Feet trampled past the illuminated gates at 11:00 AM as John Williams’ Star Wars theme blasted through the speakers. The sweepingly epic fanfare heralded the start of the 15th annual Austin City Limits Music Festival. Die-hard festival fans know that at 11 AM, the air is crisper, the field is greener, and the lines are shorter. It’s the perfect time to snap a picture behind the famous frame overlooking the Austin skyline and plan out your schedule for the day.
This year’s festival had an open layout and easy flow. Stages were moved to make way for massive art installations, including a sign that made “ACL Fest” look like Hollywood, California. While C3 Presents boasted of more shade, there was little solace from the sun during the harsh Austin afternoons. By day three, revelers wore white sunscreen over their red, chapped faces.
With so much music to dance to, it’s easy to sink into the grass in an overwhelming fog. Luckily, cold brew coffee was on every corner so rallying and reveling was never too difficult. Following a quick pick-me-up from one of the many food trailers, festival-goers could hop back in with ease. This weekend was packed with wailing guitars and serendipitous moments, but these five sets will stay etched into our minds for years to come.
Cage the Elephant
With their wild antics and radio hits, Cage the Elephant brought a rollicking show to The Honda Stage on Saturday. The crowd stretched into the heart of the festival, and fans ached to squeeze toward the front. Some raucous revelers got up close and personal with lead singer Matt Shultz. When he broke past the photo pit and leaped into the fray, hordes of celebratory festival-goers smushed themselves against his chest, singing the lyrics without missing a word.
Band of Horses
Band of Horses’ sunset show on Friday became a meditative experience. Their latest album, Why Are You Ok, remains loyal to their characteristic folk/rock sound and added some new tunes to their roster of memorable melodies. Band of Horses followers rocked out to the energetic “The General Specific” and got lost in a sea of introspection during “Funeral.” Whether they were amping it up or reeling it in, Band of Horses kept the listeners in the palm of their hand.
Even as one of the first sets of the day, Lizzo accelerated the party with her vibrant hip hop and powerhouse vocals. With DJ Sophia Eris and the duo of dancers, this 45-minute show attracted a swarm of passionately exuberant revelers. It’s hard to fight the positive energy being thrown at you. With songs about self-love and feminism, Lizzo defies the the negativity that typically surrounds hip hop. There’s no doubt that everyone leaving that show on Sunday was sweaty, ready, and feeling good as Hell.
Admittedly, Radiohead makes for an unusual headliner. With their artsy musical experiments and ambient sonic waves, you might think revelers would flock to something more shiny and stimulating. Of course, the field surrounding the Samsung Stage was packed on Friday night, but the energy felt as relaxed as the basement in your childhood home. Radiohead left the crowd in a trance and turned the festival into a warm hammock full of deep thoughts.
There’s no better way to close out six days of sunburns and sore muscles than with living legend, Willie Nelson. Even with the exhaustion looming in the air, music fans caught their second wind when Willie entered the scene. A majestic Lone Star flag hung behind him as he sang everything from “Always on my Mind” to “On the Road Again.” As if his iconic voice and proud presence weren’t enough, a sea of musicians and celebrities joined him on the stage for “I’ll Fly Away.” Everyone from Margo Price to Matthew McConaughey joined the celebration as the sun went down on ACL ’16’s final day.