For weeks after we skipped last year's Austin City Limits Music Festival to man the controls in Houston, Rocks Off found ourselves thinking, "Man, I wish I would have gone just to see Richard Thompson." The truth is, as much as we grumble and gripe about the heat, the walking, the hippies, the hipster freaks, and the fact that we'll mostly hear Young the Giant while we're trying to watch Phosphorescent Friday - that's a guess, but an educated one - ACL Fest is run by serious music fans with the kind of deep pockets that can lure just about any artist they want to Zilker Park.
To wit: Most other Texas promoters would either have to join forces and take up a collection or charge the equivalent of an ACL single-day pass (all gone except for Sunday) to get either Stevie Wonder or Kanye West, and ACL has both. Say what you will about the festival, it offers the kind of musical value other festivals in the Southwest can't even touch. Here are four artists you're unlikely to ever see if you're not going this weekend, and one brash newcomer we threw in because, well, their heart's in the right place.
5. Foster the People: None of Team Rocks Off seems all that pumped up about this L.A. band of the ubiquitous "Pumped Up Kicks." Not only is Rocks Off Sr. finding it very difficult to wrap our grizzled head around the fact that Foster formed in 2009, we have a feeling that the Google+ stage might swallow their tinny electro-pop sound whole. But they do have a good heart, so we'll give 'em a shot: All day Friday, the band's "Do Good Bus" will be parked outside the Barton Springs entrance to Zilker Park, where volunteers will be taking donations for the Red Cross of Central Texas and the Texas Wildfire Relief Fund. ACL producers C3 Presents will match Friday's donations dollar for dollar.
5:30 p.m. Friday, Google+ Stage
4. Preservation Hall Jazz Band & The Del McCoury Band: There are probably between 500 and 1,000 people in America who care about this collaboration between New Orleans' leading legacy brass band (non-parade division) and one of the main heirs to Bill Monroe's bluegrass legacy, and they will all be at this not-quite-one-off set in the Vista Equity tent. (The two groups did a brief tour earlier this year, and of course skipped Houston.) Rocks Off thinks their disc American Legacies is one of the year's best, so it will be our pleasure to join them.
7 p.m. Saturday, Vista Equity Stage
3. Manu Chao La Ventura: The Parisian-born Spaniard Chao has taken George Clinton's directive to "free your mind and your ass will follow" as gospel. Imagine Rage Against the Machine with Tito Puente's rhythm section and you might have an idea why music snobs start to drool whenever Chao shows up in a festival lineup, but he's hardly just for world-music geeks. (You ain't going to dance like this at Fleet Foxes, we guarantee.) Chao has been on iFest's want list for years, but the chances of his playing Houston are about the same as his licensing one of his songs to the Perry campaign.
6:30 p.m. Sunday, AMD Stage
2. Randy Newman: Rocks Off doesn't care that Newman never tours - hell, he hardly ever plays live anywhere - if he plays one song that's even been nominated for an Oscar, we are so off to Social Distortion. There's almost no way you can cram a studio orchestra onto the small stage in the Vista Equity tent, so that's a good sign - Randy and a Steinway should just about do it. We're hoping for lots of stuff from Sail Away, Good Old Boys and Little Criminals, the '70s albums where the curmudgeonly singer-songwriter came across as the bastard child of Billy Joel and Mark Twain. We guess the theme song from Monk would be OK, though.
7:30 p.m. Sunday, Vista Equity Stage
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1. Stevie Wonder: It's not unheard of that Stevie Wonder might come through Houston again - he played Toyota Center in December 2007 - but let's get real here. That was after a 14-year touring layoff, and he hasn't been what you'd call a road dog since then. Besides, the chance to hear "Superstition," "Higher Ground," "My Cherie Amour" and "Boogie On Reggae Woman" outdoors under a Central Texas harvest moon only comes around once in a lifetime, so take advantage of it. This set will be one for the ages, and My Morning Jacket's not going anywhere.
8 p.m. Saturday, Bud Light Stage