10 Local Musicians Who Should Play ACL Fest

Yeah, Robert Earl Keen has already played ACL Fest. He should play it again.
Yeah, Robert Earl Keen has already played ACL Fest. He should play it again.
Kubacheck via Flickr Commons

Over the past decade, the Austin City Limits Music Festival has grown from a modest, regional festival into a full-blown national entity – one that takes place over two weekends and features some of the biggest pop, rock and hip-hop acts in the world. A festival that once took place over two days and charged $25 per weekend pass now comprises six days and charges upwards of $250 for a weekend pass.

Indeed, ACL is no longer Austin’s little secret. In fact, numerous Houstonians will trek down to Zilker Park this weekend or next – or both – to take in headliners like Radiohead, Kendrick Lamar and Mumford & Sons.

Of course, we’d like to see Houston gain a little more representation on the ACL stages as well. Here are ten local musicians tailor-made for ACL Fest.

(This list is in alphabetical order).

ACL has always made an effort to provide a platform for female singer-songwriters. This year, that includes artists like Corinne Bailey Rae and Andra Day, while past installments featured the likes of Regina Spektor and Lana Del Ray. But ACL has really gone all-in on female country types this year, thanks to the inclusion of Kacey Musgraves and Margo Price to the 2016 lineup. Bri Bagwell, with her tough-as-nails songwriting approach, would fit nicely in that role at a future ACL.

While it has certainly expanded over the years to include more pop, country and hip-hop, ACL – at its core – is still a tribute to the independent, folkish singer-songwriter. And Harlan definitely ranks among the foremost musicians in the city in that regard. He already has full-length releases, like Tips & Compliments and Raven Hotel, in his songwriting arsenal, and with his latest (In the Dark) dropping in November, Harlan has plenty of tunes from which to pull together a folkish 40-minute set.

One of the more fluid-sounding bands you’ll find in Houston, Jealous Creatures can seamlessly transition between folk, country and blues. This would serve them well at ACL, a festival that certainly welcomes all three of those genres. Plus, it’s always nice to get more female voices on a major stage such as ACL, and Jealous Creatures front woman Sarah Hirsch certainly qualifies as someone deserving of that opportunity.

Robert Earl Keen has actually played ACL Fest before, when he joined the bill in 2007. That said, ACL – despite its national appeal – is still a festival that manages to pay tribute to all things Texas, and it doesn’t get more Texan than native son Keen. If Asleep at the Wheel can play ACL Fest every year, Keen – one of the more entertaining singer/songwriters our city has ever produced – sure as hell should too.

Matthew Kinard (stage name Paper Sparrow) was recently named among Houston’s most underrated musicians by the Press . And while underrated doesn’t necessarily equate to deserving of a spot on one of the country’s biggest music festivals, Kinard’s sound certainly does. Like Harlan, Kinard is adept at telling stories via tender, heartfelt folk music. Paper Sparrow is the type of music best played early in the opening day of ACL, when the true diehards come out, not to check out the headliners, but to see who might be moving up the festival bill in the coming years.

Quick is no stranger to the festival circuit; he played the final day of Free Press Summer Fest just this past summer. His blend of blues rock would fit in perfectly at ACL, which has hosted acts with blues influences in past years, including major names like Alabama Shakes and The Black Keys (back when the Keys were good and actually embraced blues music).

Local legend Bun B once referred to the Tontons as “the best band in Houston.” That’s good enough for us. These locals have been at it for nearly a decade, having played alongside such local talent as the Suffers and Fat Tony. It’s time the Tontons – one of the best indie rock bands to emerge from Houston in quite some time – share a bigger stage with their local brethren.

The Press has labeled Weathers’s tunes “disaffected and melancholy,” which should play well with the moody set at a music festival such as ACL. The parallels to Lana Del Ray are certainly there, and that even furthers Weathers's case for a spot on a future ACL bill. After all, Del Ray was among the upper mid-carders at ACL 2014.

ACL has really come to embrace hip-hop over the past several years, having hosted such name-brand hitmakers as Drake, Eminem, Outkast and Kanye West (Kendrick Lamar is among the headliners this year). But never has it hosted a hip-hop group such as Welcome to Houston, composed of hometown artists Slim Thug, Z-Ro, Bun B, Paul Wall, Mike Jones and Devin The Dude. The group proved its festival chops two years ago, when it outright hijacked Free Press Summer Fest and upstaged everyone else on the bill (Welcome to Houston played FPSF again in 2015). Let’s give it a shot to do the same at ACL.

The Wild Moccasins actually served as a last-minute substitute artist during the opening weekend of ACL two years ago (they spoke glowingly of the experience). This time around, the band (winner of last year’s Houston Press Music Award for Best Local Pop Act) has earned the right to get a full-fledged invite, one complete with their name on the poster that debuts every spring when the ACL lineup is announced.

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