October 2-4, 2015
Since 2002, the fall music festival held inside Austin's Zilker Park has been a ritual for many Texans. This is our Lollapalooza, our Coachella. Maybe not as hip or cool, but that's all right with us. This is Austin, after all, the "Live Music Capital of the World," so we gladly trade some glitz and glamour for a blues guitar or two. However, in the past few years, those six-strings have been replaced somewhat by DJ decks, pyrotechnics and rappers. Not entirely, mind you — we still have Gary Clark Jr. running around all over the festival, playing on four stages on one day — but enough to motivate many ACL veterans to moan, groan and even flat out skip the festival. Which in reality is actually kinda perfect. Keep out the grouches and make room for just those who relish the festival experience no matter the lineup. At least that will keep the porta-potty lines manageable.
So it is with great pleasure that I present to you my recap and photos from this year's fest. I tried to mix things up as best as I could, but there's only one of me, so of course I missed a few acts that you probably had on your "can't miss" list. That includes Billy Idol, Tame Impala, Disclosure, Shakey Graves, TV on the Radio, deadmau5, Of Monsters and Men, alt-J, Dwight Yoakam, Hozier and The Strokes. I know, I know, I'm an idiot for missing your favorite artist/band. But hey, in most cases, there's always Weekend Two!
What I was able to star on my ACL app turned out to be a delightful mix of soul, rap, rock, Latin, blues, and something I can only describe as Netflix & Chill music (see: The Weeknd). Now let's start the show, shall we:
Move Over, Jeff, Leon Is My New Favorite Bridges
This is a fairy-tale success story if I ever heard one. A dishwasher from Fort Worth, Texas, who managed to catch the ear of Columbia Records is now in the midst of his first nationwide tour, singing and playing soul music on one of the two main stages at ACL. If you somehow have missed his retro-sound single "Coming Home," go buy it or stream it right now because it's the best thing to come out of North Texas since Willie Hutch and Erykah Badu. I remember watching another young upstart named Gary Clark Jr. a few years back on this very same stage at this very same time, and Leon Bridges has the exact same potential to become a fan favorite and festival regular. Also, go to http://cominghometotexas.com/ to listen and download the Leon-inspired mash-up mixtape by DJ/producer MICK (formally Mick Boogie), who calls Bridges an "underground king who made a classic album with a timeless sound."
Pistols, Chains, Cats and Jewels, These Guys Run It
With an unmatched lyrical assault, riot-inducing beats and the energy of a thousand suns, rappers Killer Mike and El-P combine their collective efforts in order to "burn this muthafucka to the ground!" as Run The Jewels. Supremely far removed from hashtag rap about bitches and bottles, this is the type of hip-hop that people have been asking for. Their tracks motivate and awaken your inner animal instincts (Meow The Jewels, anyone?!) and make you mosh and dip and swerve all at the same damn time. Watching the mountain of a man that is Killer Mike bounce across the stage is motivating in itself, and with El-P serving as his perfect white boy complement, these dudes tear up any stage they hit, ACL included.
For the Last Time, Gary, We Know Your Name Already!
There's not much Gary Clark Jr. can do wrong, if anything at all. Every note from his guitar travels along with a purpose. Every word he utters is majestic. And the kid can hustle his ass off. As I mentioned earlier, aside from playing his own set on the HomeAway Stage in the late afternoon/early evening, he also made guest appearances with Leon Bridges, Run The Jewels and Foo Fighters. I guess when you are the hometown hero and de facto host of the city and its festival, you get to hop around the park however you desire. I wonder how much a "Gary Clark Jr. All-Access Pass" would cost?
Break a Leg, Dave! (Oh, Wait...)
Damn. Wow. Amazing. The Foo Fighters are all of these and much, much more. Even if you are not a connoisseur of modern rock and roll (like myself) and don't know the words to every FF song (me again) like the 50,000 other people around you, you can still appreciate the amazing spectacle of Dave Grohl and Co. And it seems strange, but Dave in a chair is even more animated and energetic than a mobile Dave. Either way, this was a perfect way to close out Day 1. Also, go check out the Austin edition of Sonic Highways on HBO Go. It's the best, the best, the best, the best of the series.
And the Award for the Biggest Surprise of the Festival Goes to...
... Austin's own El Tule (pronounced Too-lay). I had some time before acts and stumbled into the shade of the Tito's Vodka Tent. I may have saved myself from the heat of the sun, but with all the bodies dancing to salsa near the stage, it nothing nothing but caliente in that thang. It was a salsa of sound with this hometown band dishing out cumbia, reggae, merengue and Afro-Cuban sonidos to a welcoming audience. The horns and percussion made my heart move and my feet shuffle. Definitely hoping to see this band again soon.
Go, Rocky! It's Your Birthday! (But Next Time Don't Be Late!)
So as we waited and waited and waited for A$AP Rocky to take the stage, we wondered if maybe he'd got stuck at the airport waiting for his Uber to arrive. Then we wondered why his set was full of classic arcade games and a guy whipping up milkshakes for the pretty ladies onstage. Some people in the front row, after waiting all day for him, began to make their disappointment vocal. And then, after 20 minutes, Rocky finally appeared, and with one flash of his pearly whites, all was forgotten. The crowd even serenaded him with the Happy Birthday song, which damn near made the hardcore rapper from Harlem blush. At long last, it was a fairly cool show.
Running Thru ACL With My Hotline Bling Yelling Jumpman, Jumpman, Jumpman, Jumpman
This definitely is a great time to be alive for a certain Aubrey Graham. Both of his last two mixtapes became overnight successes, and he was the undisputed winner of his Twitter beef war with Meek Mill. His love for Texas is well known, and he let that show during his performance on Saturday night. By the time special guest Future accompanied him onstage, the crowd, who were already sufficiently "lit," damn near exploded. Even Serena Williams, who was seen side stage during his set, was impressed by the fans' reaction.
She Makes Songs That I Can't Explain, and That's Cool
I had only seen photos of Colombia-born, Virginia-raised Kali Uchis before seeing her live on Day 3 of ACL. With her blond hair and soft voice, she endeared herself to the crowd and seemed genuinely happy to be there. I previously thought she was a rapper, somewhat like Lil Debbie or Kreyshawn, but boy, was I wrong. What I heard was an odd yet satisfying mix of doo-wop, R&B and smooth/dreamy reggae with a hip-hop attitude. "People don't really know me here in Texas, so I was scared there was only gonna be like four people here at my set today," she confessed to the fairly sizable audience in front of her. Also, she apparently was performing for the first time with her new band, which includes a few members from the Houston area; you would have never guessed that fact if she hadn't disclosed it to us. I later saw her running around the park with Scoremore's Claire Bogle and rapper G-Eazy. Just a young girl having fun, just like her music.
The Road Has Been Good to Them, and They're Not Done Yet
The Suffers. Our favorite band forever and ever. The Kickstarter campaign for their debut album has been completely funded, and it will be released sometime early next year. In the meantime, their Gulf Coast Soul continues to win over the hearts of everyone within earshot. Whether living a dream come true by playing ACL, to playing an afterparty in a small bar on South Congress, and every show and mile in between, this band was as great as the last hundred times I've seen them live.
I Gave Him Another Chance, and He Won Me Over
Well, I received some hate mail for the not so flattering things I said about Chance The Rapper earlier this year, so I decided to make it my mission and watch his entire set. And wow, he certainly changed my mind about him. With Donnie Trumpet and Company serving as his backing band, Chance came to Austin to party. He attracted one of the largest crowds of the whole weekend, and all of them jumped and danced and yelled upon Chance's every command. I also finally came to like his verse on "Baby Blue," something I was opposed to earlier this year. Whatever it is — maybe his energy, or intense glare, or coy laugh and smile — this dude is one of the greats.
And the Weekend Ends With The Weeknd
I sometimes am totally confused by The Weeknd. His voice fluctuates between Bobcat Goldthwait and Michael Jackson, but the kids smoking pot and grinding on each other next to me in the crowd seemed to know all the words and enjoy his lyrics about sex and drugs. What I'm not confused about is why his live show is so popular. The production is really grand, with blinding, colorful lights and fireworks and flames surrounding him as he jumps across the stage. As long as he keeps churning out catchy tracks such as the fun "Can't Feel My Face" and provides the sound track for the alternative-rap and R&B crowd, dude is gonna be successful for a long time.
When he's not roaming around the city in search of tacos and graffiti, Marco points his camera lens toward the vibrant Houston music scene and beyond. You can follow his adventures on Instagram: @MarcoFromHouston.