It’s over. All that remains of ACL Fest 2019 is the ringing in our ears and the dust in our lungs, and a lot of memories. Our staff share who they loved, who disappointed, who surprised.
So what about you? What made an impression with you. Share your thoughts with us on Facebook.
Loved: Brittany Howard. As the sweltering sun crested over the top of the Honda Stage, Howard didn’t seem to break a sweat. On top of her pitch-perfect singing and impassioned physicality, Howard’s slew of new songs, covers of Prince, Jackie Wilson and The Beatles, and empowering words to the audience put the heat to sleep.
Disappointed In: Billie Eilish. Full disclosure, this one’s not at all the performer’s fault. I went to see her not so much because of the two songs I knew at the time, but because I’m fascinated with her counterculture-teen-goth-pop-icon-whatever niche in the music world. Oh, and I knew her fans were going to lose their friggin’ minds over her. Sure enough, the Beatlemania-level shrill started the instant Eilish kicked off her set with “bad guy”, and continued well into her coordination of center-crowd mosh pits. On the big screen, it was one hell of an experience! But…I couldn’t hear the dang thing. I was behind the second set of delay towers (usually a good sounding place that’s close enough to see) and the mix there was almost all bass. I noticed quite a few unhappy dads, whose children (despite knowing all the words) were having to sing along quietly. I guess the real bad guy that Saturday was the sound mixer.
Surprised By: Tierra Whack. A couple of friends invited me to join them at Tierra Whack, and not having done my homework but having been told that “some of those beats are straight cold”, I tagged along. And oooh, man am I glad I did. After a late start thanks to an overheated laptop, Tierra didn’t waste any remaining time at all. Rather than perform several songs all the way through, Tierra would instead demand the DJ cut the music in favor of her hilarious over-the-top crowd participation, including making the security raise their hands, then stealing one of their crew badges and throwing it to an audience member who’d had a birthday that day…
Loved: Lizzo. A magical, masterful performance in front of a buzzing crowd of easily 75,000 who squeezed themselves in and around the Miller Lite stage and beyond for an epic hour from a dynamic performer. She seemed blown away by all the adoration, but it was well earned. From her kick-ass songs and her in between songs chit chat, to the occasional but always inspirational call and response, to the Lizzo-requested crowd-sourced wave that went all the way to Buda and back, to the tens of thousands of illuminated smart phones that swayed side to side in unison, we witnessed first hand the megawatt star power of a young woman who proved to all in attendance that no matter what size or color or age we are, self-love just may be the most important love of all, and that it’s ours for the taking.
Disappointed In: Myself for not getting to Zilker early enough on Weekend Two to see Orville Peck on Sunday. Also, the brutal heat during Weekend One was unbelievably miserable and I was hoping there’d be waaaay more pop up shade sail areas and dozens and dozens more misting fans around Zilker to provide some relief.
Surprised By: How young and passionate and lyric-aware Billie Eilish fans are. I was not that cool at 9.
Loved: IDLES. I had no idea if, or even how, this Bristol quintet would bring their propulsive set to an outdoor stage on a hot Sunday afternoon. They did it by ignoring the circumstances and connecting the way they always do – through blistering music framed by hopeful social commentary. Skirting nihilism, IDLES suggest a way forward, and feel important the way the Clash once did. The audience wasn’t huge, but despite the heat, they stayed put.
Disappointed In: Tame Impala. I love Kevin Parker’s band and their music, and while their performance was fine, even powerful at times, it stayed really close to the recorded versions of their songs. Worse, in a massive crowd where 80% of them had no real view of the stage, they never showed the band on the big screens, instead projecting pastels, clouds and laser beams. I kept expecting unicorns to show up. Those screens are there for a reason. I could have played their music at home to my own light show.
Surprised By: Gogo Penguin. This instrumental Manchester trio’s purposefully overproduced recordings have always left me a bit cold. But live, they exhibited a warmth, musicality and humor that was highly appealing – and won over the large crowd under the tent, many of them no doubt there to get out of the sun.
Also: After all these years of ACL Fest, why can’t they get the sound right at the main stage? (This year, the American Express stage). Unless you’re up close, the sound can be barely audible. Why not another set of speakers hallway back? The Rolling Stones did this to great effect when they played in this same location. Meanwhile, the stage opposite it (this year the T-Mobile stage) is always deafening. Fix this already.
Loved: Billie Eilish. Y’all, knew I liked Billie’s music, but after seeing her perform I’m a fan of her entire project. As a mother of young daughters, I’m so psyched that they have Eilish to look up to — she’s ready to mess with all expectations of what a pop star should sing about, look like and act like. Plus she’s an artist first and foremost. She writes her music with her brother/collaborator Finneas. That’s the kind of role model I want for my kids.
Loved: Lizzo. I went in with high expectations for Lizzo’s weekend 2 set, and she surpassed every one of them. I’m not sure there’s a better experience in this world than being in a crowd full of people who are loving on themselves and each other with the help of Lizzo.
Loved: Rosalía. After seeing Rosalía 3 times in the last week, twice at ACLfest and once at her ACL taping, I officially want to be Rosalía when I grow up.
Loved: Tame Impala. They used the video screens to show imagery that enhanced the music and it wasn’t about Kevin Parker or the band members. It was all about the experience that the songs conjured, and it was impressive. Plus, we play a ton of their songs so it was very familiar.
Disappointed In: Childish Gambino. Granted, I wasn’t super close to the stage, but for me, he dicked around too much. When it was good, it was great, other times it had a Lionel Richie feel which I could’ve done without. I’m not saying it was bad, it just wasn’t as awesome as I thought it’d be. I get the feeling that people felt like they had to love it since he said he was done. I’m holding out for the amazing comeback show.
Surprised By: Black Pistol Fire. They’ve played a bunch of festivals over the last couple of years around the globe and it shows. It’s just two dudes making a wonderful racket and they know how to bring the energy and play to the crowd.
Also: I’m glad I finally got to see Guns N Roses and they came out strong the first weekend with It’s So Easy and Mr. Brownstone. There was a lot of filler though and don’t need to see them again. I’m good.
Loved: James Blake. His set found a perfect balance between subtle emotion and festival stage intensity. One minute he had the audience entranced with a heartbreaking piano and vocal solo and the next he and his band are pounding the sound system with sounds borrowed from bass music like House, Trap and early tasteful Dubstep. Blake knows the exact mix of musicianship and showmanship it takes to create an engaging set for a festival sized crowd.
Disappointed In: Lil Uzi Vert canceled his performance at the first weekend on short notice and arrived the second weekend to deliver a performance that could be described as phoned in at best. His DJ basically played songs off of his albums with the vocal tracks while the rapper walked around the stage, occasionally singing along with his own songs. This kind of performance can work for some rappers but his general lack of enthusiasm left the whole experience feeling weak.
Loved: Brittany Howard. She really brought it, taking us all to church with a searing, soulful performance, Saturday on the Honda Stage. She put meat on the bones of songs that aren’t quite as compelling in their recorded versions, such as “Stay High”, “Baby” and “History Repeats”. In addition to playing some guitar herself, Howard had two additional guitarists, two keyboards (including a righteous B-3 organ) and two back-up singers. With her powerful voice on display her music cut straight to the heart. Her ecstatic cover of Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Is Lifting Me) Higher And Higher” was the highlight of my weekend. And let’s not forget her final song, a transformation of The Beatles’ “Revolution” into something altogether original. Impressive.
Disappointed In: Billie Eilish. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not in her desired demographic but I know what bored, detached and uninspired sounds like.
Surprised By: Bruce Hornsby. With a little time to kill, I wandered over to the Tito’s Tent to see what Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers were up to. Not knowing anything about Hornsby other than he played with the Grateful Dead for a moment or two in the early 1990s, I guess the Dead’s vibe rubbed off on him. The singer/pianist was in full jam band mode, replete with a guitarist who sounded unquestionably like Jerry Garcia. A pleasant surprise, indeed.