On Friday, October 5th, Austin’s crown jewel Zilker Metropolitan Park was yet again transformed for two weeks to host the 17th annual Austin City Limits Festival. This year’s offering was tilted to more seasoned music fans with the fest’s biggest headliner to date, Paul McCartney, sharing the top slot on the American Express stage with Metallica on Friday and Saturday night respectively. Younger fans had to contend with the fact that the highly anticipated Sunday headliner Childish Gambino was out after he broke his foot attempting the splits on stage in Dallas in September, replaced by Houston hip-hop artist Travis Scott who was flown in from New York after his Saturday Night Live performance to close out the last night.
As steamy as a bowl of hot menudo, Day One was the sultriest of the three, as people filed into the pecan-lined entrance of the park. Increased security this year meant no more backpacks with more than one pocket, to speed up entry and reduce contraband. Canadian pop group Alvvays got a modest crowd rocking early in the day at the Miller Light Stage while musical genius David Byrne packed the sun-filled lawn at the American Express Stage. Dressed in matching grey suits, Byrne and his eight-piece band kicked off his set with “Here” and “Lazy” before a string of Talking Heads songs including the crowd favorite “Once In a Lifetime” that featured the artists signature unorthodox dance moves in front of a minimalist metal curtain.
Exiting David Byrne as quickly as cattle stuck in the mud, much of the crowd moseyed their way to the opposite side of the park to go one of either two ways: to the funk soul of JUNGLE at the Barton Springs Stage or the Zeppelin-sounds of Greta Van Fleet at the Miller Light Stage. While the precocious rockers from Detroit were belting out tunes to arguably one of the largest crowds they have ever seen, JUNGLE’s low-key grooves in the pecan grove continued the dance party vibes. After an exhausting summer of festivals and a European tour, the U.K.-based soul brothers brought the heat of their latest album For Ever to Texas. Starting their set with “Heavy” and “Smile, California” McFarland and Lloyd-Watson sang their hearts out to hits “Busy Earnin’” and “Time” from their debut album at the peak of the afternoon sun.
Texas artists were well represented at ACL this year, especially during golden hour on Friday with back-to-back sets by notable Lone Star State up-and-comers. Around the time when the massive ACL Eats food court was clogged with patrons slamming East Side King tacos and Shake Shack burgers, the Honda Stage featured the creamy smooth R&B of El Paso singer-songwriter Khalid, crooning to the audience in a dayglow yellow t-shirt. At the adjacent Miller Light Stage, San Marcos, Texas-born musical collective Brockhampton turned up the energy with their self-described “boy band” hip-hop.
Austin City Limits has hosted a slew of heritage artists such as Neil Young and Lionel Ritchie over the years, but they pale in comparison to living legend Paul McCartney. With VIP tickets to his recent Freshen Up tour costing more than a three-day wristband to ACL, many jumped at the opportunity to see the former member of The Beatles and Wings. Filling nearly half of the park, an estimated 60,000 fans caught the Liverpudlian belt out over 30 songs that leaned heavily on the hits, with a few songs from his most recent albums Kisses on the Bottom (QRO review) and Egypt Station to round out his set. Kicking off with “Hard Day’s Night”, McCartney alternated back and forth between his Beatles and post-Beatles work dedicating several tunes to close friends such as John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix as well as his late wife Linda. The end of his set brought fireworks both literally and figuratively with James Bond soundtrack song “Live and Let Die” crescendoing with pyrotechnics followed by a spirited Beatles sing-along to “Hey Jude”. His five-song encore was strictly from the Beatles era with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Helter Skelter”, and “The End” sending the fans to the gates.