The second weekend of the 18th Annual Austin City Limits Festival started off with record cold on Friday, October 11th, with temperatures hovering below 50 degrees for most of the day. This was a stark contrast to Weekend One, which set the record for the hottest ACL to date. The second weekend also saw the final performances of the year for some and the end of a music career for one. Highlights of Weekend Two also included an exclusive performance by Robyn and a second opportunity to see the red hot Lizzo and rising star Billie Eilish perform.
Festivalgoers were bundled up and slow to arrive on Friday. It was bitter cold, and the out of towners were easy to spot in their shorts and shimmery crop tops. Meanwhile, the onesie crowd drew jealous gazes as they sauntered down the park. The American Express main stage on the east side of the park saw early performances by the all-female Utah pop band The Aces followed by the strumming country vibes of Tyler Childers. The stage really started heating up when The Raconteurs hit the stage at 5:30 pm during the warmest part of the gray day. With shaggy hair and a Cramps t-shirt, Detroit rocker Jack White joined hoodie wearing Brendon Benson in getting the crowd moving with the fuzzy guitars of the 2006 song “Level” from their self-titled album. They closed their set with a call and response on “Steady, As She Goes” where the crowd followed with, “Are you steady now?”
As magic hour approached, the Miller Light Stage on the west side of the park began to light up with a mesmerizing performance by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. Starting off with the eastern beats of “Impossible Knots” from the 2019 Album ANIMA (QRO review), Yorke set the stage for a hypnotic performance that matched the melancholy day. With all black clothes and hair tucked into a man bun, Yorke moved around instruments with his signature convulsing dance moves fed by distorted beats. As darkness completely took over and the stage, the visuals became more prominent – dreamy, uneasy, and anxious. Colorful geometric abstractions during the mellow middle of the set gave way to animated white scratches against the dark void that moved to the woomp woomps of the song “Traffic” where fans mirrored the artist’s dance moves.
Back at the American Express Stage, rockers Guns N’ Roses kicked off their headlining set by diving into their debut album Appetite for Destruction from 1987. Starting off with an extended version of “It’s So Easy” showcasing Axl Rose in a uniform of bandana, flannel shirt, and torn jeans followed by “Mr. Brownstone” featuring Slash’s ferocious guitar licks on sky high video monitors. On both Friday nights of 2018, Paul McCartney drew crowds at the same stage that dwarfed this evening’s audience. In the middle of their set, Guns N’ Roses nodded to the former Beatles and current Wings leader with their cover of “Live and Let Die” from their wildly popular 1991 album Use Your Illusion I, which saw the rockers at their peak.
Tame Impala’s warm psychedelic sounds blanketed a younger more subdued crowd at their headlining set on the western end of the park at the Honda Stage. You nearly had to hurdle the couples huddled together on blankets to get to the dancers closer to hazy laser-beamed lit stage that featured an LED ring that slowly descended over the course of the show like a landing spaceship. Mellow tracks like the Beatles-sounding “Mind Mischief” and tripped out atmosphere of “Nangs” gave way to the thumping of “Elephant” and driving rhythm of “Apocalypse Dreams” that saw the crowd at their most animated. After a solid performance of “Eventually”, Kevin Parker confided in the crowd that it was a sad night because it was their last show of the year but that they couldn’t think of a place better than Austin to close it out.
While Friday attendance was sluggish, Saturday saw the park fill earlier with the sun breaking through occasionally on the warmer day. The country shoegaze of crooning queer cowboy Orville Peck livened up the western side of the park at the Honda Stage. Peck’s unusual fringe-lined Lone Ranger mask and heavily embroidered western wear caught many by surprise as they saw his image projected on building sized monitors. Just as he got the crowd stirring, that side of the park went silent as Megan Thee Stallion no-showed for her early afternoon set at the adjacent Miller Light stage. She took to Twitter the next day apologizing about travel issues and saying, “I tried to still perform and they just told me my set was cancelled. I will do a make up show for my atx hotties soon.”
Bringing the church on Saturday, Grammy winner Brittany Howard punched through eight soulful songs at the Honda stage. Howard who lit up the park with Alabama Shakes in 2015 (QRO photos), comes back as a solo artist in support of her 2019 album Jaime. Dressed in a shimmering silver kimono and brilliant horn-rimmed glasses, the commanding artist began her set with three new tracks, high energy funky guitar fueled “History Repeats”, the mellow R&B ballad “He Loves Me”, and the gospel organ-enveloped “Georgia”. Howard kept the festival goers spirits elevated to the end with her cover of Jackie Wilsons’ “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” followed by the choir backed song “Stay High.”
Crowds began to balloon as it got later into the afternoon on Saturday with Brittany Howard’s audience merging into Kali Uchis’ at the west end of the park. Greeted by an intermittent mix of sun and rain, clusters of Billie Eilish fans were easy to spot with their brightly colored hair and baggy shorts and jerseys. The tweens flooded the Honda Stage area well in advance of the 17 year old’s set. Fresh off a recent Saturday Night Live performance and a huge turnout on Weekend One, the orthopedic boot wearing singer basked in the energy that welcomed her on Weekend Two. Her throngs of fans sang along with every moody word, going crazy at “Bury a Friend”, Sadly, the artist left without her diamond ring after an overzealous fan ripped it off her finger as she crowd surfed. After she got on stage, she responded, “Someone stole my fucking ring!” followed by, “I guess it’s my fault, keep that shit.”
Many acts at ACL 2019 had a moody vibe, but James Blake’s inspiring set featured a dramatic interplay between dark and light that set him apart from the other acts. Seated at his piano, the English singer-songwriter and his backing band built up a menacing atmosphere of minor keys, beats, and sirens permeating the air that recalled the electronic uneasiness of Thom Yorke’s set the night before. Blake’s sounds took us deep into the scary woods before his angelic voice brought light and hope – a performance to remember.
The 36 year old multi-talented actor, comedian, and musician, Donald Glover canceled his 2018 ACL performance as Childish Gambino due to an injury, but he was back with the energy and intensity of a lion on Weekend Two. Sometimes you need pyrotechnics and gargantuan stage elements to create a stage presence as Travis Scott did at ACL 2018 (QRO photos), and sometimes your intense stare and boundless energy is all you need in the case of Childish Gambino. Truly the most energizing performance at this point in the festival, you could see how insanely talented Donald Glover is, especially when he knows the camera is around. His set was loud and playful – taking about 15 minutes in the middle of his set to take selfies with his adoring fans while 60 year old Robert Smith of The Cure bared his soul to his goth followers on the other side of the park. This was definitely the last performance of the year for Childish Gambino and it is questionable whether Glover will fill those shoes again after he moves on to other projects.
Sunday afternoon of Weekend Two was warm and sunny, proving to be a great day to walk around the 350 acres of Zilker Park, which would seem to reach capacity later in the evening. Early arriving concert goers were rewarded with a chance to see the raw power of the English rock band IDLES with frontman Joe Talbot gyrating around the stage and into the crowd. This is one of the bands you have to experience in person.
Over at the BMI Stage, known for emerging acts, the Maryland hip-hop aritst IDK pumped up the crowd with an intro of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana before getting on stage with a bright orange biohazard jumpsuit. Overly excited young fans sang along to every word and even helped IDK support himself as he jumped into the crowd several times. Having recently released his studio debut album Is He Real?, it was apparent that the album is well-received thus far in the US market and amongst his fans.
Latin flair was hard to find at this year’s ACL, but Rosalia all but made up for it with her afternoon set at the Honda Stage. Dressed in a black leotard with fishnets and school bus yellow assless chaps, the 26-year-old Spanish singer/songwriter drew a significant crowd to hear her blend of flamenco, hip-hop, and reggaeton. Surrounded by back up dancers, Rosalia stopped her set at one point and gave a shout out to her favorite artist James Blake who performed on Friday, before breaking into bilingual singing in “Barefoot in the Park”, a 2019 collaboration between the two.
Let’s give it up to the dads who often foot the bill of the weekend fest. Sunday was the chillest lineup of the festival, with the shorts and sandals wearing dads walking alongside their bright haired tweens. It was clearly their day as the only plane to fly over the park that weekend was on Sunday and it was an advertisement for a male pattern baldness treatment. This gave California reggae band Rebelution a huge audience on the eastern side of the park at the American Express Stage – appropriately slotted to perform at the 4:20 hour. Over at Miller Light Stage, the image controlling pop singer Banks drew a significantly female dominated crowd to her afternoon set. Fans were treated to a half a set of tracks from the artist’s new album III that was released in September.
Those dads from the American Express Stage picked up their lawn chairs and mosied over to the Honda Stage to catch the ‘90s pop rockers Third Eye Blind perform. The veteran San Francisco musicians split their set up between the sing along bangers like “Semi-Charmed Life” and “Jumper” to the more obscure songs from their new album Screamer. Cover songs were abundant at ACL 2019 and Third Eye Blind was no exception, as they channeled Led Zepplin with their Birkenstock rendition of “Stairway to Heaven”.
With an absolutely incredible showing Weekend One, Lizzo once again garnered the largest crowd on the smaller Miller Lite Stage Sunday night. Due to her popularity on Week One, festival organizers put her video on the monitors at the adjacent Honda Stage in order for the whole side of the park to see. Wearing her signature positive radiance and updated purple facade (including bright purple hair!) she shared her affirming messages with the massive audience, even managing to get the substantial crowd (that filled the surrounding area all the way to the nearby Honda Stage) to participate in a human wave. She Instagrammed the video clip, inserting how amazed she was by the size of the estimated 75,000 fans there to see her, yet again.
Attendees had three choices after Lizzo’s phenomenal set. They could go home, go across the field to Mumford and Sons, or they could go crazy at Robyn few dozen yards away. Following Lizzo is no easy feat, but Robyn killed it. The presence and confidence of the 40-year-old Swedish singer commanded the festivalgoers with a little more juice in their tank. With dark thumping beats, Robyn would shake, shimmy, and spin across the stage for nearly an hour and a half. She was joined on stage by a black gymnastic dancer who would break into beautiful passages of movement to her set. The EDM side of her music was delicious and captivated a crowd pumped up by Lizzo’s self-love sermon. The artist could feel the love and was all but alone during the sing along to “Dancing on My Own”. Robyn brought a headline worthy performance to ACL 2019, blowing out Cardi B’s half-hearted set the weekend before, proving to be the perfect way to end the festival.
-words: Alex Freeman & Jessica Alexander
-photos: Jessica Alexander