Any major music festival is only as good as its headliners. It’s a lesson Free Press Summer Fest has learned the hard way in recent years. Austin City Limits Music Festival, however, has traditionally delivered on major, name-brand headliners; in the past few years alone, ACL headliners have included Drake, Foo Fighters, Outkast and Eminem. This year is no different, as ACL – taking place this Friday-Sunday and October 7-9 at Austin’s Zilker Park – will be headlined by the likes of Radiohead, Kendrick Lamar, Mumford & Sons, and LCD Soundsystem. Of course, depth is key to a successful festival, and this year’s version of ACL doesn’t lack for that. Here are some non-headliners to catch at ACL Fest 2016.
BAND OF HORSES
September 30/October 7, 7-8 p.m., Miller Lite Stage
Band of Horses is one of those groups that should be headlining festivals but instead serves as the upper-mid-tier act that draws in a crowd of loyal fans who have been on the band for more than a decade. After all, Band of Horses is basically a better version of Mumford & Sons, and that group is closing out the damn festival! No matter, since Band of Horses – which has played ACL before – is sure to perform before a sizable crowd, folks who will be treated to cuts from Band of Horses’ five studio albums, including its latest, the underrated Why Are You OK (released in June).
CITY AND COLOUR
October 1/8, 2:30-3:30 p.m., Samsung Stage
Dallas Green – who plays under the band moniker City and Colour – is one of the more contradictory musicians in the game today. This is not an insult; rather, Green once split his time between City and Colour – a laid-back, folkish outfit – and Alexisonfire – a post-hardcore band with song titles such as “Boiled Frogs” and “The Dead Heart.” Aside from some one-off gigs, Alexisonfire disbanded in 2012, but Green rolls on with City and Colour, as he has for more than a decade. Folky types — and there are many at ACL – will dig this set.
COLD WAR KIDS
September 30/October 7, 5-6 p.m., Cirrus Logic Stage
Like Band of Horses, Cold War Kids knocked on superstardom’s door for years but always felt like they were one hit away from the big time. They found it in last year’s “First,” which hit No. 1 on the U.S. Alternative radio charts. If Cold War Kids’ headlining set at last year’s Untapped Fest Houston is any indication, ACL revelers are in for one lively set when the band helps close out the opening afternoon.
October 2, 2-3 p.m., Samsung Stage
Country music has experienced a boom of sorts the past couple of years with regard to rebel and outlaw types like Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton. However, this boom is not exclusive to the fellas. Rather, ladies such as Kacey Musgraves and Margo Price (we’ll get to her in a bit) have proven their chops as badass singer-songwriters. Musgraves, who placed seventh on the 2007 season of Nashville Star, has certainly improved upon that finish over the past decade. She has released a pair of acclaimed albums – Same Trailer Different Park and Pageant Material – both of which debuted atop the Billboard Country Albums chart. Musgraves, who began songwriting at age eight, can certainly speak to life as a small-town girl; she was born in tiny Golden, Texas (population approximately 200).
October 8, 7:30-8:30 p.m., Miller Lite Stage
Oberst is kinda like a folk-ish Jack White or Dave Grohl, a dude so devoted to music he can’t help but play in enough bands to fill its own festival bill. That includes such groups as Bright Eyes, Monsters of Folk and Desaparecidos. But he’ll be rolling solo at his lone ACL gig, which shouldn’t lack for material, considering Oberst has recorded ten solo albums over the past 20-plus years.
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October 2/9, 3-4 p.m., HomeAway Stage
At 33, Price is certainly someone who has paid her dues. After all, her first proper country album (Midwest Farmer’s Daughter) came out only six months ago via Third Man Records, the label founded by Jack White. The album has received near-unanimous acclaim, so much so that Price (who plays House of Blues' Bronze Peacock Room on October 5) served as the musical guest on an April episode of Saturday Night Live. Price is a no-bullshit kind of singer-songwriter, and songs such as “Since You Put Me Down” and “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)” are among the more real, pained country tracks you’ll find in 2016.
RA RA RIOT
October 9, 1-2 p.m., HomeAway Stage
To call Ra Ra Riot’s beginnings humble might be an understatement. The band began as a gang of college students in Syracuse, New York, more than a decade ago, one whose start mostly included playing house parties in and around campus. Since then, the band has managed to infuse pop, synth and more standard rock over the course of its five-album catalog. Ra Ra Riot is particularly known for its energetic live show, which should play well with a festival crowd.