingular stage

It's been two years since they released their hit debut, Get Born, and Australian garage-rockers Jet can't get a break. Well, at least no break from their tour schedule. While there might not be a new record in stores, the band has a stockpile of hit singles and an army of fans. - Matt Dentler

Bruce Robison

6:30pm, Austin Ventures stage

Nothing slays people at a festival like recognizable tunes. Austin's Bruce Robison's written plenty of 'em, from the Dixie Chick's "Travelin' Soldier" to Tim McGraw and Faith Hill's "Angry All the Time." How much he'll preview from the album he's currently recording is anybody's guess, but get ready to sing along to what's become a genuine Texas anthem: the unbelievably dead-on funny "What Would Willie Do?" – Andy Langer

The Real Heroes

6:40pm, BMI stage

Deftly combining the glam-rock of Sweet, the artful wit of the Kinks, and the power pop of Cheap Trick, Austin's Real Heroes capture a wide swath of fancy in a town not celebrated for these things. The quintet's 2004 LP, Greetings From Russia, was a 10-song firecracker that garnered distribution through Target stores nationwide. – Greg Beets

Zap Mama

7:15pm, Capital Metro stage

Informed by Marie Daulne's Zairian heritage, Zap Mama weaves an interlocking tapestry of world-folk and urban aesthetics. The Grammy-nominated, Belgium-based singing quartet interpolates central African pygmy chants into a harmonic mandala of transcendent quality. 2004's Ancestry in Progress (Luaka Bop) patches its open spaces with scraps of neo-soul and hip-hop à la Erykah Badu, Common, and the Roots. – Robert Gabriel

Drive-by Truckers

7:30pm, Heineken stage

Hailed for making Southern rock safe again, the Drive-by Truckers are an explosive three-guitar attack writing some of the hardest-hitting and most deeply felt songs of the past 10 years. The Athens, Ga., quintet's latest release is a DVD, Live at the 40 Watt (New West), an honest capture of their strength as a live act. – Jim Caligiuri


SUNDAY

Tristan Prettyman

11:30am, Capital Metro stage

After making a solid first impression with a series of SXSW shows, this 23-year-old San Diego surfer-turned-folk-troubadour returns to town to support her Virgin Records debut, the appropriately titled Twentythree. Her heartfelt folk confessionals put her in a league somewhere between Jack Johnson and Ani DiFranco. – Andy Langer

Ambulance Ltd

Noon, AMD stage

While countless shoegazers create atmosphere, Brooklyn Converse-gazers Ambulance Ltd write great pop songs. After plugging away in various incarnations since the late Nineties, the group's self-titled debut LP unveiled the fruits of their labor last year; singer Marcus Congleton croons and swoons, pulling off a great Lou Reed (the VU's "Ocean") while playing rebellious blues-infused chords over darker, glittering melodies. – Audra Schroeder

The New Amsterdams

Noon, Heineken stage

From the ashes of Lawrence, Kan.'s recently disbanded Get Up Kids rises the New Amsterdams, singer Matt Pryor's former side project. Where the Kids rode the emo train, the Amsterdams take a rootsier, laid-back pop approach that worked well on 2003's Worse for the Wear (Vagrant) and can also be heard on the free online EP Killed or Cured. – Melanie Haupt

Eisley

12:30pm, Cingular stage

From playing the DuPree family's Tyler coffee shop to opening for Coldplay, Eisley's Horatio Alger-style story is the stuff of PR dreams. The quintet's earnestly ethereal pop songs and the sweetly slurred vocals are what command the rapt attention of festival crowds. After two EPs, Warner Bros. released Eisley's debut full-length, Room Noises, in February. – Greg Beets

Pong

12:50pm, Austin Ventures stage

Veterans going back to Austin's post-punk past, Pong pogo out dance rock that you can think to. The synth-pop and hard riffs of their 2001 debut, Killer Lifestyle, balanced grooves with nerdy aesthetics, followed up with the 8-bit funk of this spring's Bubble City. The future is now. – Martin De Leon II

Maneja Beto

1pm, Capital Metro stage

Formed in 2002, Austin quintet Maneja Beto mashes up traditional Mexican music with hipster rock. Like Cafe Tacuba, their acclaimed Para Que las Paredes No Se Aburran (So the Walls Don't Get Bored), rubs son, cumbias, and huapangos with New Wave guitars and the energetic vocals of lead singer Alex Chavez. Live, they're like Ozomatli or locals Grupo Fantasma. – Martin De Leon II

Joe McDermott

1:30pm, Austin Kiddie Limits stage

After cutting his teeth on Eighties indie pop with Grains of Faith, Joe McDermott morphed into one of Austin's favorite children's music performers. McDermott's kid-pop confections on 2003's Everywhere You Go steer clear of the singsong nursery-rhyme ghetto. – Greg Beets

Rachael Yamagata

1:45pm, AMD stage

Rachael Yamagata is a woman scorned, and her latest RCA release, Happenstance, is a pissed-off Dear John letter written in spit and minor chords. The 26-year-old Chicago singer/pianist plays it tough, and though the Norah Jones comparisons keep rolling in, Yamagata creates her own realm of honesty when she growls, "I'm in love with you, but you are not with me." – Audra Schroeder

Zykos

1:50pm, Austin Ventures stage

Anyone familiar with their recent eponymous album knows Austin indie-rock band Zykos is on the cusp of a major college-radio crossover. Even if they don't wind up playing the emo clubs of the world, there's enough power in their pop to keep them busy for years inside the dive bars of Austin. – Matt Dentler

Brave Combo

2:30pm, Capital Metro stage

Combining musical scholarship and dance hall frenzy since 1979, Denton's Brave Combo made the most of their 25th year by winning the Best Polka Grammy for Let's Kiss (DenTone) and appearing at Springfield's Oktoberfest celebration on The Simpsons. Ostensibly a polka band, Brave Combo stretches that designation to encompass everything from Mozart's "Rondo a la Turca" to "Louie, Louie." – Greg Beets

Rilo Kiley

2:30pm, SBC stage

Too well put together for indie rock yet too raw for Top 40 radio, Rilo Kiley's organic, quirk-laden pop occupies a space all its own. The versatile Los Angeles-based quartet – fronted by magnetic former child actress Jenny Lewis – garnered both major label distribution and critical hosannas last year for their third album, More Adventurous. They're now on tour with Coldplay. – Greg Beets

Bukka Allen

2:50pm, Austin Ventures stage

Six years after his critically acclaimed solo debut, Sweet Valentine, this Austin accordion and piano player is putting finishing touches on his sophomore album. Expect a live preview featuring plenty of dark waltzes and cinematic flourishes compliments of Screen Door Music, the film scoring team he founded with guitarist Rob Gjersoe and celloist Brian Standefer. – Andy Langer

Ruthie Foster

4pm, Capital Metro stage

Possessing a warm and spectacularly soulful voice, this East Texas native is arguably the finest singer on the local scene. Steeped in rich gospel tradition, Foster's music exudes the disarming intimacy of Stages, her recent live album on Blue Corn, an effortless combination of down-home folk, blues, and gospel whose uplifting appeal can't be denied. – Jay Trachtenberg

Grady

4pm, Austin Ventures stage

Grady's superfuzz blues-rock assault is already one of Austin's most prominent musical exports. Of course, the rarified collective musicianship of Canadian ex-Big Sugar guitarist Gordie "Grady" Johnson, London ex-pat bassist Big Ben Richardson, and native Double Trouble/Arc Angels drummer Chris "Whipper" Layton levels the learning curve considerably. The trio's scorching 2004 debut, Y.U. So Shady?, was reissued by Warner Canada this summer. – Greg Beets

Jeff Black

4:40pm, BMI stage

Jeff Black is one of Nashville's most underappreciated singer-songwriters. Over the years, his work has drawn comparisons to such stalwarts as Springsteen and Randy Newman while collaborating with such alt.country icons as Wilco and Iris Dement. Black just released fourth LP Tin Lily (Dualtone), which includes a stellar lineup of Nashville pickers including Sam Bush, Dave Roe, Will Kimbrough, and Kenny Vaughan. – Jim Caligiuri

Dave Alvin & the Guilty Men

5:15pm, Austin Ventures stage

Dave Alvin is a busy man. After wrapping up a summer tour with the Knitters, he's right back out there with his Guilty Men, including Austin guitarist Chris Miller. Alvin's latest, Ashgrove (Yep Roc), leads off with an homage to the L.A. club where he soaked up the styles of Texas blues greats like Lightnin' Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, and Johnny "Guitar" Watson. – Greg Beets

The Decemberists

5:30pm, AMD stage

Like a raging case of scurvy, the Decemberists latest Kill Rock Stars release, Picaresque, is a crippling affair. What with their salty tales of sunken treasure, unrequited love, and singer Colin Meloy's fantastical lyrics and big choruses, the Portland, Ore., quintet harken back to a time when knickers and accordions were in. – Audra Schroeder

Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca

5:30pm, Capital Metro stage

When you talk about cross-cultural hybrids, Putumayo recording artist Ricardo Lemvo has to near the top of any list. Born in the Congo, he now resides in L.A. with his international band, Makina Loca ("crazy machine"). They play a propulsive brand of irresistible dance music that combines west African soukous and Afro-pop with Latin rumbas, salsa, and Afro-Cuban son. – Jay Trachtenberg

Wilco

6:30pm, Cingular stage

Too big to be cult favorites, too small to trouble the major labels, Wilco bleed sincerity and hunger for the road. Their twilight set at last year's festival was epic and intimate, Jeff Tweedy's neuroses and Nels Cline's prickly guitar combining in a Norman Rockwell portrait of post-Americana longing and doubt. – Christopher Gray

Donna the Buffalo

6:40pm, BMI stage

Since forming almost 20 years ago in upstate New York, this crew of relentless road warriors has become a favorite of the jam band and festival circuits. Their breezy new album, Life's a Ride (Reincarnate), is a showcase for the rootsy, eclectic folk rock sounds they've dubbed "original American dance music." – Jay Trachtenberg

Kermit Ruffins

7pm, Capital Metro stage

Channeling the spirit of Louis Armstrong, Kermit Ruffins embodies New Orleans lagniappe as he alternates between trumpet, singing, and manning the barbecue pit. The former face of the Rebirth Brass Band can't help but encourage a good time as evidenced by the 2005 reunion with his old second-line crowd titled Throwback (Basin Street). – Robert Gabriel

Tortoise

7:45pm, AMD stage

Tortoise's syrupy instrumentals were once the standard of post-rock. Forgoing the thrust of punk for the wonders of dub, krautrock, and jazz, on records such as 1996's Millions Now Living Will Never Die the Chicago collective solidified they're brainy rhythms on 2001's Standards and last year's It's All Around You. – Martin De Leon II

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