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Top 10 Things to Expect at ACL Fest This Year

Neil Young at Jones Hall, two years ago this month
Neil Young at Jones Hall, two years ago this month
Photo by Jay Lee

The Austin City Limits Music Festival burned the midnight oil overnight, announcing the 2012 lineup at precisely 12:01 a.m. Mercifully, all the rumor-spreading and speculation is now at an end and people can either go about the business of buying $200 three-day passes or shutting the hell up about Radiohead.

(Now that's a band I'd like to see ACL get... Midnight Oil. So what if they're broken up?)

There aren't any real big surprises in this year's lineup, except maybe that it took ACL so long to book Neil Young & Crazy Horse. It's still heavy on roots and indie-rock, paying a little more than just lip service to electronica (M83, Thievery Corporation), and lacking a true Coachella-style "get" like Pulp or the Tupac hologram.

But pound for pound, it's a pretty good one, especially if you like white guys with guitars. Just like every year. Maybe the biggest surprise is that there's only one real jam band this year, Umphrey's McGee, but I don't really count that as a cause for complaint. Here are ten things I'd be willing to bet you can count on in Zilker Park come October 12-14.

10. ?uestlove of the Roots will be front and center at the Stooges' set. Just a hunch. But the musically omnivorous drummer will be the Zelig of ACL 2012, count on it.

9. Gary Clark Jr. will clean up. He's the best thing the blues has seen in 30 years, since another stinging young Austin guitarist was knocking on the door of stardom. Clark has already leapt up several rows on the ACL lineup card from last year, and his Bright Lights EP is still gaining momentum. Will be a sweet homecoming, especially if it's on one of the big stages.

8. Hip-hop this year is a push. After Kanye last year, it's hard not to think ACL took a step back with five rock headliners, but maybe the festival wanted it that way. Of course everybody loves the Roots, Childish Gambino will be good for a few laughs, and South African freaks Die Antwoord are worth a gander for the spectacle alone, but that's about it after Big K.R.I.T. Book Bun B already, for Chrissake. (Between Clark, Lee Fields & the Expressions, Soul Rebels Brass Band and the Relatives, ACL did an great job with blues, R&B and soul this year, though.)

7. Lone Stars will be at a premium. Not the beers (but yes), the Texans. Until you get to all the children's bands and gospel choirs at the bottom, this is ACL's lightest homegrown lineup since...maybe ever. Thank God for Clark, the Randy Rogers Band, newer Austin bands the Wheeler Brothers and Quiet Company and old hands Ruthie Foster, Asleep at the Wheel, Steve Earle and Old 97's. (Now appearing at ACL ten years ago.) It goes without saying Houston bands were shut out, but it's nice to see Austin exiles the Eastern Sea made the cut anyway.

 

Florence + the Machine at Bayou Music Center this month
Florence + the Machine at Bayou Music Center this month
Photo by Marc Brubaker

6. Women will do well. Like Summer Fest, ACL is a little testosterone-heavy at the top, which makes the pockets of estrogen that much more alluring. Compared to the raging frat-boy fests the Chili Peppers, Black Keys, Neil Young, Jack White and Stooges sets are going to be, Florence + the Machine, Metric (Emily Haines), Esperanza Spalding, Alabama Shakes (Brittany Howard), Tegan and Sara, Crystal Castles (Alice Glass), Zola Jesus and Ruthie Foster all offer up little islands of art and soul.

Top 10 Things to Expect at ACL Fest This Year

5. Get there early for any artist in all caps. EDM monsters AVICII and BASSNECTAR will be two of the biggest draws of the festival, as will Christian rockers NEEDTOBREATHE. Plan accordingly; this probably goes for Big K.R.I.T., too.

4. Precious indie-folk has officially reached its saturation point. With the Avett Brothers, the Civil Wars, Punch Brothers, Trampled by Turtles, Lumineers, Dry the River, the Devil Makes Three and He's My Brother, She's My Sister all on hand, mostly acoustic groups that come off a wee bit smug are one of the main ACL '12 themes. You can probably toss Andrew Bird, M. Ward and Gotye in there, too, but after this weekend...it's over.

3. Michael Kiwanuka is better than all of them. I saw this twentysomething Nigerian-born singer-songwriter at SXSW and was riveted. He could be a baby Bob Marley -- promise.

2. The Afghan Whigs better be scheduled opposite Gotye. Because I want a spot right up front and don't want to have to fight any crowds.

1. Free Press Summer Fest will be more fun. So I'm a Houston homer. Sue me.


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