Playback: A Music Snob’s Guide to ACL Fest
There’s more to any ACL Fest list than meets the eye
By Kevin Curtin, Fri., Oct. 6, 2017
Music snobs can't wrap their heads around the scene at ACL Fest: flatfooted clans staking out real estate with lawn chairs, herds of frat boys in basketball jerseys, and their collegiate counterparts lining up for Instagram photos inside the giant simulated picture frame near the Zilker Park entrance – hashtag #FestLife.
For such segments of the local populous and many more, the city's largest outdoor music festival, now in its 16th year, remains a quintessential Austin experience. By contrast, fanatics of Pitchfork-ian pedigree would more likely attend a Gathering of the Juggalos – ironically! – than be caught dead at a festival perceived as safe, commercial music. For those of us with a superiority complex of musical sophistication, November's Sound on Sound Fest hits the genre jackpot and ACL is simply where your dental hygienist will catch her favorite band: Foster the People.
True, you can hardly blame homegrown tube socks for not getting erect over ever-present Californication funkies the Red Hot Chili Peppers or trouser rock convicts the Killers – the two highest-billed headliners on ACL Fest's initial announcement. RHCP has become such a cultural punchline that Spider House hosts a Chili Peppers roast on Friday, complete with comedy, karaoke, and, perhaps, a Suck My Kiss-ing Booth. The Killers are so Aughties that frontman Brandon Flowers left them at home when he played solo at ACL Fest 2015.
Of course the real headliners are Jay-Z, the Bruce Springsteen of rap, and Gorillaz, whose leader Damon Albarn practically invented indie rock credibility over the past quarter-century. The other main stage closer, hip-hop spark Chance the Rapper, topped Austin's JMBLYA festival over the summer at Circuit of the Americas.
Taken together, they accounted for a marked dip in interest for C3 Presents' largest local event. Last year, which boasted both Kendrick Lamar and Radiohead, weekend one wristbands sold out in a single day. The year before, they went in eight. This year, it took 32. Weekend two wristbands remain on sale, as do day passes to Friday and Sunday this first weekend. On www.ticketsnow.com, C3 parent company Live Nation's scalping market, ample weekend one passes remain available, some under face value.
File that under "good news" for the everyman music fan who hasn't secured entry yet, because you have more options than ever for a festival that usually sells out before most folks have a chance to digest the lineup. For that latter demographic in particular, our first weekend ACL supplement in this issue digs out dozens of acts currently unknown, but that in a matter of years will command later set times on the same stages. Remember ACL acts such as Charles Bradley, Valerie June, and Jidenna performing intimate sets before ascending bigger platforms? What about a nascent Kings of Leon at 11am on a Sunday morning for a couple hundred fans?
To y'all gamers and music snobs in general, here are a few underground artists, critical darlings, and breakout acts of tomorrow.
ACL Fest's smallest platform remains an oasis of future stars. Last year, I had my mind blown by Texas-based Thai funk act Khruangbin. Previous iterations have welcomed Nikki Lane, Lucy Dacus, Catfish & the Bottlemen, and Shakey Graves pre-breakout. Here's our Top 5 picks for the BMI stage this year:
Jonny P (Fri., 11:45am) Charismatic New Yorker in the vein of one-time ACL main-stager Aloe Blacc that fuses contemporary and retro soul.
La Femme (Fri., 5:15pm) French psych-punk witha surrealist live show.
Traveller (Sat., 1pm) Eclectic Americana supergroup of top-notch songmen Cory Chisel, Robert Ellis, and Jonny Fritz.
R.Lum.R (Sat., 3pm) Floridian singer-guitarist whose alternative R&B spins millions on Spotify.
Charlotte Cardin (Sun., 1:15pm) Canadian pianist with a haunting voice who plays jazzy, electronic-spiked modern pop.
Hamilton Leithauser (Fri., 3:15pm, Barton Springs) Ex-Walkmen singer evolves into a mature rocker with touches of Bob Dylan and Randy Newman.
Solange (Fri., 7:15pm, Barton Springs) The music snob's Beyoncé.
Angel Olsen (Sat., 5pm, Miller Lite) Crit-rock's reigning queen with entrancing tremolo, ardent incantations, and a legit anthem: "Shut Up Kiss Me."
Danny Brown (Sun., 2:15pm, Honda) Squawky as he is smart, this Detroit rapper remains an original in a field of clones.
Growlers (Sun., 5:15pm, Miller Lite) ACL's best California band, led by lo-fi vocalist Brooks Nielsen, sounds like beach-bound Velvet Underground.
Methyl Ethel (Fri., 12:30pm, American Express) Smooth art-rock with latent pop powers from Down Under.
Bonobo (Fri., 6:15pm, Tito's) ACL's EDM profile wanes this year, but this UK master pulses lush, complex, electronic music with an expansive live band.
Skepta (Fri., 5:15pm, HomeAway) UK grime-rap crossover.
Allan Rayman (Sat., 1:15pm, Tito's) Sandpaper-voiced Canadian songsmith with a distinct delivery.
Jacob Banks (Sun., 1:15pm, Barton Springs) Nigerian-born, Britain-based modern R&B talent with an improbably booming voice.
Carson McHone (Fri., 12:30pm, Tito's) Lyrically commanding classic country and folk songwriter poised for a Margo Price-like breakout.
Spoon (Sat., 7pm, Miller Lite) Critically bulletproof rockers continue their dud-less streak with 2017's synth-minded Hot Thoughts.
Mélat (Sun., 12:30pm, Tito's) Alternative R&Beats pulling off the rare feat of performing at both ACL and Sound on Sound.
Zilker Park closes at 10pm each night, so what are you going to do for the next six hours until bedtime? The festival's Late Night Shows are better than ever this year, and tickets are still available for most of them.
Whitney (Thu., Antone's) Secretly Canadian-signed casual rock sophisticates helmed by former Unknown Mortal Orchestra drummer Julien Ehrlich, who often sings in a fetching falsetto, and Smith Westerns guitarist Max Kakacek.
Black Angels (Thu., Emo's) Austin's mind-bending psych troupe rides high on excellent new LP Death Song, but your music geek points double with forefatherly opening act, Roky Erickson, rekindling some 13th Floor Elevators.
Ought (Fri., Stubb's Indoors) Nervy art-punk from Montreal intersecting Talking Heads and the Fall. Bonus: Austin's incredible punk curios US Weekly open.
Badbadnotgood (Sat., Mohawk) Ghostface Killah-approved Toronto clan using jazz tools to create dense, groove-based tunes with thick atmosphere.
Run the Jewels (Fri., Stubb's) Exquisite combo of Killer Mike and El-P precede their hotly anticipated Austin City Limits taping next Saturday.
ACL Fest Notes
Scoot Inn hosts its first concert since ACL Fest producers C3 Presents purchased it in late July when silky bass virtuoso Thundercat performs Saturday.
Barton Hills Choir sang "The Spark That Bled" with the Flaming Lips at the Moody Theater last Sunday. The elementary school chorus performs Friday, 12:30pm, on the Austin Kiddie Limits stage.
R.I.P. Rock Stage: ACL Fest's layout has undergone a transformation. The fest grounds are larger, now extending over Barton Springs Road, and several secondary stages, including the picturesque rock stage, have been moved – presumably to correct noise bleed issues.
APD Chief Brian Manley said ACL Fest is going to be the "safest part of the city" due to officer presence. At a press conference prompted by the mass shooting in Las Vegas at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, which is promoted by C3 partners Live Nation, he revealed that APD is re-evaluating security plans to look at nearby towers in the case of a copycat terrorist. Meanwhile, ACL organizers are offering refunds to anyone reluctant to attend.