Our top 10 non-headlining moments from Weekend One of ACL Fest 2023
Hey, did you know Kendrick Lamar was late to his set? Of course you did. We were getting X (née Twitter) updates before we even saw the announcements on the big screen. The headliners are exciting, but that's not all that goes on at the annual festival.
Bands traveled from everywhere — including many from their homes across town — to share inspiration and good vibes with tens of thousands of music lovers. As with any festival, ACL offered us well-planned moments that'll still be just as fresh for next week's visitors, as well as ephemeral greatness that may never be seen again.
Whether you're checking up on your favorite bands or looking for some Weekend Two inspiration, we hope you enjoy our favorite moments from the kick-off. Our favorite photos from the weekend are also on display now.
After a summer of brutal heat, the beautifully cool weekend weather made for a fantastic first festival experience. This past Saturday was, by far, the closest Austin has gotten to fall this season — and it really showed in the way people treated each other in the crowds. It felt like Friday festival-goers were all on edge to get through the evening with temperatures in the mid-80s, but Saturday’s mid-70s weather was a breeze, punctuated by consistent wind. There were more encounters with polite visitors willing to engage in casual conversation than on any other day. Sunday fell somewhere in between, with many three-day wristband wearers definitely looking a little worse for wear after the long weekend. Let’s hope weekend two is just as nice as Saturday, and don’t forget to hydrate either way. — Amber Heckler, Network Writer
Dave Grohl and Brené Brown get down to classic pop songs
Look — I know we said no headliners, but this happened on a side stage and flew under a lot of folks’ radars at the time. Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, who is nearly universally liked for his natural balance of true grunge and affable persona, somehow snuck onto the schedule (literally in the small print) on the intimate Bonus Tracks stage. The similarly widely liked researcher Brené Brown conducted something between an interview and a singalong, which quickly became a greatest hits recap of Grohl’s best interview moments: his Christopher Walken impression, the story of the Foos trolling Westboro Baptist Church protestors, and a reading of new writing that sounds a lot like his excellent memoir. Brown even got an impromptu air drum solo over Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” and some a capella singing (the opening lines of “Best Of You”) out of the iconic performer. — Brianna Caleri, Austin Editor
Declan McKenna shows talent beyond his age
Declan McKenna might only be 24-years-old, but he’s been a rising star in the music world for quite some time. His spirited performance on Saturday afternoon felt like something you would expect from a much older, well-seasoned musician. His politically-charged setlist consisted of songs that criticized right-wing media (“Isombard”) to FIFA (“Brazil”), and even his own British government (“British Bombs”). A lighthearted quirk heard during the performance was McKenna referring to Austin as “Austin City.” — AH
Tash Sultana's menagerie of instruments
There’s been a lot of buzz recently about Tash Sultana, and it’s very well-earned. The multi-instrumentalist could have held it down all alone, and she did for a bit — looping guitar, percussion, synths, trumpet, saxophone, and even Native American flute, which are just a fraction of what she plays. But when the band came in, she was able to settle into longer jams. ACL Fest sees lots of talented artists, but the easy feeling of improvisation (however rehearsed it was or wasn’t) is always a special treat. — BC
Niall Horan sets a boy band milestone
Irish singer-songwriter Niall Horan exceeded expectations as the first former One Direction member to grace the stage at the festival. Horan greeted his Austin audience with "Nice To Meet Ya," the lead single from his sophomore album Heartbreak Weather. Following some classically European comments regarding the warm Texas sun (and about his less-than-breathable outfit), Horan took a deep dive into his set, surprising this casual listener with his easy command of the stage. 1D fans were enamored with Horan’s rendition of "Story of My Life" from the boyband’s 2013 album Midnight Memories, and any older folks in the crowd were surely satisfied with his cover of Tears for Fears’ "Everybody Wants to Rule The World." — AH
Standout concert tees by a local printer
It’s always fun to see people in each year’s ACL merch, but one Austin vendor brought some even cooler band tees that upped the ante. Feels So Good, a local screen printer and record label, set up shop in a tent packed to the brim with stylish and unique merch, as well as some more crude and generic hits. Whether ironic or surprisingly beautiful, these elevated band-tee fashion from a recognizable logo to a wearable piece of art — very 70s of them. We also saw lots of couples (presumably) in matching outfits, so if you’re going to Weekend Two, it’s time to start convincing your significant other to get on your style wavelength. — BC
Well-prepared groups often delight in creating a foolproof way to keep track of each other’s whereabouts, and this year there were plenty of conversation-starting identifiers. Flags are the most obvious. One It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia-inspired flag read, "The Gang Goes To ACL"; another simplified, bright yellow flag read, "Aquí P*ndejo," printed in an unassuming font. Even Hozier couldn’t help himself from reading out a flag that said, "I heart DILFs." Other fun festival totems included a six-foot-long fishing pole with a plush toy fish attached at the end and filled with LED lights, and a drunk Kermit the Frog flag. Photographer Daniel Cavazos is sharing a gallery of his favorites here mid-week. — AH
Half Alive's elaborate dance routine
It can be a little demoralizing lining up to see artists get swallowed up by huge stages, but Half Alive worked every inch of the T-Mobile stage on Friday, kicking things off with a performance straight out of art school. Fans of the funky indie group have likely seen frontman Josh Taylor grooving to the music in the creative video for “Still Feel,” and he brought back some of those moves and more onstage with two dancers. It’s always fun to see choreography, but it’s something else entirely to see choreography that breaks out of the common pop mold. — BC
Hozier in the sunset
Another Irishman, Hozier, blew away his audience immediately with his raw, heartfelt vocals on "De Selby (Part 2)" from his most recent album, Unreal Unearth. Other special moments included his acoustic performance of "Cherry Wine" and his impressive falsetto on "Eat Your Young." Hozier’s sentiments about the Saturday sun echoed Niall Horan’s earlier remarks, but he looked effortlessly cool at golden hour behind his dark sunglasses as he continued belting his way through to the end, finishing his set with his biggest hit: "Take Me To Church." — AH
Sunrose making old music new again
There are two equal and opposite beauties in music festivals: first, nullifying hard-to-get tickets by booking en masse, and second, accidentally learning something from smaller acts. One of those acts was Sunrose, a Los Angeles rock band playing some of the weekend’s heavier music. These visitors made their ACL debut with vigor, drawing a growing crowd of more alternative looking folks. The band closed out the set by reprising a cover from earlier: “War Pigs.” In what looked like an unadulterated display of mansplaining, someone told a younger woman, “This rock band called Black Sabbath — they released that song in 1970 and they just covered it.” She nodded in pleasant contemplation. Music history is moving along. — BC
See you back there for more next weekend — once we recover. And watch every Dave Grohl and Hozier video on YouTube.