A-C-Let's Get Started
Listen, we get it. Everyone is excited about the Austin City Limits Festival headliners. We heard the number of times “Kacey Musgraves” was uttered, per capita, on Sunday. We saw P!nk flying through the crowd for no discernible reason except that’s what P!nk does. But the really rewarding part each year is making the tough choices (Big Boi, Purple Disco Machine, and Lil Nas X in the same time slot? How dare you?), and following your musical gut.
Weekend One was full of tone-setting moments that doubtless made many festivalgoers feel special for seeing it first. These moments give Weekend Two attendees valuable information for planning their itineraries, outfits, and more. Here are CultureMap's top 10 highlights from the first weekend of ACL Fest 2022.
10. ACL (not?) being ready for Diplo
Starting off with a hot take; this was simultaneously a highlight and no fun at all. Diplo — an unusual pull for ACL, who absolutely could have been a headliner — brought the crowds, maybe a little too hard. The ultra-famous DJ known for nonstop antics stood almost stoically behind the booth and drew a crowd rivaling Lizzo’s headline-making set on the same Miller Lite stage in 2019. There was something deft about how Diplo kept the energy up without showboating, but I’m saying this from the safety of the press area, far, far away.
9. Civilian dancers at Cimafunk
“Afro-Cuban rockstar” Cimafunk lived up to his self-imposed title on the covered Tito’s stage, which pulls an eclectic mix of niche artists every year. Bringing audience members up to dance is not an uncommon practice throughout the years of ACL, or even the weekend, but the nine-person band really packed the stage around them. Rather than a few people trying to pull focus, it was a full dance party on stage until one dancer seemed to surprise themselves by grabbing the limelight with professional-grade shimmies.
8. Strong vocals from Muna
Not that there’s any shortage of great singers at ACL, but Muna’s Katie Gavin is in a league of her own, specifically the alto league. Gavin reached low on pop songs like “Number One Fan,” and showed stylistic range with slower and slightly more twangy selections. The singer pointed out to the enthusiastic crowd that after three albums, it’s rare to hear so many lyrics sung back at the stage. Through all that and the potential to rest on Gavin’s vocals, the band never stopped dancing their hearts out.
7. Gentle songwriters kicking the weekend off
Yours truly is the first to complain about moody bedroom pop sets sprinkled through the lineup in the blazing sun, but the schedule on Friday got it right with a long string of mellow songwriters kicking the weekend off. Kevin Morby, born in Lubbock, brought his vampy Southern rock jams at the same time as Noah Cyrus, who lets her vocals shine over semi-country instrumentals. Zach Bryan was up soon after, continuing those country vibes more explicitly, immediately followed by Arlo Parks’ indie pop. There was plenty of time to dance later.
6. Concern for audience safety
Perhaps trying to model proper performer etiquette in the wake of the 2021 Astroworld disaster, a conspicuous number of performers checked in with the audience during their sets. Hailey Williams of Paramore squinted into the audience holding a thumbs-up; SZA stopped the show until she could verify a very busy patch of the crowd was taken care of; Jake Wesley took a moment to lead a two-breath meditation after a lovely cover of “Like A Prayer.” The pattern gave a new layer to the common opening phrase, “How’s it going, Austin?”
5. Very clear fashion trends
Festival fashion ranges from the absolute trendiest matching outfits to whatever seems sweat-proof. This year there were a few items that were clearly in the public graces; black mesh shirts and flared pants with star patterns, especially silver ones, were the de facto ACL Fest uniform. There were also lots of white cowboy boots somehow surviving the dust, bedazzled fringe, crocheted everything, black Skims, and chain belts. The guys mostly kept things mellow, but favored matching top-and-bottom sets in loud patterns, open floral print button-ups, and theatrical makeup.
4. The earnest sincerity of Carly Rae Jepsen
Of course Carly Rae Jensen, the pop star famous for being so fun it’s embarrassing, brought the party. In the world’s chicest rainbow striped pajama set, Jepsen delivered solid vocals and a set almost entirely of hyper-honest, rose-colored love songs. Self-consciousness was checked at the gates as a crowd gathered in the isolated pocket surrounding the Barton Springs stage. Try to deny joy while listening to thousands of people shout-sing “Call Me Maybe.” Actually, don’t. It’s more fun if you don’t.
3. Dancing at Sofi Tukker
It does not take a lot of festival experience to hear Sofi Tukker and know they’re a must-see. The EDM duo showed up ready to become one with the crowd, in matching outfits with tireless dancers. They threw up a scoreboard and encouraged the audience to “beat” a recent European crowd by turning up the energy. While the crowd danced it out, late-afternoon heat notwithstanding, the frenzied performers ran in circles, played guitars, drummed on screens, and executed countless other beat-summoning rituals.
2. The crowd singing to Paramore
There’s always something magical about hearing an audience sing in unison, which is especially appreciated when you just can’t see the stage. Paramore gathered a gigantic crowd (it took five full minutes to exit from halfway in), who were so committed to singing along that pop-punk goddess Hayley Williams rested her extraordinary voice through multiple full choruses across the set. The bridge of “Ain’t It Fun” sounds made to sing along to, and in the setting sun, it felt like gospel.
1. Spoon’s entire set
Hey, this is Austin City Limits Fest. That’s not the only reason the '90s-Austin experimental rock band Spoon stole the show, but it sure was exciting to think about. This is the effortlessly cool, super-tight rock set that keeps the genre relevant as festivals change to accommodate a widening range of styles, as ACL is particularly known to do. With unique, tangible vocals from frontman Britt Daniel, superstar support from keyboardist Eric Harvey, euphoric layering guitar textures, and a mid-set addition of a brass section (some of Austin’s Grupo Fantasma), this show brought forth the best of this city, and the heart of an ever-changing festival.