It’s important, when crafting the ultimate playlist, to follow some rules.
Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity” and its subsequent film (and forthcoming series!) get close to a definitive set. “You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention,” the film proclaims. “Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.” This year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival provides every opportunity to make your own personal compilation. But, it is in this year’s discoveries – our ‘October Surprises’ – that you can find a mental compilation tape you can take home, share with others, and take enormous pride in.
These are the bands who are new on the scene or are making enough of a splash to warrant long listens and ‘Must See’ status as you look forward to ACL Festival Weekend Two.
Kick it Off with a Killer.
Friday – Honda Stage – NOON
You want to see an artist on the rise? Get ready fro a shooting star when Alice Merton takes the stage. The diminutive songstress behind recent hit, “No Roots,” took Weekend One’s audience by storm. Set early in the day, before people could get their bearings or post up for the evening band they had first on their priority list, Merton’s unrestrained energy poured out from that stage, and her voice commanded attention and beckoned unsuspecting passers-by like a siren. Her pull was magnetic, and the stage, set up for headliners like Sir Paul and Metallica, was somehow too small for her. She’s a big personality with an even bigger voice, and her first full length album has yet to be released. So it’s a killer surprise that her set was unequivocally solid and every song from her new and old material sounded like something you would happily grab a friend and say, “You’ve GOT to hear this!” about.
Saturday – Honda Stage – 2:30pm
When people say that music is a universal language, they’re usually talking about instrumental notes, beats, and rhythms or about how they think the emotions that music evokes are universal. Language barriers can often hinder this thought, where there isn’t a wealth of multiculturalism. Luckily, Texas does not suffer from a lack of cultural diversity to draw from – specifically between the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking worlds. Therefore, it really doesn’t matter whether you speak English, Spanish, the international language of musical notes or none of the above, Mon Laferte is going to speak to you in one form or another. With a breakneck pace of dancing and a boundless energy contained in a leopard print outfit, Laferte took hold of an audience made up of devout fans – signs, chants, and rabid fandom were all on display – and the unwary curious; and, with a few songs and a very thoughtful nod to Texas’ own “Queen of Cumbia” (she covered Selena’s “Si Una Vez” in a fashion that did Selena fans incredibly proud), she owned an epic audience at one of ACL’s two largest stages. Her fluency in what makes Austin City Limits Music Festival such a fantastic way to spend a weekend is beyond question. And to say that she grabs one’s attention with her music, energy, moves, and severely talented band is understatement of the highest order.
Take it Up a Notch.
Sunday – American Express Stage – 4:00pm
You cannot say we didn’t warn you. You can’t say you didn’t know to be at this show. For years, we’ve sang the praises of Janelle Monáe – ever since we first saw her at SXSW in 2009, after exploding on our radar with a performance at Stubb’s Indoor venue (we can still hardly believe her band and live performance could be contained in so small a space – so we had to look it up to remind us).
The trajectory of Monáe’s career hasn’t slowed in the slightest since that day, but there is no way we could have prepared for the full-tilt headliner level show she and her band put on for last weekend’s early afternoon slot. Clad in her signature style, which always morphs but is never anything but absolutely her, she and her band blister through their set, spanning from “Dirty Computer,” her latest release, all the way back to The Archandroid’s “Tightrope” with a precision and a fire we’ve not seen in an arena-level headliner in over a decade. She’s not performing to an afternoon crowd, she’s performing to a world that has yet to recognize just how much a of a Queen of music she has become. For our part, we were turned into loyal subjects, still reeling with the visuals and songs in our minds. It’s hard to say a nationally-recognized artist could be a surprise at ACL, especially when one is so well-regarded as Janelle Monae, and yet, since she takes it up a notch every time we see her – and even after we’re convinced she’s at full power – we cannot encourage anything but that you be there on Sunday.
Cool it Off a Notch.
Friday – Barton Springs Stage – 2:45pm
Truth be told, the BMI stage is always going to be the best place to discover bands your friends haven’t heard about yet, but will ask you if you’ve ever seen a few years from now. And, as much as we could sing the praises of lovelytheband, Hailey Knox, and Dizzy (who would have won this round in a landslide, if they were also playing Weekend Two), we were floored on Friday afternoon, when, on the advice of two of our writer’s daughters, we were staring at the Barton Springs stage and wishing against logic itself that we had a hammock and a cool breeze handy. Big Thief was on the lips and minds of everyone in the park as the summer began slowly to give up its fight against Texas. It was a perfect opportunity for the band to introduce its slow and relaxed, yet significantly haunting sound. The Brooklyn band brings to mind the best elements of late 90s bands like Belly, The Sundays, and the quiet power of a Mazzy Star. But it’s the connection to the emotionally raw now that powers their sound, and in the current musical climate, they have precious few contemporaries. It’s breath of cool air on a hot day, a brief and peaceful (but never boring!) respite for your festival ears, and it’s how to slow down with a melodic female lead and a backing band that isn’t afraid to challenge their lead singer to sprint.