ACL Festival 2011
Festival Fever

ACL in review: Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings deliver a soulful set

ACL in review: Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings deliver a soulful set

Austin Photo Set: News_Arden Ward_Gillian Welch_ACL 2011_3
Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: News_Arden Ward_Gillian Welch_ACL 2011_2
Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: News_Arden Ward_Gillian Welch_ACL 2011_1
Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: News_Arden Ward_Gillian Welch_ACL 2011_3
Austin Photo Set: News_Arden Ward_Gillian Welch_ACL 2011_2
Austin Photo Set: News_Arden Ward_Gillian Welch_ACL 2011_1

I might be the only person who can say this, but I once bought tickets to ACL solely to see John Prine. If I were venturing down that road this year, the one performance on my ACL must-see list would have been Gillian Welch. Though she doesn’t have the decades-long legacy of Prine, the dark, rich character of her songs have influenced country and rock musicians since she hit the scene in the mid 1990s.

After a 22-hour drive from Nashville, Gillian Welch took the stage with her longtime musical partner, Dave Rawlings, on Saturday evening. Their performance, originally scheduled for 5:30 pm, started just shy of 6 pm and was welcomed by a tent full of fans that had been patiently awaiting her arrival.

With only two bodies on stage—armed with acoustic guitars and the boots on their feet—Welch and Rawlings provided one of the most pared down, but soulful, ACL sets I’ve seen. And they did it opposite Skrillex’s bass-heavy performance on the nearest stage.

Clearly frazzled from the long drive and rush to the stage, Welch and Rawlings took a minute to settle into a groove, re-tuning as they went, trying to hear over the noise from the other stages. “Well, I wasn’t expecting the Martian landing next to us,” Welch joked. “But we’re gonna do what we can.”

And despite the droning bass from across the field, the rain falling on the tent, and the fact that they didn’t get a sound check, they did. Welch and Rawlings' set was filled with the soul, chilling harmonies and raw expression you expect from an acoustic duo rooted in classic bluegrass styling and country sounds.

Rawlings nailed impressive solos in most songs, Welch's signature voice delivered, and she even provided some percussion—with claps, snaps and a bit of clogging. Even though the crowd, cheering for each solo, provided positive feedback, Welch wasn’t shy about the sound issues: "I’m glad you like it. I can’t hear shit up here."

Though there were obvious technical and scheduling missteps, Welch and Rawlings sailed through their set, a performance with soul enough to make you forget, at least for a few songs, the reverb from the next stage.

After nearly an hour of tunes, Welch and Rawlings closed out with "Look At Miss Ohio" leading into the traditional gospel "I'll Fly Away," a fitting end on a stage that normally houses gospel bands. Welch's performance brought more hand clapping and singing voices to the Vista Equity stage than it had seen all day.