By Lone Star Music Staff
Headed out to Zilker Park Oct. 7-9 for the second weekend of the 15th annual Austin City Limits Music Festival? First off, congrats and have a blast! A handful of us here at Lone Star Music attended the first weekend, and we had so much fun that we’re going right back for more. More Radiohead, more LCD Soundsystem, more Margo Price and more of a whole lotta other great both-weekend acts we can’t get enough of, plus a fat handful of brand new (well, new to the lineup) acts that are only playing Weekend 2. And as we noted in our Weekend 1 preview last week, even though the ACL Fest has broadened its stylistic horizons a lot since its early years when roots acts ruled the roost, there’s still plenty of quality Americana and Americana-ish acts not just from around the country but around the world to be found playing across the eight stages on the festival grounds. And though we certainly encourage you to sample from the myriad other musical styles on display throughout the weekend, if you make an effort to try and catch all of our LSM picks on the list below, you’re guaranteed to get your fill of quality Americana, country, and singer-songwriter fare — some of it from artists you surely already know and love, but even more from acts that might very well be brand new discoveries to you.
Now about this weekend’s picks, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is, while a handful of our favorite Americana selections from last weekend are playing this weekend, too, there’s a few notables names that won’t be — including Kacey Musgraves, Chris Stapleton, Maren Morris, Aubrie Sellers and the Quaker City Night Hawks. But the good news is, it’s only you Weekend 2 people that get WILLIE NELSON, not to mention the terrific Amanda Shires and even Conor Oberst, to name but three new additions to the ACL marquee. So … read up and rest up, because trust us — you’ve got one very long but very fun weekend ahead of you.
Friday, Oct. 7 Picks
ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL
12:15 p.m. Honda Stage
Ray Benson is pretty much to the ACL Festival what Big Tex is to the Texas State Fair: a long, tall Texan (not by birth, but c’mon) who’s been greeting folks walking through the front gates with a friendly “Howdy, y’all!” and a blast of comforting nostalgia for as long as anyone can remember. Benson’s Western swing preservation society, Asleep at the Wheel, is the only act to have so far played every ACL Fest since the first one in 2002, and odds are the Wheel will continue rolling as a festival staple for years to come. That may make them seem an odd pick to spotlight, but there’s a lot to be said for honoring tradition: Benson and Co. carry the torch not just for the legacy and music of Bob Wills, but for the free-spirited old Austin music scene that inspired TV’s Austin City Limits in the first place (the Wheel, in fact, were featured on the show’s very first episode way back in 1976, not counting the Willie Nelson pilot). And not for nothing, but they put on a hell of an entertaining show, too, with instrumental and showmanship chops that could easily put any number of younger, ostensibly hipper acts on the festival bill to shame.
12:15 p.m. Tito’s Handmade Vodka Stage
To be honest, Lincoln Durham’s whole “how much more black can it get?” shtick can wear thin on record, as evidenced just by reading the track list of his 2016 offering, Revelations of a Mind Unraveling: Titles like “Suffer My Name,” “Bleed Until You Die,” “Creeper,” “Rage and Fire and Brimstone,” etc., all scan a tad silly taking into account Durham’s roots as a precocious fiddle prodigy on the Texas opry circuit. But if you can see or hear past all that, there’s no denying the guy’s still a helluva riveting beast of a one-man-band onstage. At his best — and he’s never been a phone-it-inner — Durham throttles and stomps harrowing thunder and lightning out of his acoustic arsenal like a young man who might actually be possessed by demons, and he howls his way through his playbook of the damned with a gut-bucket gravitas that’s a lot more convincing than the Hot Topic Goth veneer lets on.
12:15 p.m., BMI Stage
Listening to Susto’s music and watching a few of the band’s videos makes one trait abundantly clear: Justin Osborne, the South Carolina-born troubadour who fronts this outfit, is quite a character. A funny one, well-versed in delivering Americana on wry for millennials. His songs carry names like “Friends, Lovers, Ex-lovers, Whatever …,” “Acid Boys,” “Hard Drugs” and “Chillin’ on the Beach with My Best Friend Jesus Christ.” They’re delivered in a beguiling, conversational style that sometimes evokes Bob Dylan without the nasal twang, plus a bit of Replacements cheek and an occasional pop-soul groove. Or an enchanting, atmospheric feel. In other words, they keep you guessing. And hooked, in a lo-fi way. The name comes from a Latin-American word for a syndrome variously described as a “fright sickness” or panic attack; it also titles the band’s 2014 debut album, which — their Facebook page claims — won the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame’s 2014 Album of the Year. While that place actually exists, the band’s April 1, 2015 release, Live from the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame, was recorded in the decidedly American locale of Osborne’s Charleston home. Their planned early-2017 album is being recorded in an actual studio.
3:00 p.m., Miller Lite Stage
Americans just seem to really love foreigners with banjos. So it’s fitting that Canadian folk-rock act Strumbellas are on the same ACL bill that suspendered banjo-plucking forerunners Mumford & Sons headline. But it’s not as though the young, energetic group is looking to mimic the British kick-drum thumpers, as they’ve been honing their self-described “folk popgrass” sound since coming together in 2008. Since impressing crowds during this year’s South by Southwest, the group’s infectious single “Spirits” has ascended to hit status is 10 different countries, including claiming the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart in May. The most striking aspect of the Strumbellas style is the pleasing manner in which they make madness sound so damn sunny. In “Spirits,” frontman Simon Ward openly explains the darkness inside his psyche by singing “I got guns in my head and they won’t go, I got spirits in my head and they won’t go.” And in “Shovels and Dirt,” we hear how Ward plans on fighting the “darkness” he deals with when he sings “I put a banjo up into the sky.” And we love it.
4:45 p.m., Tito’s Handmade Vodka Stage
If the late, great “Sir” Doug Sahm — the patron saint of Texas music who loved (and pretty much mastered) every genre he could find in the Lone Star State — were still around today, it’s a safe bet he’d be all about a movin’ to Gina Chavez’s groove. Austin born and raised, Chavez mixes all kinds of Latin, Tex-Mex and American music styles with genuine Texas Tornado-worthy panache, stirring folk, cumbia, bossa nova and pop into a spicy bilingual caldo that has won her both national and international fame — and a cultural ambassador gig with the U.S. State Department’s American Music Abroad program. She’s made quite an impression in her hometown of late, too, winning both Musician of the Year and Album of the Year (for her second album, Up.Rooted) honors at the 2015 Austin Music Awards.
6:00 p.m., BMI Stage
A Northern Irishman who now lives in Scotland, Foy Vance is an old-world troubadour who just happens to run these days with some of the biggest names in the mainstream pop world. His third album, this year’s The Wild Swan, was released on Ed Sheeran’s Gingerbread Man Records and executive produced by none other than Sir Elton John (with Jacquire King handling the actual production duties). Vance has also been handpicked by both Sheeran and John as an opening act, and his songs have been used in the hit TV shows Grey’s Anatomy and (with Sheeran singing his tune) Sons of Anarchy. Listen to The Wild Swan, and none of this seems that surprising, given Vance’s undeniable pop smarts, thoughtful lyrics, masterful acoustic guitar playing, and soulful voice. But although his music may not be quite as rough ’n’ tumble as his somewhat rustic gypsy visage might let on — he’s a lot more James Taylor than Tom Waits, even though he sought out King to produce his album based on his work on Mule Variations — you can tell there’s plenty of grit right beneath the surface, not to mention deep roots in traditional folk.
BAND OF HORSES
7:00 p.m., Miller Lite Stage
Indie-rock favorites Band of Horses aren’t particularly easy to corral into the typical Americana stable, but they’re right at home in whatever one might call that adjacent field where the likes of Fleet Foxes, Iron & Wine, Phosphorescent, Andrew Bird, Connor Oberst, later-day Neko Case and even My Morning Jacket all romp and roam. In the decade since their launch out of Seattle with their 2006 Sub Pop debut, Everything All the Time Time, frontman Ben Bridwell has kept Band of Horses running through numerous lineup and label changes and even a move back to his native South Carolina; and though he’s now the only original member left in the saddle, this summer’s terrific Why Are You OK (the band’s fifth album) features plenty of stirring anthems like “Casual Party” that more than hold their own alongside such beloved fan favorites as 2006’s “The Funeral” and “Laredo” (from 2010’s Infinite Arms).
Saturday, Oct. 8 Picks
12:45 p.m., BMI Stage
Although they’re not averse to recruiting a supporting crew as needed to help fill out their sound both onstage and in the studio, there are but two official Roosevelts in the Roosevelts, and they’re neither related nor, well, “Roosevelts.” They are James Mason and Jason Kloess, two guitar-playing dudes with righteous beards (along with their own brand of beard oil), a common background in the Eagle Scouts, and a shared love for writing and performing the kind of bluesy Americana roots ’n’ roll that somehow sounds as right at home on CMT as it does in hipster rock dens. Formed in Austin but now based out of Nashville, the duo has built up quite a nationwide, grassroots following in the three-years since their debut EP, Cold Sheets, but they’re just now beginning to hit their stride in full in the wake of their first full-length, this spring’s The Greatest Thing You’ll Ever Learn.
6:30 p.m., BMI Stage
Not too many years ago, singer-songwriter and bass player David Beck (son of Bill Whitbeck, longtime bass player for Texas music legend Robert Earl Keen) co-fronted one of the hottest up-and-coming Americana acts in the Lone Star State: Sons of Fathers. But some good things just aren’t meant (or built) to last all that long, so what’s a talented young dude to do in the aftermath, other than start fresh in an exciting new direction? So that’s exactly what Beck — along with fellow former SOF members Dees Stripling (drums) and Bryan Mammel (keys) — did with Blue Healer. But this most definitely is not just a new name slapped on the same old model. As heard on the their brand new, self-titled full-length debut, Blue Healer’s music is both unabashedly indie-rock and totally unique. Put it this way: If there’s another trio out there playing songs this irresistibly melodic and powerful using primarily just synths, drums, and distorted stand-up bass as its core instrumentation (at least live), well, that’s news to us.
7:30 p.m., Miller Lite Stage
Most musical cognoscenti know ConorOberst as the force behind Bright Eyes, or as a member of Monsters of Folk with My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, M. Ward and Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis. But the man anointed by Rolling Stone as 2008’s best songwriter has a solo career, too, and on Oct. 14, he’ll release his latest self-contained effort, Ruminations. The songs were written as the New Yorker of 10 years shivered through a winter in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. “I was just staying up late every night playing piano and watching the snow pile up outside the window,” he explains. “Next thing I knew I had burned through all the firewood in the garage and had more than enough songs for a record. I recorded them quick to get them down but then it just felt right to leave them alone.” He captured them all in 48 hours, singing and playing guitar, piano and harmonica himself. That’s it. Their sparseness channels the power of his words, which are said to contain “some of the rough magic and anxious poetry that first brought him to the attention of the world.”
Sunday, Oct. 9 Picks
12:15 p.m, BMI Stage
Elise Davis was raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, now lives in Nashville and recorded her killer debut LP, The Token, in Maine. It barely takes a full spin of the record to know she’s seen and experienced a great deal of emotional triumph and existential torment in her 27 years. Similar to insurgent Americana artists such as Anderson East and Aubrie Sellers, Davis offers up soul-drenched takes on jagged-edged country numbers. An alluring smoke-filled vibe wafts through plainspoken yet poetic ponderings on sex, commitment and identity. It’s no surprise Davis is a proud admirer of Lucinda Williams when you hear intensely personal number such as “Pretty Girl” and “Penny,” both of which offer up aches, pains and insight while avoiding easy categorization.
2:00 p.m., Samsung Stage
When Anderson East and Miranda Lambert get hitched, there’s little doubt he’ll croon “All I’ll Ever Need” at the reception. And every woman in the room will swoon, just like his bride, when this soul singer pours it on. Raised in the shadow of Muscle Shoals and 90 minutes from Nashville, East scored big with 2015’s Delilah, on producer Dave Cobb’s Elektra Records imprint, Low Country Sounds. East was Cobb’s first signing. It’s little wonder why; his grit ’n’ groove sound melds the gospel-influenced R&B of Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Sam Cooke with doo-wop and girl-group references, and carries kinship with artists from James Hunter and Parker Millsap to Ryan Adams and another Cobb client, Jason Isbell. But he claims his music owes as much to country as R&B. “Those two genres hold a pretty similar thread through them,” he says. “It’s always a story, and always a feeling.” With songs like “Satisfy Me,” “What a Woman Wants to Hear,” and “Keep the Fire Burning,” the guy knows how to ignite at least one feeling: passion.
3:00 p.m., HomeAway Stage
Singer-songwriter Margo Price makes her ACL Festival debut hot off of winning “Emerging Artist of the Year” at this September’s Americana Music Honors & Awards — but don’t mistake “emerging” or even “white hot” with out-of-nowhere or new. Price, originally from Aledo, Illinois, has been an East Nashville fixture for more than a decade, running in the same circles as cats like Sturgill Simpson and even recording three albums with the popular local band Buffalo Clover long before knocking out her solo debut, this March’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, over three days at Memphis’ legendary Sun Studios. She didn’t have a label deal at the time of recording, but it wasn’t long before fan Jack White extended an offer to release it on his own Third Man Records. That particular connection no doubt went a long way towards landing Price on Saturday Night Live back in April, but as anyone who’s heard her record can attest, this woman has both the songs and the voice to more than back up all the hype and acclaim that’s come her way. The frequent comparisons to Loretta Lynn are especially spot on (as made apparent right from the start of Midwest Farmer’s Daughter with the absolutely stunning “Hands of Time”), but there’s just as much feisty rockabilly and gritty Memphis blues and soul in her repertoire and range as there is classic country and swinging honky-tonk.
NATHANIEL RATELIFF & THE NIGHT SWEATS
4:00 p.m., Samsung Stage
Not too long ago really, Nathaniel Rateliff was a fine folk singer. But he became a bored folk singer. The Missouri native became a star in Denver’s fertile music environment, but he eventually began to ponder a life as something other than the well-traveled artist he had become over the span of four solo albums. It turns out all Rateliff needed to shake off the mopey acoustic boredom was a solid slap of brazen brassy funk. So he hit the road with a new band, the Night Sweats, born again and fully recharged as a gregarious revival preacher of sin, soul and booze. The song that perfectly captures this exciting new direction is the near-ubiquitous, gold-selling hit “S.O.B.” Unapologetically sloppy, melodic and frightfully addictive, it’s a song about drowning sorrows in the midst of a painful break-up that proves just how raucous and fun heartbreak can be.
6:00 p.m., BMI Stage
It really is a damn, damn shame that ACL is pitting arguably the two very best Texas-born artists of the whole weekend directly against each other at the same time, but what are you gonna do? Our advice: No matter how much you feel you have to see Willie over at the giant Samsung Stage — and we’re certainly not gonna argue against that urge — trust us when we say that the Lubbock-reared, Nashville-based Amanda Shires is worth at least half of your time between 6-7:00 p.m. Shires started out playing fiddle with Western swing legends the Texas Playboys when she was still in her teens (let’s just say she was the youngest member of that troupe by oh, decades), and also spent a few years kicking around with the alt-country band the Thrift Store Cowboys, but it was her second solo album, 2008’s West Cross Timbers, that truly launched her career as one of the most compelling young singer-songwriters on the Americana landscape. Subsequent albums Carrying Lightning (featuring the unforgettable “When You Need a Train It Never Comes”), Down Fell the Doves, and the brand new My Piece of Land have only reinforced that reputation exponentially, which accounts for the kind of A-list company she keeps these days, frequently touring and recording with the likes of Todd Snider, Ryan Adams, John Prine (she’s one of his duet partners on his new For Better, Or Worse) and of course her husband, Jason Isbell.
6:00 p.m., Samsung Stage
Willie Nelson’s latest album, For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price, was just released on Sept. 16, but seeing as how we’re posting this on Thursday and he doesn’t play until Sunday, who knows how many more albums he might drop between now and then. We’re kidding, kinda, but honestly, over the last 40 (50?) some-odd years, has there ever been a more prolific recording artist — let alone one that’s logged as many miles touring — than this 83-year-old “Red Headed Stranger” from Abbott, Texas? Both a legend among legends and the last of a dying breed, Willie has been one of the most beloved and universally recognized artists not just in Texas and country music but in the entire world for the better part of half a century. But he’s more than just an iconic celebrity: He’s a songwriter’s songwriter of the highest order (think “Crazy,” “Night Life,” “Me and Paul,” “Hello Walls,” “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” “On the Road Again,” and literally countless other American classics), a peerless, genre-bounding interpreter and a brilliant musician whose acoustic country-jazz stylings on his trusty, battered “Trigger” are as distinctive as his one-of-a-kind voice and behind-the-beat phrasing.
MUMFORD & SONS
8:00 p.m., Samsung Stage
Marcus (Mumford), Ben (Lovett), Winston (Marshall) and Ted (Dwane) may never achieve universal fame on the level of John, Paul, George and Ringo, but there may yet still be time for them to get within shouting distance of Bono, Edge, Adam and Larry. That at least seemed to be the new sonic direction Mumford & Sons were going in with their critical third outing, 2015’s Wilder Mind — aka their “Banjos No More” album, on which the phenomenally successful British folk-rock act dared to (gasp! Judas!) plug in. It was bold move for a band whose sound up to that point had been largely defined by its spirited interplay of quick-strummed acoustic guitars, ringing mandolins, old-timey stand-up bass and banjo up the wazoo. Stripped of all that, Wilder Mind was guaranteed to alienate at least a few (maybe even quite a few) of the millions of fans who’d fallen in love with Mumford & Sons’ 2010 sleeper-hit debut, Sigh No More, and 2012’s out-of-the-gate blockbuster, Babel. But even though electric-rock-band-mode Mumford drew a line in the sand, those who stuck it out with the London lads sans banjo were treated to the same signature mix of earnest, heartfelt lyrics, quiet-to-loud dynamics and unfailingly catchy, soaring choruses that have been every bit as key to the group’s appeal from Day One. These days, that mix just sounds a whole lot bigger and louder — which is really saying something, because as anyone who’s ever seen this band live can attest, even at their most stripped-down and rootsiest, Mumford & Sons playing full-tilt sound positively huge.