Seven Essential ACL Fest 2022 Recommendations

Heavyweight hand-picks from the Chronicle Music team

Dehd (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Nation of Language

Friday, 1:45pm, Miller Lite stage (Weekend One only)
ACL Fest Nights: Saturday, 12:30am, Stubb's indoors

The Weeknd drops an album and people throw around "synth-pop comeback" like it's just one era. In truth, UK's neon New Wave traveled over in two phases. There's the stuff that aged immaculately, like Tears for Fears and Depeche Mode – moody, high-octane, and danceable. But that's the mid-Eighties. Brooklyn's Nation of Language might be the first group of revivalists to pretend the cool stuff never happened. Calling back even further to the chintzy, instantly dated futurism of pioneers like OMD and early Human League, the group imagines a world where pingpong drum machines and wire-thin basslines remained the height of post-Cold War chic. Last year's album A Way Forward saw the group find just that, moving past mere mimicry by twisting their beloved retro sonics into distinctly modern structures: sighing, meditative pop soundscapes. Think Future Islands, but vibes instead of bops. – Julian Towers

Jazmine Sullivan (Photo by Adedayo Kosoko)

Jazmine Sullivan

Friday, 4:15pm, Honda stage

For an R&B singer who built a career on belting the most intimate thoughts of every scorned woman, Philadelphia royalty Jazmine Sullivan is notoriously private. What do we know? Daughter of a backup singer for Philadelphia International Records and an art curator, she busted onto the scene in 2008 with debut platinum-selling Fearless. Likewise, she smashed a cheater's car windows in seminal single "Bust Your Windows." After cementing her place as one of the genre's most relatable hitmakers with 2010's critically acclaimed Love Me Back and 2015's chart-topping Reality Show, it was radio silence until 2021's instant classic Heaux Tales. The Grammy-winning 14-track EP mimics an intimate conversation between best girlfriends, questioning every facet of womanhood and society's accompanying definitions. In the intrinsically feminist act of allowing bad stories along with the good, Sullivan is staging a revolution. – Clara Wang

Billy Strings

Friday, 7pm, T-Mobile stage

At last month's Americana Music Awards, Billy Strings took home Artist of the Year, a well-deserved recognition on the heels of last year's third LP, Renewal. Capstone to the trilogy, the album reckons with Strings' trek to his current position as ambassador to a new generation of bluegrass. The multi-instrumentalist told the Chronicle back in 2018: "I never thought I'd amount to anything, let alone get to follow my dreams and see them come to life." Blistering picking and subtle songwriting garnered attention with 2017 debut Turmoil & Tinfoil, while 2019 Grammy-winning Home reconciled his Michigan upbringing mired in drug abuse, from which music became an escape. Renewal thus serves as an ascension of determination, with Strings slinging one of the best live shows in roots music today, revering tradition while progressing its sound with a psychedelic intensity. – Doug Freeman

Lido Pimienta (Photo by Daniella Murillo)

Lido Pimienta

Saturday, 1:30pm, Barton Springs stage

Head to toe, loud and clear, Lido Pimienta bursts with art. Her fashion: a fabulous explosion of color with Indigenous elements. Her voice: sonically hypnotic, imaginatively delivered, commandingly impassioned. Her music: free-feeling, avant-Latin, experimental electronic pop. Finally, her videos: conceptual triumphs of set design and style. The Colombia-born, Toronto-based singer's credentials include joining choreographer Andrea Miller on the first all-women team ever commissioned by the New York City Ballet to create a piece, 2021's "Sky to Hold." After earning Canada's prestigious Polaris Music Prize with 2016 album La Papessa, 2020's Miss Colombia (Anti- Records) is an even stronger showing of her transfixing vocals, storytelling-oriented songs, and imaginative production, which remains airy while loaded with complex arrangements. Preview Pimienta's creative force – cranking the color and amplifying the culture from the greater Americas – with an essential Live on KEXP taped earlier this year. – Kevin Curtin


Sunday, 1:15pm, T-Mobile stage
ACL Late Nights: Saturday (Oct. 15), 9pm, Stubb's (w/ Japanese Breakfast)

With the release of this year's fourth LP, Blue Skies, Chicago trio Dehd set up a "Bad Love" voicemail hotline for fans to share their bad breakups and dating nightmares. The scratchy recordings offer an intimate, conspiratorial complement to the album, which cathartically whirls with stripped-down passion, simultaneously tortured and triumphant. Despite the documenting of love gone wrong, the Eighties-pop touches and melting, melancholic reverb on Blue Skies nonetheless sparkle. Amidst infectious jangle and big hooks, the dueling vocals of Jason Balla and Emily Kempf recall last decade's deadpan indie bands like the Drums. But Dehd's understated pull gains an edge, tightroping between sinking wall of sound and tightly coiled surf-rock frenzy. New single "Eggshells" likewise licks stripped-down slacker ennui, an undercutting anxiety boiling just below the surface. – Doug Freeman

The Marías

Sunday, 5pm, Barton Springs stage

Talk about a meet cute written in Hollywood stars: María Zardoya, a Puerto Rico-born small-town-Georgia native, and Josh Conway, the son of a music publishing executive running sound at the former's show at the Kibitz Room, the bar inside the iconic Canter's Deli. The couple quickly busied writing songs for a music supervisor friend. Though none made it to TV or film, maybe better, they became part of dreamy, seductive indie-pop tracklists as the Marías. Across two volumes of Superclean EPs and 2021 LP Cinema, Zardoya sings at ease in English and Spanish, imbuing the fivepiece band's groovy, languid lounge atmosphere with a simmering Latin influence. Zardoya cites Norah Jones as a vocal model, but also plays slow reggaeton covers of Bad Bunny, who featured the Marías on his latest album, as the group moves from coffee-shop ubiquitous to global conquerors. – Christina Garcia


Sunday, 6pm, American Express stage

Emo hearts will soar when alt-rock icon Hayley Williams, with current lineup of guitarist Taylor York and drummer Zac Farro, stakes her ACL Fest debut. Following formation in 2004, the Tennessee act found fame with 2007's platinum full-length Riot!, featuring fierce instrumentation and highly relatable lyrics. The game-changing group not only set the pace for their own career, but for the future gen of pop-punkers. Intervening lineup changes, and phases of reinvention and experimentation, landed "Ain't It Fun" as 2015's Best Rock Song at the Grammys – pulled off 2013's Paramore, the group's first No. 1 album. Last week, the band announced an incoming follow-up to 2017's After Laughter with comeback single "This Is Why." Though the powerhouse progressions to earn early-career renown have matured alongside them, the emotional intensity fans fell for in the first place very much remains. – Alyssa Quiles

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ACL Fest 2022, Nation of Language, Billy Strings, Jazmine Sullivan, Lido Pimienta, Dehd, Paramore, The Marías

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