Live Review: Austin City Limits 2019

Live Reviews
Tierra Whack at Austin City Limits 2019 // all photos by Jim Bennett (view set)
Words and Photos by Jim Bennett

Austin City Limits Festival turned 18 this year.  Expanded to take place on 2 consecutive weekends since 2013, the festival is held in Zilker Park in Austin, Texas.  The location - on the south side of "Town Lake" and the eastern end of Barton Springs Rd - feels just far enough from the downtown core that it has a distinct sense of place, but still close enough to ride a bike or scooter, take a pedicab, catch a bus or just walk to the venue (and to hear the music once you're back across the river).  The expanse of the park is fully utilized:  8 stages are spread out with set timings staggered to minimize crossover noise between them.
In temperatures well above 90 degrees, Weekend 1 of ACL Festival took place on October 4-6.  The talent this year spanned an amazing range of artists.  Headliners are booked to draw fans, of course, but I always feel that the lower lines of the festival poster are where the event as a whole makes a name for itself.  Look beyond the biggest names:  How will you spend your day as a festival goer?
The first part of that answer for ACL is with some great local/regional acts.   Asleep At The Wheel performed, as they have at every single ACL (the only act to do so); Ray Benson and his band set a tone that feels uniquely Austin starting day one with "Miles and Miles of Texas".  Similarly, Alesia Lani delivered a terrific early hip hop set showcasing some of the best of what the Austin hip hop scene is up to.  Black Pistol Fire are a freight train of a duo, careening through their set with ferocious guitar and drums.


  ACL also regularly brings in talent who may be specific to certain audiences but draw fervent fans and deliver a great show.  2 very different examples:  Oliver Tree, presenting himself as his absurdist persona "Turbo", played in the Tito's tent and drew a massive audience for his bowl-cut-and-members-only-jacket goofy-radical hip hop pop.  For the folks there to see him, it was clearly an ecstatic experience.  Similarly, Weyes Blood performed on the BMI stage.  In general, the BMI stage has been a reliable source of great acts over the years - Khruangbin, the Wood Brothers and Valerie June have all played there - and Weyes Blood's graceful poignancy delighted a great many people in the afternoon sun and added to the roster of deep talent who've played there.
Another pivot to consider:  Who's booked later in the day on the secondary stages, or early in the day on the main stages?  The list is impressive.  IDLES performance won them numerous new fans, not just for their songs and performances but also due to both guitarists making trips down into the crowd and the ardent encouragement to care for one another from lead singer Joe Talbot.  FIDLAR gave absolutely everything to their performance on the opposite main stage with intense songs before a rapturous audience.


Brittany Howard


Kacey Musgraves


King Princess brought fantastic cheekiness ("How you doing, baby?" to the collective audience) and crafty songwriting to a stellar performance.  Jenny Lewis' showcased her talent for melodies, a turn of phrase and showmanship wrapped up in a mildly psychedelic package.  Taylor Bennett - Chance the Rapper's younger brother - and FINNEAS - Billie Eilish's older brother - both played to rapt audiences and delivered super polished sets and strong audience engagement.  Hippie Sabotage's Jeff Saurer spent a lot of time on the rail and in the crowd throughout their show, delighting the people there to see and connect with them.  Brittany Howard's set - sans Alabama Shakes - covered a wide-ranging collection of songs from her latest release that thoroughly showcased her vocal talent.  Kali Uchis was mesmerizing - beats, lyrics, moves and sequined clothes complete with a facemask.  Kacey Musgraves fans were sincerely thrilled with her set - polished, soaring, heartfelt, with her locked-in band The Crusty Boys delivering every serene musical line.



  Lizzo's performance deserves a special call-out here.  She was the final act on one of the second-largest stages on Sunday.  Her crowd was *enormous*, filling all the space within view of her stage and cresting a slight rise a long way back from the stage generally intended for folks to stand for the main stage.  People were streaming in to get a spot to see the show 45 minutes before it started so it was packed when she got rolling. From the outset of her show, where she spent time hearing from each part of the collected audience, to her closing song "Juice", she was a showstopper.  Completely infectious, supportive of the crowd and her dancers, in great voice and great spirits, clearly having a great time and delivering some of the most danceable, tight grooves of the weekend.

Guns N' Roses


The Cure


After all this, how were the headliners?  In a word, great.  People who came to see Guns N' Roses were thrilled to get a massive production - video warmup, Axl and Slash and Duff and crew prowling the front of the stage and one singalong after another to "Paradise City", "Welcome To The Jungle", "Live And Let Die", "Mr Brownstone",  "Sweet Child O' Mine" and others for over 2 hours.  Cardi B came on stage with a crew of dancers and didn't stop moving throughout the entire show, sometimes working forward on the stage extension to come right up to the audience and get everyone moving to "Press", "Money" and "I Like It" among many others.  

The Cure was a salve for many, many fans, Robert Smith just taking in the crowd for a minute or two at the outset before delving into "Plainsong" first and diving deeper throughout the set with "A Night Like This", "Shake Dog Shake" and a 7-song encore ending with "Boys Don't Cry".  Tame Impala was equal parts dance, trance and groove party for a legion of fans with the ever-changing psychedelic lights to match.

ACL Festival is one of the bigger festivals in the US these days, and for very good reason.  Once again, it delivered a fantastic opportunity to catch acts you love while offering loads of opportunities to discover new music over three rich days.

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