Besides the constant threat of weather issues (that mostly didn’t transpire except for a minor late start one day and hot and humid 90’s), the festival seems to be a huge success. Although we heard many fans express some disappointment in this year’s lineup, many came from far away to see amazing musicians from around the world across many genres. Check out the festival lineup ACL Fest. Politics and social consciousness were big themes at this year’s festival. From Chvrches to The National, everyone was talking about this critical time in our country, with mid-term elections right around the corner. and a tight Senate race in Texas. Hoping to get young voters to turn out, almost many artists used their platform (similar to Taylor Swift recently) to try to make a difference. Our goal was to get to as many stages and acts as we could, despite having to weave through a packed crowd of over 75,000 people, we made it to tons. In addition to the main festival, there were tons of great ACL Late Night Shows this year and we caught several. Check out all the photos on Austin 101.
Day 1 Highlights
Our short list included: Asleep at the Wheel, Gang of Youths, Alvvays, Golden Dawn Arkestra, Greta Van Fleet, Khalid, Odesza, Brockhampton, The National, Lovely the Band, Mikky Ekko, Bishop Briggs, David Byrne.
By far, headliner Paul McCartney was the biggest draw and highlight of this year’s ACL Festival. Fans showed up hours early to get a good spot to see an icon of the Beatles. He played epic Beatles songs plus a little from his new album. Egypt Station was released in September and saw Paul score his first US #1 album in 36 years.
The next best thing we saw was David Byrne, who many hadn’t seen in years, but we were fortunate to cover recently in Houston. A music legend in his own right and founder of Talking Heads. Always interesting and controversial, Byrne is still on fire and as provocative as ever. “Once in a Lifetime” and all the oldies and some of the new stuff was awesome. Byrne plays barefoot holding a model of a brain and has a full band and singers behind him. He went back and forth between playing guitar and just singing. We loved the unique choreography with his band. We heard fans talking about this set the entire festival. It was the highlight for many, including fans from Colorado that came to the fest to see him after attending his show in Denver.
Khalid (Robinson) was a fan fave as he’s a local boy made big. From El Paso and blowing up in the last year (not to be confused with DJ Khaled), we love any opportunity to see this kid. He has a sweet, soulful voice far beyond his years (19). The set was a highlight for many young kids and a true sign of a festival focused on including many music genres to appeal to a wide population.
We knew the word would be out on young Michigan rockers Greta Van Fleet-sure enough it was impossible to get close to the stage on this one. We were lucky enough to cover their show at Stubb’s this year and they will definitely be on our BEST SHOWS OF 2018 list. These young guys, brothers and friends, have been called the ‘post millennial Led Zeppelin‘ since they sound exactly like them. They say they truly bonded initially on blues music. Lead Josh Kiszka is compelling and haunting, and the brothers on guitar are master shredders-incredibly talented and they’re so young! These guys will be headliners sooner than you think. Next to Byrne, GVF was one of our top picks.
The National was another huge draw for tons of fans who hadn’t seen them in years. Without Sir Paul, these guys might have been festival headliners. Another band of brothers and friends, their indie rock sound is unique and critically acclaimed. Although lead Berninger seemed to be a bit out of it at times, the set was definitely a highlight and we love how animated and engaged he is. He jumped into the crowd on several occasions and ran to both sides of the mega stage so that all the fans could get a close up of him. It included tons of new and old stuff and the crowd went crazy. We love that he’s passionate about politics and philanthropy and that they use their platform for good. He made several references to the upcoming elections, “It’s up to you guys”.
Bishop Briggs (Sarah Grace McLaughlin) is a rising star and we were lucky enough to catch her at SXSW in Austin this year so we knew she was special. This British rocker has a great presence and fun but haunting appearance and is definitely one to watch. Many have called her a huge 2018 breakout artist. Her set was very popular and showcased here blended music style of pop, folk, rock.
Golden Dawn Arkestra was one of the most colorful sets. They played to a packed Titos stage. The costumes are incredible and resemble intergalactic meets ancient Greece. Freakishly long nails. Party eerie, part belly dancing, the lead vocals are stunning. It’s a big band with dancers for a little stage- brass, guitars, tambourine, xylophone, dj, etc. The music is transcendent and a bit psychedelic rock and fits perfectly with the ‘Keep Austin Weird’ theme.
This was our first time seeing Mikky Ekko (John Stephen Sudduth) and it was awesome at the small BMI stage. A guy with tons of soul, cool hair, the girls were swooning. Best known for his collaboration with Rhianna on “Stay” he is making a name for himself this year and we will see much more of this guy.
Asleep at the Wheel and Ray Benson are always a highlight. Having been one of the original influences for ACL Fest, they play every year on Friday. They bring their local Texas sound (they live in Austin) and keep the Texas roots and country/swing alive and well at the fest. Read our interview with Benson HERE.
We thought the Silent Disco was an interesting and odd choice for a headlining slot but fans seemed to enjoy dancing around with their headphones on to a DJ with glowing lights.
Day 2 Highlights
Some of our Day 2 picks included local Jackie Venson, Verite, Chvrches, The Wombats, The Breeders, Sofi Tukker, Japanese Breakfast, Brandi Carlile, San Halo, Nelly, St. Vincent, Metallica. We were also pleasantly surprised by artists that weren’t on our radar before: Blood Orange, Naked Giants, Residente, and Sweet Spirit. St Vincent and Metallica were probably the biggest draws we saw Day 2. Mon Laferte, IAMDDB, SupaBwe & Cuco made their mark as breakout artists, “ones to watch”.
St. Vincent (Annie) was challenging to get close to the stage for since fans camped out for hours to get in front. Annie was stunning as usual with her gorgeous short tight red outfit, knee-high boots, sleek hair, and perfect makeup. The stage was set far back so some fans couldn’t see Annie if they were on the sides. We were a little surprised she wasn’t on a bigger main stage. She started in some fog and cool lights with great videos behind her that reminded of Talking Heads. She played some faves including “Pills” and “New York” and tons more. Her guitars are stunning and the robotic choreography is memorizing. The faces of the drums and keyboard were a bit creepy with their pantyhose heads, but other than that, the set was incredible. We like she can joke about a glitch with her gloves during “New York” which she changed to “Texas”. We love she shouted out to Beto (running for Senator against Cruz), Congress Ave, and ‘mother f***ers’.
Metallica made so so many fans happy by being a hard rock, metal headliner that many haven’t seen perform in years. People got there hours ahead and the only competition for this major band in that slot was Justice and the Silent Disco. The boys performed in true fashion with epic guitar shreds and high energy vocals you could hear across the park. They played 2 hours of hard-hitting music, including all of their beloved classic anthems like “One”, “Nothing Else Matters”, “Seek and Destroy”, “Enter Sandman”, “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and many others and spared no detail on their massive stage & lighting setup. There were even fireworks.
Japanese Breakfast- This was a fun surprise. Michelle Zauner has a unique presence on stage.Plus the name is awesome. The music actually fits the album title, “Soft Sounds from Another Planet” as it’s very etherial. We love that Zauner is not Japanese at all, but Korean and jewish. It’s hard to define the sound but she sounds a bit synth pop and a bit emo. We love that she plays guitar and sings. The band is great. Her outfit and her style were super cute and sexy with tatoos, bright pink makeup, bra, and shorts. Backup vocals could be stronger. These guys filled up a decently large stage and will me moving up quickly.
Sofi Tukker- a musical duo based in New York consisting of Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern. It’s kinda EDM but these guys are super original. We kept hearing great buzz about them and they packed the small Tito’s stage spilling far out into the festival grounds. Everyone was trying to get a glimpse. He was on synth and drums and vocals, she on guitar. Super sexy persona and outfit with guitar moves made to look phallic, and amazing colorful outfit and set, she totally engaged with the crowd and used all parts of the stage to connect. They sing in Portuguese which makes their sound and set even more alluring and mysterious. Fans loved EDM faves play “Best Friend” & “Energia”. It was by far one of the funnest sets of the fest.
The Breeders– with lead vocals and guitar -music legend Kim Deal (The Pixies) brought a huge crowd of indie fans to the fest and wowed the crowd with stories about music legend Kurt Cobain who listened to her music and was a fan. They even toured together in the 90s. She has some killer guitars too with great memories and history. There’s a good story about her stolen guitar too. This band has been playing together 30 plus years and are still rockin’ and drawing big crowds. We love that she gets political and also candid about struggling with addiction and wanting to help others. The set was filled with the fave sing-along songs that took the alt rock fans back in time and the Seattle sound.
Brandi Carlile- although she plays in Austin a lot, we check her out every time. We love that she speaks out and gets political too. She made comments about Kavanaugh and how critical it is to get out and vote in the midterms. Although she has a new album, most fans were singing along to all her favorites. She’s an amazing multi-instramentalist, playing piano, guitar, and vocals. She plays with a full band, brothers on guitar, drums, keyboards, and some strings. For weekend two, fans were lucky to see Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready play with her and surprised everyone playing Zeppelin covers. The two are from Seattle and the legendary music scene there.
Nelly brought the party to the huge HomeAway stage on day 2, opening up with “Country Grammar” he came out guns blazing in his UT football jersey celebrating the team’s big win. The star attracting all ages, had teens and parents dancing together to “Cruise”, “Ride Wit Me” & “E.I.”. It was a super fun, high-energy set.
The Deftones got off to a rocky start with apparent audio/sound issues on the first song. They quickly recovered and promptly had the fans rocking to favorites “Diamond Eyes”, “Digital Bath”, & “Knife Party” at the massive American Express stage.
Bazzi filled the HomeAway stage with his R&B influenced pop, to the delight of throngs of young female fans. The sun was out and it was still hot when he performed but that didn’t stop the crowd from packing in to get a glimpse and groove along to his songs.
Sweet Spirit’s Austin native front-woman Sabrina Ellis killed it on the BMI stage. Although Sweet Spirit is relatively new, the following is there and they showed up to support their debut at ACL.
Mon Laferte knew her audience when the Blues/Pop/Rock singer already had the Honda stage crowd in the palm of her hand, she drove it home with Selena’s “Si Una Vez”. Her Latin sound mixed with punk undertones was a festival stand out and a great discovery for new fans.
Verite’s pop sound had young fans swarming to the HomeAway stage where she performed “Nothing” in a gorgeous pink suit. Her set was full of energy and she confidently demanded attention from center stage as well as from behind her keyboard.
Day 3 Highlights
The last day of ACL Weekend 1 did not disappoint. Perhaps the weather did a bit, but certainly not the music. A large part of the crowd that was in full attendance during Friday and Saturday stayed home because of the less than positive weather forecast. Needless to say, our favorite bands provided all the motivation we needed to take a chance on the weather and have a great time. There were so many bands we included in our preview, Youngblud, Arizona, Phoenix, Arctic Monkeys, Travis Scott, Sylvan Esso, Camila Cabello (who we just show with Taylor Swift), Houndmouth, Tinashe, Lisa Loebe, The Revolution (Prince), Elle King, Janelle Monae, XAmbassadors, and local fave Shakey Graves.
There were so many great bands on Day 3 but these are some of our favorites. One of the top buzz bands we wanted to see- Alternative-pop group Arizona (no relation to the state) brought their synth masterpieces and their dance-along-the-way pop songs to the festival. The undeniable catchiness of their songs made these guys so much fun to listen to. We love “Freaking Out” and “Cross My Mind”. We also got to cover their ACL Late Night Show.
Parquet Courts showed us that your music can be spunky and passionate without seeming overly sentimental or sticky emotional. The relief of listening to a band that makes you jump up and down and lift your hands and rock side to side is so life-infusing. Lots of fans at this one. Despite being in Austin recently, it was a set on our short list.
XAmbassadors brought their hard-hitting rock sounds along with a message of unity and support for sexual assault survivors. You must know that they are one of my favorite bands from this year’s line up and I couldn’t wait to see them perform. I loved every second of their set. As you looked around the crowd, it was clear that the high energy, sing-along-to-every-song energy was shared amongst all of us.
Last but certainly not least, was headliners Arctic Monkeys. This is a band that has evolved and has reinvented itself ,both musically and artistically. We wanted to see what their new sound felt like. The band played songs from a long history of hits and the crowd loved it. They have recent music in 2018 (“Four Out of Five” is sweet) but we love their old stuff the most. We love that their music can be experienced not just in the sound, but in the rhythm as well. It was clear to see that they are still at the top of their game and they were an amazing way to bring the festival to a close.