Ten Things That Defined ACL Fest's First Weekend

Abortion ban opposition, a weather delay, and the unforgettable performances

Tkay Maidza (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Returning the Unused Rain Boots We Bought

Leading up to ACL, meteorologists forecasted thunderstorms over Austin throughout Friday and Saturday – a projection that could’ve turned Zilker into Texas’ largest mud puddle. Turns out the only rain hit in the sleepy hours of Friday morning, resulting in pools that had to be filled with mulch. As such, Friday’s gates got pushed back until 3pm, causing a handful of performances – including mainstay openers Asleep at the Wheel – to be canceled. From there out, clear skies prevailed.

That Long-Ass Line on Friday

The delayed opening led to seemingly all attendees showing up at once, building into a long line that stretched back beyond the JuiceLand on Barton Springs Road. Chronicle staffer Rachel Rascoe admitted: “I cut ahead with the majority over the bridge, where I still spent 45 minutes locked up ahead of the gates. I saw one bold individual fanning themselves with their vaccine card.”

Bans Off Our Bodies

Multiple marquee performers stated their opposition to Texas’ abortion ban. Megan Thee Stallion implored fans to raise middle fingers “to all these hoe-ass men trying to tell us what the fuck to do with our bodies.” Phoebe Bridgers, who’s been supporting Texas Abortion Funds with a Bandcamp sale, actually advised Gov. Abbott what to do with her body: “Suck my dick, Greg.” Headliner Billie Eilish, whose brother Finneas pledged his ACL paycheck to Planned Parenthood Texas, also decried the new law onstage, summating: “My body, my fucking choice.” Seeing these messages delivered in front of crowds so full of young women felt resonant.

Megan Thee Stallion (Photo by Gary Miller)

Miley and Megan

Having hand-selected audience members to dance onstage Friday, Texas rapper and self-styled “hot girl coach” Megan Thee Stallion howled in surprised excitement when Miley Cyrus emerged from side stage to grind up on her. Later, in her headlining slot, Cyrus impressed with legit vocal prowess, well-executed covers woven into original material, a fantastic band, and a stage command that seemed reactive and not overly choreographed.

Erykah Badu Enchants

Erykah Badu was divine as dusk fell on Sunday. Chronicle reviewer Alejandra Ramirez described the set as an “astral odyssey” in which the Dallas Neo-soul vanguard arrived as an “omniscient bandleader... kick-starting the band in and out at the wave of a hand.” Her fluid reimaginings of “Tyrone” and “Bag Lady” to close the set may have been ACL’s most masterful display.

Artists Making Us Wonder if We're Phone-Addicted

When Austin’s body-moving, heartstring-pulling, thought-provoking synth ensemble TC Superstar performed recent single “Waste My Time,” the group’s four dancers did choreography echoing the song’s topic of phone addiction. Later on the same stage, visceral singer/rapper 070 Shake – who reportedly does not use a cell phone – pleaded with the audience to leave their devices out of the experience: “Fuck the phone, fuck the Instagram, fuck the Twitter,” she declared. “We’re here and it feels good to be human.” Both scenarios caused serious internal conflict: I wanted to document it, but I don’t want to be the chump holding up a phone.

Austin Being Jack Harlow's Proving Ground

The young Kentucky rap artist looked over a sea of fans on Saturday and reflected on first coming to Austin for South by Southwest 2017 where he played underattended showcases. He went on to say that each time he’s returned, the crowd’s been a little bigger and how those benchmarks have contributed to him “finding himself as an artist.” Maxing out the Miller Lite stage, his dialed-in set, including chart-topping Lil Nas X collab “Industry Baby,” evoked memories of Kendrick Lamar overdrawing that same platform in 2013.

Tkay Maidza Making Everyone Smile

Remember thinking during lockdown how joyous the return of concerts would be? Zimbabwe-born, Australia-raised rapper/singer Tkay Maidza best manifested that notion with a giggly dance party on Friday. Her set, involving hip-hop, Y2K-era R&B, and a bit of house, emanated an infectious feel-good mood.

St. Vincent Answers the Call

Another St. Vincent album, another aesthetically divergent persona. In a blonde bob wig, the Dallas-raised arty rock/pop artisan showcased funk-influenced new LP Daddy’s Home with A-team band, including three backing vocalists, and a presentation Rascoe noted for its "charismatic Seventies-themed onstage accoutrements" and multiple gags including a convincing body double and a part where she took a call onstage from an old rotary phone, requested the audience scream to convince the caller she was indeed in the middle of a performance, ultimately yelling "Fuck yeah, that's ACL Texas style bitch!" and slamming down the receiver.

George Strait (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

George Strait Saying "Texas" a Lot

If you take a drink every time George Strait sings or says the word “Texas,” your night will end in the ER getting your stomach pumped. I only caught half his set and lost count somewhere around 70. King George’s ACL debut proved a multigenerational and familial rite of Lone Star heritage where mothers and sons and fathers and daughters sang along together... mostly the word “Texas.”

Want the full lowdown? Check out our ACL Fest Weekend One coverage at austinchronicle.com/acl.

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ACL Fest, ACL Fest 2021, Billie Eilish, Phoebe Bridgers, Megan Thee Stallion, Finneas, Miley Cyrus, George Strait, St. Vincent, Erykah Badu, 070 Shake, TC Superstar, Tkay Maidza

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