This year, I was lucky enough to snag a wristband for the first weekend of the ACL (Austin City Limits) Music Festival. Having been a couple times before, I will say it was my favorite experience yet! The weather was gorgeous and I was familiar with the layout and stages enough to know the ins and outs pretty well for a smooth navigation.
I saw countless acts and honestly, every one of them brought their “A” game to Austin. Here are my standout performances:
It was midafternoon on the second day, and I was walking toward the stage to wait for Jack Garrett. This was one of a couple schedule conflicts I needed to decide between and, at the last minute, I decided to keep walking past Jack Garrett’s stage and onto the lawn where people were already lined up for Andra. I’m not sure what pulled me there, but I’m certainly glad it did. (Sorry Jack! Next time I’m all yours!)
Andra’s voice took us on a journey. She poured all of her feelings into an incredibly emotive and powerful set. Early on, Andra covered Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam” starting out as spoken word then exploding into a fiery delivery. Aside from the eclectic covers (Nina Simone, Kendrick Lamar, and Queen), Andra treated us with gorgeous renditions of “Honey or Fire,” “Only Love” and highlight “Rise Up,” which moved many audience members to tears on the latter given our current state of affairs in this nation.
She expressed multiple times that she liked to orchestrate her performances as more of a conversation with the audience, letting her songs tell a story. Before creatively covering “No Make Up” by Kendrick Lamar, she asked if we would wait for her while she removed all of hers in front of the large crowd.
It is artists like Andra that can seamlessly weave movements and get the conversation going about important issues (police violence, self-love, etc.) through art. Well done, Andra, you are a beautiful soul!
Earlier that day, singer/songwriter, Gallant, blew me away with his stage presence and soulful vocals. The young singer kept pitch perfect vocals as he bounced from side to side on the stage, evoking the spirit of James Brown and Janelle Monae. His soaring falsetto carried throughout the whole festival, as he sang songs from his debut album Ology. Even on the mellow “Skipping Stones,” Gallant kept up his energy and let his accompaniment on the piano fill in for Jhene Aiko’s featured vocal.
The electronic charge of his studio music translated extremely well over the live stage. His robust vocals were placed at the forefront, letting his talent shine through all the bells and whistles. The funky, Prince-esque “Episode” proved to be a favorite of mine from the set as well as the mid-tempo thumper, “Talking to Myself.”
Gallant ended perfectly with “Weight in Gold” which sent the audience into a side swaying, sing-along frenzy. Gallant proved he has the goods to not only make incredible music, but to put on a compelling show. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing more from this bright young talent, and after seeing the huge crowd he pulled, I can tell I’m not the only one.
UK bred, singer/songwriter NAO took the MVP crown home for me this year. Her debut album, For All We Know, was released earlier this year and is already an AOTY contender on my list. Her exuberant and unique style was turned ALL the way up as she delivered her set of funkified, electronic, neo soul grooves.
Kicking it off right with feel good bop known as “Happy,” NAO set the stage for what was to come. Her honey-sweet vocals paired with intricate, soft vocal runs put NAO into a category all her own. Her music and performance greeted the crowd with a grooving batch of nostalgia tinged future soul cuts. Not only were her vocals beautiful, but she seemed to end each note with an effervescent smile that was so wide it spread across everyone underneath the Tito’s sponsored tent.
The drip-dropping, glitching beat of “Girlfriend” came on and the audience went wild. The smooth sway of the song as well as “Fool to Love” were at the top of my list for her set, although there wasn’t a disappointing number. Seeing the immense crowd jam out with this talented artist gave me hope that, within the oversaturated market of new artists, people are truly appreciating great artistry and music.
For All We Know is currently out via Little Tokyo Recordings and is a phenomenal listen that will stand the test of time. Pick it up and see NAO wherever and whenever you can! You shan’t be disappointed.
Other highlights for me from the festival include indie pop band, Oh Wonder, twisted fairy tale teller, Melanie Martinez, and alt. rock band, Band of Horses. Thanks for having me, Austin! Till next time.
– Submitted by Tristan Bolden, Music Design