For the first time in its 12-year history Austin’s Austin City Limits Music festival spans two weekends. The change not only accommodates the “Live Music Capital of the World” recently becoming the fastest-growing city in the country, but represents the capital of the Lone Star State further solidifying itself as a permanent fixture on mainstream music’s main stage. Where 2013’s SXSW drew acts from the highest echelons of popular culture (Justin Timberlake, for crying out loud), ACL 2013’s first weekend assembled a cast fit for modern Austin, who played in an expertly-run venue on a picture perfect Texas weekend.
2013's Austin City Limits festival felt proper, tame, clean even. So neat, that I felt guilty letting empty water bottles anonymously fall to my feet in a jam-packed crowd, instead opting to hang on until I found a place to recycle (or a volunteer walking around with a bag, of which there were plenty). Austinites care about their city and, by extension, their festival. It shows in the amount of volunteers and community activation that occurs around the event.
The first weekend (Oct. 4-6) might have had the best weather on record of any ACL ever, and that’s not just a small detail. Previous years have been blighted by drought, which transforms Zilker Park into an airway-clogging dust bowl, or in the case of last year, torrential downpour and mud. In 2013, healthy weather in the weeks leading up gave way to strong turf and mid-Saturday afternoon, the strong Texas heat broke to give way to some of the year’s first mid-‘60s temperatures.
The ACL crowd ranges in age—more than what you’d see at some summer festivals. Unlike Pitchfork in Chicago or New York City’s Governor's Ball where it’s nearly impossible to find anybody under 18 or over 30, at Austin City Limits toddlers hoisted upon the shoulder of their grandparents are a frequent sight. The lineup, spare in its selection of aggressive rap and EDM acts, is conducive to this demographic.
With so many guitars and traditional acoustic instruments dominating the lineup, cover tunes became a weekend staple. Arctic Monkeys played Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” Muse performed Rage Against The Machine’s “Freedom” and HAIM covered The Rolling Stones.
Friday kicked off with local favorites Asleep At The Wheel, who announced while on the AMD stage that this was their 12th time playing the festival (that’s every year, for those keeping count). The east coast was out in full force, with fun. playing their Grammy award winning hits to an extremely energetic crowd as well as Vampire Weekend. UK albums and Billboard Folk albums chart-topper Jake Bugg, a 19-year-old singer from the UK, defied the expectations of the older crowd who was watching. Muse’s headline performance on the Samsung Galaxy stage experienced the only technical difficulties I observed the entire weekend, but was otherwise impressive.
Saturday saw a much needed temperature dip in the late afternoon, as well as the festival’s only hip-hop performer, Kendrick Lamar. Atlantic-signed Max Frost, who performed during a noon timeslot that day, explained that Austin’s hip-hop scene still has quite a way to go as far as building a dedicated rap audience, and festival organizers know this. Grimes, for all the energy she brought to her set, fell victim to the same plight that cripples nearly all festival-performing electronic music acts: shoddy technical setup (her keyboard simply didn’t work), and terrible acoustics.
Evening headliners again brought the hits by the wheelbarrows, with Kings Of Leon seamlessly oscillating between jams from their newest chart topping album “Mechanical Bull,” and classics including hits from Aha Shake Heartbreak.
Sunday headliners divided the crowd by age group in a manner familiar to those who have attended previous festivals, with Thom Yorke’s hyper-modern supergroup Atoms For Peace on one side of the field and Lionel Richie on the other.
The former recently pulled their catalog of work from the streaming service Spotify in a royalty debate-fueled rebellion against the emerging modern music distribution model. The latter, Richie, who rattled through decades of hits from the Commodores to Diana Ross, no-so-jokingly suggested that after the festival ends tonight that we all go home to listen to our cassette tapes, “or even those electric media downloads.”