- By Staff American-Statesman staff
We kinda can’t believe we’re not going back to Zilker Park on Friday for another weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Our team of music lovers and veteran festgoers was on the ground from beginning to end all six days, and here, we share musical highlights and some of our favorite images. We’ll be back: As has become tradition, fest producers announced dates for next year moments after the last notes played Sunday night: Oct. 5-7 and Oct. 12-14, 2018. Until then, make some playlists and relive 2017 with all our coverage at austin360.com/acl.
DEBORAH SENGUPTA STITH
Chance the Rapper: “Very recently I made a strong switch to a new path,” the 24-year-old Chicago prodigy said during his Weekend One set, no doubt in reference to the fact that his latest album, “Coloring Book,” is straight gospel rap. Then he burned with the fire of God, delivering a fervent sermon of a set.
Joi performing “Down” with Run the Jewels: I appreciate the intensity of RTJ’s relentless aggro-rap, but after 30 minutes or so it can become exhausting. When the Dungeon Family queenpin, whose syrupy Southern soul laces your favorite OutKast songs, came out at the end of their sets to sing the hook to this song about persevering through the darkest days, it didn’t just change the pace, it elevated the whole affair.
A woman’s work: Feminists have long held that the personal is political, and ACL Fest artists Solange and Jamila Woods embodied this idea beautifully. Not only did they sing truth to power, they used their voices as a healing balm for weary souls.
The kids are all right: We know about the Barton Hills Choir, the local elementary-school-age singers who always infuse ACL Fest with an uplifting spirit with their noon-hour sets featuring special guests (this year, hometown guitar greats Charlie Sexton and David Grissom). But 13-year-old Grace VanderWaal, an “America’s Got Talent” alum whose debut album arrives next month, was a show-stealer this year, charming early-arrivers on both Saturdays with delightful original pop songs that suggested a major star is on the rise.
All hail the Lemon Twigs: The good thing about attending both weekends of ACL Fest is that it offers opportunities to see acts you might have missed the first weekend because of schedule conflicts. With the Lemon Twigs, though, their great Weekend One set simply set in stone a plan to catch them again on Weekend Two. The brothers D’Addario — in their late teens themselves, continuing with the youth theme — and their bandmates were unique at the fest, playing classic dramatic pop that drew heavily from bygone eras even as it clearly resonated with today’s indie fans.
We sure miss Tom Petty: The rock legend died four days before ACL Fest began, and it was clear he meant a lot to many of this year’s performers. Over the course of both weekends, I heard more than a dozen Petty covers drifting across the Zilker Park grounds, and some bands did more than one (New Orleans’ Revivalists cranked out sterling renditions of both “Wildflowers” and “Refugee”). The fest itself outdid them all, arranging for three skydivers to free-fall from above on the first Saturday while Petty’s “Free Fallin’” as performed at the 2006 ACL Fest played on the park’s PA.
The Killers (Weekend Two): I was running on empty with a bad back, screaming obscenities in my head, but Brandon Flowers and the boys filled me up with let’s-get-out-of-this-town rock romance. All ACL Fests should end with “Mr. Brightside,” sending a long six days into the night like a neon comet.
Tank and the Bangas: Raw, hyperkinetic musical talent that could only come from New Orleans, and I’ll always remember that “Rollercoaster” taught me to find the person whose heart will skip a beat for me.
Solange: I can’t think of a show I’ve ever seen that felt as much like a privilege to watch as this elegantly defiant hour.
Chance the Rapper: I’d be hard-pressed to think of another ACL artist this year who checked the showmanship, talent and inspiration boxes as neatly as Lil Chano.
Muna: The closest thing I found at the fest to a pride party. Plus, my favorite cover performance this year: “Edge of Seventeen.”
Tomar and the FCs: This on-the-rise Austin soul band played a tough set time — 11:30 a.m. in the sun on the second Saturday — but they gave it all they had and then some. They got the crowd, which continued to grow throughout their performance, moving and grooving and left wanting more when it was all done.
Solange: As Eric Webb notes, it was a privilege to hear and see this performance, which felt at least several levels above in artistry than what you’d expect at a big sweaty festival in a field.
Mondo Cozmo: The best kind of elevated bar rock from a man on the path to rock stardom, 15-plus years into the grind. Seeing pure joy and gratitude on singer Josh Ostrander’s face throughout was an emotional bonus.
Gorillaz: A band we know for two early-2000s hits schemed one of the most ambitious ACL headliner sets to date. A five-part choir, guests galore, flying in De La Soul and Del the Funky Homosapien to showcase one song apiece, the captivating animation. Architect and singer Damon Albarn struggled to hide his delight — he finally arranged the perfect Gorillaz stage show.
Eagles of Death Metal: Following the Paris shooting at the Bataclan music venue, where these caffeinated and tatted rockers were performing, the band has become a soaring eagle of freedom-loving noise. Fun and big songs like “Complexity” pumped with reckless abandon.
Solange: Wearing bright reds, in front of disco-era lighting, and moving in graceful choreography, Solange channeled her inner Diana Ross at the Barton Springs stage. But gems like “F.U.B.U.” were subversive, political music about identity and the struggle.
Crystal Castles: The Toronto band was in attack mode: During a week when nonstop headlines revealed men abusing power at the highest levels of entertainment, Edith Frances’ breakneck performance was the blunt-force, pushback electronic music that the occasion demanded. With Auto-Tuned and fuzzed-out vocals, her singing washed over Zilker Park — a roaring conscience that brought weight to the beach-ball-littered field.
Run the Jewels: A devastatingly powerful twosome of emcees that shouldn’t work together, but do. Killer Mike and El-P are relentless — and at an hour perhaps too long by 20 minutes — but having too much firepower is one of those good problems to have.
Gorillaz: It makes sense that a “cartoon band” would be colorful and visually rich. But Damon Albarn’s collective continued its streak of musical inventiveness with a parade of guests and hits.
Lemon Twigs: SXSW buzz band delivers on its potential with oversize disco drama rock songs that are catchy and charming. And they were eternally cool despite 90-plus-degree temps.
Dreamcar: Proof that there’s second acts in punk. The Y-chromosomed members of No Doubt + AFI singer Davey Havok = new-wave glam goodness that was catchy, confident and showy as hell.
Eagles of Death Metal: The most cowbell-banging, booty-shaking boogie rock of the fest (and maybe the world), Eagles of Death Metal aren’t like the Eagles or death metal, but they did prove a sweaty, toe-tapping good time.
Capyac: Austin’s flesh-and-funk-powered party machine Capyac were a bizarre blast, storming the stage as a costumed troupe combining disco guitar licks, modern beats, rappers, backup singers, dancers and an onstage pancake-cooker for the most fun I experienced at ACL Fest 2017.
R.LUM.R: With a powerful, honey-sweet falsetto and a magnetic stage presence, Nashville-based R.LUM.R (pronounced “R. Lamar”) gave fans a chance to dance, make out and get a glimpse of the next big thing in alternative R&B in his Weekend One-only set.
Ought: The brainy art-rockers seem clearly (and wonderfully) shaped by post-punk icons like the Fall, Television and Talking Heads. In a festival scene that seems to have less and less room for rock of the not-top-40 variety, their presence was a welcome one.
Saxophones: Since that soaring saxophone solo on M83’s “Midnight City” in 2011, people have said the sax is making a comeback, but this year at ACL Fest marked the first time I’ve seen so much of the brass beauty, with multiple unironic solos honking out across the park daily.
The Killers’ tear jerking covers of Petty’s “American Girl” and “The Waiting.”
Run the Jewels performing “Thursday in the Danger Room,” which El-P previously vowed to never play live because it’s too emotional.
Andrew McMahon riding a giant inflatable rubber duck across his audience.