LIVE REVIEW: Austin City Limits

Where: Zilker Park in Austin, TX

When: September 16-18

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Highlight: Rain clouds parting for an a cappella performance by Ha Ha Tonka

This September, one of Austin’s most popular institutions celebrated a decade of music and memories. Austin City Limits kicked off its 10th year in customary fashion with an annual appearance by the legendary local western swing band Asleep at The Wheel. What began as an event celebrating local music (dotted by a few nationals for good measure), food vendors and artists has seen exponential growth in recent years. Asleep at The Wheel’s Ray Benson has watched ACL go from a local institution to an American institution as Zilker Park continues to draw in tens of thousands of music lovers every year.

Given that this year was a milestone for the production team at C3 Presents and various creatives that brought the area ACL, Performer Magazine made a point to stay true to the festival’s origins in our coverage of this year’s event – there’s no better place for that than at the BMI Stage for Southern rock, soul, bluegrass and Americana. Early Friday afternoon Performer met up with Ha Ha Tonka, who managed to bring a light sprinkle down on the parched Texas ground during their early afternoon set, playing songs from their latest album Death of a Decade – an ironic parallel to the ten year anniversary of ACL. The tragic decay brought on by Texas’ record setting drought made their set a memorable event when the Southern skies finally opened up on the Midwestern band as they crooned an a cappella version of “Hangman.”

Signs dotted the park instructing festival goers not to smoke, but even as Texas wildfires continued to rage near the festivities, so too raged the ACL crowd. Beardyman provided a most unusual brand of electro to the BMI stage later on Friday. He beat-boxed and synth-looped his way through an improvised set – quite impressive for a Brit who got his break via YouTube. Skrillex took to the stage on Saturday, drawing an impressive crowd, all waving hands and grinding down to the beat of his glitchy, bass-heavy dub. It’s interesting to see how far the genre has come and how past Austin City Limits Festivals have helped shape trends in mainstream music now.

On Saturday, Patrice Pike delivered a heartfelt performance as the sun set over her own two tiny dancers, her lyrics sending a pointed message. On Sunday, Pernikoff Brothers made a splash with their up-tempo folk-pop meets indie rock and a batch of ice water drenched bandanas that were doled out to help cool the crowd. The bandanas were definitely necessary after the duo threw in a few smoking hot Led Zeppelin covers, while staying true to their unique indie folk sound.

The years have been good to Austin City Limits. C3 Presents brings Austin the finest in cutting edge acts mixed with music legends. This equation has made it difficult for smaller acts to get a foot in the door, though. Ha Ha Tonka played Austin for years on end, boasting consecutive SXSW showcases before gracing the stages of ACL. There are plenty of un-official showcases surrounding the main festival, too. Social media is a good way to keep your ear to the ground as a musician looking to take advantage of the festivities that saturate Austin during ACL each fall – try the marketing agency BMF, or search local venues a few months before hand. If the venues are not booked through an agency then you may find a break during ACL week. If they are booked through an agency you may catch the attention of the powers that be at C3 and end up opening for a festival headliner at an official pre/post showcase.

photos by Paige Cavazos

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