Though Day 2 brought humidity and a veritable downpour to the Austin City Limits festival, a sold-out crowd didn't seem to mind at all, donning ponchos and the sheets they brought as picnic blankets to shield themselves and listen on. Billboard was there for some of the best -- and worst -- moments of the day. Read onward for 14 highlights and things overheard at Zilker Park on Saturday, Sept. 17.
1. Headliner Stevie Wonder had a rough start last night, as a 20-minute delay and a poor sound system diluted the attention of the tens of thousands gathered to see the soul-pop king play his two-hour set. The further back in the crowd fans were, the more clearly they heard co-headliners My Morning Jacket, and many turned around to watch that set instead. Nevertheless, for fans within earshot of the PA system, the performance was nothing short of a damn good time. Wonder seemed to be having a riotously good time, at one point writhing on his back, keytar in hand, to hits like "Higher Ground" and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours," and "Sir Duke."
No ACL set, it seems, would be complete without a little political soapboxing, and Wonder was no exception--he echoed Mavis Staples' sentiments from Day 1, indignantly shouting, "What's with all this talking crap about Obama?" and calling for the tightening of gun ownership laws, while voicing confidence: "We can work it out!"
No one with a favorite Stevie Wonder song was disappointed: he played them all--that included an extended jam and covers like Marvin Gaye's "How Sweet It Is," Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel," and the classic jazz standard, "Fever."
2. While the fest flocked for a glimpse of Stevie Wonder, one of Billboard's correspondents snuck away to the Moody Theater in Austin's W Hotel to watch Arcade Fire's Austin City Limits TV taping. Somehow, we ended up walking away with one of the microphones from the set--and not by any suspicious dealings. Win Butler tossed two mics into the audience -- which included Seattle folk band the Head and the Heart -- as the band walked off following the encore, and then tossed one to the Billboard reporter sitting at the side of the stage where they exited.
As for the performance that preceded, it was aces: "Suburbs" songs, diatribes about change and wrong turns, jokes about Austin's forest fire outbreak (too soon, Win Butler, too soon), and love. Lots and lots of love for Austin City Limits TV show ("something I dreamed about doing as a kid," Win said) and the city of Austin, which Win called the band's stateside hometown of sorts. Arcade Fire takes the festival stage tonight for Sunday's only headlining performance. After that, Butler joked that his Grammy-winning band may make a "novelty reggae album."
3. Early set, shmearly set: Seattle natives Telekinesis! had no trouble drawing an impressive crowd for their 11:45 set time on Day 2 of the fest. The crowd could easily discern the band's disbelief at how many people had shown up -- frontman/drummer Michael Benjamin Lerner repeated their band name multiple times, as if to remind festivalgoers who might have accidentally stumbled into the wrong stage area. Despite the incredulity, the band performed an energetic (albeit sweaty) set, complete with Lerner's signature move: standing atop the kickdrum and starting a crowd clap.
4. Cut Copy played one of the main stages (covered in shrubbery, mind you) right before headliners My Morning Jacket, but the Aussie electronic band showed their unfamiliarity with Austin City Limits during the set. Frontman Dan Whitford said that he had been told that ACL was one of the biggest music fests in the U.S. No word on how many Austin natives suffered from dropped, if not dislocated, jaws.
5. If there was an award for the best marketing campaign of the fest, it certainly ought to go to VH1. The network's promotion for their newly reinstated signature show "Pop-Up Video" included cupcakes and popsicles that featured "pop-up" facts printed on toothpick flags and sticks, respectively, in the VIP and media lounges.
6. The elders and the stroller crowd flocked to the Vista Equity tent to escape the late afternoon rain and take in the folk offerings of Gillian Welch. After squeezing in tightly and being taunted by the Skrillex rave happening across the way, an announcement was made that Welch's set would be pushed back by a half hour. The reason? A "scheduling conflict." You've never seen folding chairs move so fast.
7. Best thing overheard during Stevie Wonder's set: "It sounds like Cee Lo again!" Runner-up: "This is so much work!" -- whining woman pushing her way to the front of the crowd.
8. The rain on Saturday was not particularly bothersome until late afternoon. By the start of Iron & Wine's 4 p.m. set, the ponchos and umbrellas were out in full force. Sam Beam and his bevy of backing players performed their earthy folk tunes -- many from the latest Iron & Wine record, "Kiss Each Other Clean" -- as if they were summoning the rain. Major props to his woodwindist, who was by far the best-dressed of the band with his kelly green and black striped blazer.
9. A surprising addition to the festival was the presence of a handful of sign language interpreters, who were positioned beneath the main stages and gracefully relayed acts like Iron and Wine, Bright Eyes, and Cut Copy with their instrumental imitations--at times, it was almost more entertaining to watch the zealous, wordless interpretations than the acts themselves.
10. There was no way a festival-goer could miss the thousands of people who gathered to dance to Skrillex's hour-long electronica set towards the end of the day. If only the performance had taken place after the sun had set, the red-hot DJ could just as well have been playing at the Electric Daisy Carnival. The rabid reception the former hardcore frontman met at ACL was jarring, as fans bounced frantically with the knee-buckling bass line--tough luck for those attempting to navigate the perimeter of the seemingly endless crowd gathered there.
11. "Flag People," as we're calling them, have been out in full force throughout ACL, reaping sports teams, countries, and even the legendary Chicago club Metro. The strangest pick of 'em so far has got to be a makeshift flag spotted during Skrillex's set. Made from a Lionel Ritchie t-shirt, the flag read, "Hello? Is it me you're looking for?" Why yes, how did you know?
12. At age 73, rockabilly diva Wanda Jackson brings as sparkling (figuratively and, dazzling in a pink sequined jacket, literally) a performance as ever, as she tore through her own tunes, like "Nervous Breakdown," and covers, like former beau Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel." She announced to the eclectic crowd that, next month, "provided we don't kill each other before then," she and her husband and manager Wendell Goodman -- whom, she said, she married because "he kissed better than Elvis" -- will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.
13. Complete with lamé-bodysuited lady band behind him, the Ladykiller himself--Cee Lo Green--took the main stage by storm at 6 p.m., challenging the audience off the bat: "323 pounds of raw sexuality! Can you handle it, Austin, Texas?" He surprised fans of the NBC show "The Voice" when he brought contestant Nakia on-stage to sing a rock-heavy rendition of his hit single "Fuck You"--complete with expletives and bird-flipping from the audience--halfway through the set. The performance couldn't have been complete without
14. Finally, no fest--especially in Austin--is complete without aftershows. Apart from the ACL tapings Billboard has been haunting, a slew of shows at local venues like Emo's (Death From Above 1979) and Mohawk (Big Boi) were well attended, most selling out as fest-goers (as well as those who missed out on tickets) kept the party rocking until well after 1 a.m.
15. At Antone's last night, the Head and the Heart (supported by fellow Seattlites and ACL performers the Moondoggies) burst onstage, claiming to have been invigorated and inspired by the Arcade Fire ACL Live taping into which they had finagled their way (the fact that they taped their own special the night before might have helped a little). The sextet was certainly channeling the Montréal Grammy-winners throughout the sing-along-friendly set, which included a four-song encore featuring a cover of Jimmie Rodger's classic "T For Texas." The night was notably energetic, as was the receptive, raucous (read: beer-filled) crowd. The band embarks on their first headlining tour (supported by Thao with the Get Down Stay Down) the second they leave Austin.
For more festival updates from the ATX this weekend, follow @billboard on Twitter (check out our shiny new handle!).