ACL Fest Takes a Step Back in 2018

Metallica is one of the name-brand headliners playing this year's edition of Austin City Limits Music Festival.
Metallica is one of the name-brand headliners playing this year's edition of Austin City Limits Music Festival. Photo courtesy of BB Gun Press
First, the basics.

Austin City Limits Music Festival, Texas’ premier music fest and one of the more noteworthy on the national scene, released its 2018 lineup on Tuesday morning. The festival, taking place over two weekends in October – October 5-7 and 12-14 – certainly features a diverse list of headliners, including Metallica, Paul McCartney, Childish Gambino, Arctic Monkeys, Travis Scott, Odesza, and The National.

These are all fine acts. Hell, McCartney is rock royalty and Metallica is arguably the most noteworthy hard rock act of all time. But legacy only takes you so far, and McCartney hasn’t put out any music of note in years. Metallica, meanwhile, is back on the upswing after the return to form that was 2016’s Hardwired … to Self-Destruct. But to say that either act is in its respective primes would be a vast overstatement.

As for other headliners, Donald Glover’s Childish Gambino is certainly a unique and credible act, but are people really willing to pay upwards of $300 to see him? Same for Arctic Monkeys and The National. Travis Scott? Yeah, not so much.

ACL Fest is often a topic of conversation in Texas music circles. Nationally, festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo, Governor’s Ball, and Lollapalooza are universally regarded as the heavyweights. ACL, to its credit, has made strides to enter that conversation in recent years, with headlining sets from Drake, Eminem, Jay-Z, Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kendrick Lamar and Radiohead. Some of these acts (Eminem, Chili Peppers, Radiohead) sold tickets via nostalgia, while others (Kendrick, Foo Fighters, Drake) were a bit more current at the time of headlining.

This year’s bill simply doesn’t feature a name-brand headliner who can rightly be considered in his prime. Just take a look around the national festival scene for a gander at where other festivals stand in comparison to ACL Fest.

Coachella booked Beyoncé and The Weeknd. Governor’s Ball snagged Jack White and Eminem, though Travis Scott – to be fair – will be headlining Night 2 of the festival. Bonnaroo locked down Eminem, The Killers and Muse, none of which are as relevant as they were a decade ago, but acts that will no doubt move product. And Lollapalooza? They got Bruno Mars, The Weeknd and Jack White, though they do share an ACL headliner in Arctic Monkeys.

A quick scan of Twitter on Tuesday echoed these sentiments. The lineup isn’t terrible by any stretch – in fact, it’s quite good when compared to ACL in its adolescent era – but words like “alright” and “underwhelmed” frequently pop up. This holds particularly true when compared to last year’s set, which featured a last-second addition of Jay-Z to the lineup. Sure, this wasn’t exactly late '90s Jay-Z we were getting, but hot on the heels of the revelation that was 4:44, Shawn Carter’s presence on the bill made ACL a must-see event.

The same simply can’t be said this time around.

Austin City Limits Music Festival is taking place October 5-7 and October 12-14 at Zilker Park in Austin. The day-by-day schedule will be announced this summer. Weekend passes are available for $255, plus fees.
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Clint Hale enjoys music and writing, so that kinda works out. He likes small dogs and the Dallas Cowboys, as you can probably tell. Clint has been writing for the Houston Press since April 2016.
Contact: Clint Hale