The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Spoiler: not much Bad, very little Ugly, so much overwhelming Good)
Story & photography: Kail Rose
It feels like we were just recently sitting on the lawn at Zilker for Paul McCartney: Austin City Limits 2018, but alas, here we are a full year later and ACL Festival 2019 is in the bag. With 8 stages and over 125 performances repeated on two consecutive weekends, it lived up to the mantra: “Music; lots of it.” As musicians and music lovers of all descriptions descended upon our city, Austin once again became the shining beacon of Live Music, presenting fans with another great festival -Texas style- to make all other festivals jealous. Bringing folks from far and wide, the audience was a nice mix of local music lovers and out-of-towners, united in their love of live music.
This year’s headliners included the inimitable Guns n’ Roses, The Cure and Mumford & Sons, along with Childish Gambino, Cardi B, Billie Eilish, Tame Impala and Robyn. But the festivals “not-quite-Headliner” artists drew just as many; with record crowds showing for Lizzo, overwhelming energy in the 21 Savages crowd, and adoring fans piling in for, well, just about every act. It was truly an eclectic lineup – as only Austin can pull off. Local artists Gary Clark Jr and Kady Rain gave notable performances; the latter wowing crowds on Weekend Two with her defiantly upbeat, colorful performance, an uplifting message and all the energy and flair we have come to expect of the rising Austin superstar. K. Flay blew us away with an eclectic, upbeat mix of hits on the VRBO stage, followed by equally excellent sets by Metric and Misterwives. Rosalia and Natalia Lafourcade infused a spicy spanish sound to the Honda Stage, while Judah and the Lion rocked our socks off on the T-mobile stage. And Childish Gambino’s supposedly last-ever show under his respective monniker left us yearning for more. How’s that for cruel?
Friday kicked off Weekend One with a bang. Guns n’ Roses delivered two full hours of heart-hammering rock n’ roll, splattered with nostalgia and many a Slash solo intermission. Thom Yorke kept us all scratching our heads with a choppy, nonchalant performance. It was weird and a little dismissive, but hey, it’s Thom Yorke and he can do whatever he damn well wants up there. The undeniable legacy of The Raconteurs, RL Grime and Tame Impala more than made up for it.
Saturday saw incredible sets aplenty. The aforementioned local power and prowess of Gary Clark Jr preceded fantastic sets by floral-frocked songstress Lauren Daigle, crow-surfing by Hippie Sabotage, Canadian Rock royalty Metric, and unexpectedly brilliant moments with Billie Eilish – if you caught her interview on the hidden Bonus Tracks stage, you’d be just as head-over-heels as we now are. Superstars The Cure headlined the evening adjacent to Childish Gambino and it was a very tough decision on which act to catch first.
Before we knew it, we’d reached Sunday and the star power was strong. Banks, Rosalia, Fisher, Griz, Rebellution, Third Eye Blind and Kacey Musgraves played flawless sets. Lil Uzi Vert did a (slightly-too-predictable) no-show, disappointing fans. Lizzo’s shockingly overwhelming crowd sardined themselves into what little space was available at the Miller Lite stage and revelled in her uplifting message. While many expressed frustration at the crowd, Lizzo is the one artist so deserving of such reception; from her immaculate performance to undeniable talent and inclusive message. I still get goosebumps reminiscing on this particular set. Late in the day, headliners Mumford & Sons brought the members of Austin High School band for a charming local cameo, while Cardi B brought us a slightly-delayed and definitely-too-short set that was actually a whole lot of fun.
We headed home that night for a few short days of rest before Team dRiFFt returned for Weekend Two to do it all over again. This time, we were armed with allergy meds and bandanas to combat the dustbowl and breathing hazard of Zilker grounds trampled by hundreds of thousands (if you’re attending in 2020, plan on bringing both – you’ll be glad you did), and warm sweaters and cozy onesies as the temperatures dropped steeply. Friday, like last week, was simply stellar. Disappointingly, Megan Thee Stallion was late and missed her set, angering fans. The cold was abrupt, but a very pleasant change from the overwhelming heat of Weekend One. Robyn replaced Cardi B and while it wasn’t Cardi, it was still a party with the Sweedish pop star. The undeniable highlight of Weekend Two was Lars Ulrich’s oddly satisfying surprise cameo with Mumford & Sons during The Wolf.
True to form, ACL delivered another stellar lineup and great music spanning a wide variety of genres. While the Seventeen-year-old festival has evolved over the years, 2019’s action-packed weekends are proof positive of the timelessness of Jone’s and Attal’s founding vision in 2002; great music, good friends, amazing food, art, culture and an excellent soundtrack framing late-summer festival photo opps. Girls in flowery festival attire with monstrously looming stages behind them, gangs of groupies waiting hours in a crushing crowd to live out their dream of a front-row view for the headliner. Chance meetings with incredible folk who’ve traveled long distances for the opportunity to live out one weekend in Zilker park for the renowned festival. The group of guys who’ve probably (definitely) had one too many at the beer hall, but are now effervescently fangirling over Slash. Great company – so long as you give them a wide berth. And it’s you and a best friend relaxing, soaking up the scene in the sun on the lawn of a tried-and-true Austin tradition. Thanks, ACL 2019 – it’s been a blast. See you next year!