ACL Music Festival 2023 Weekend Two Review
Back for its 22nd year, Austin City Limits Music Festival (October 6-8 and October 13-15, 2023) brings the magic of the famed public TV series Austin City Limits outside the studio and into Austin's most beloved park. ACL Festival features a diverse lineup of acts every year with 9 stages, 100+ performances – and, best of all, two weekends.
As if no time had passed, Austinites returned this past weekend to the Austin City Limits Music Festival for its second and final weekend of 2023.
Weekend Two Review
After travel delays cut last week's headlining performance down to a slim 30 minutes, you’d forgive the gigantic crowd gathered at the American Express stage for squirming a bit as the minutes ticked past 8:40 with no Kendrick Lamar. But 5 minutes after the set was due to start, K.Dot arrived, launching into a whirlwind tour of his 13-year career. If last week boiled down to the heavy hitters, the full time slot gave work spanning an immense career room to breathe, pairing can’t-miss singles – “DNA.,” “King Kunta,” “Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe” – with deeper cuts for the “day ones in the house,” as Lamar put it at the top. “Worldwide Steppers,” from 2022’s Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, was delivered with little frills and a sparse backing track, placing a laser focus on precision and delivery. Alternatively, 2012 good kid, m.A.A.d. city track “Money Trees” came complete with six back-up dancers creating an onstage simulacrum of Compton – skateboarding, a laundry cart, milling about the streets – as Lamar commanded the crowd. Short interludes and more hidden gems, like a dusted-off delivery of iconic feature “Nosetalgia,” let the pacing settle between mega-hits. Just 5 minutes shy of hitting the 10pm cutoff, Lamar wound to a close with “Savior,” another nuanced choice after the hype of typical ender “Alright.” He left crowds with the same promise that concluded his breakout 2013 ACL headlining set: “I will be back.”
Kendrick Lamar at ACL Festival 2023.
British songstress and independent artist RAYE, whose song “Escapism” went viral earlier this year, is on a tour for her album My 21st Century Blues. The stage was dressed up with a backing band you’d expect to see at a jazz club, as RAYE performed vocal gymnastics. The singer has an impressive range that would give Mariah a run for her money — and paired with catchy poetic verses, you have something unique and fresh.
Raye at ACL Festival 2023.
Jimmie Vaughan’s Suede-Smooth Sole ACL Return. Starting its 100th day, ACL Fest looped back to the inaugural weekend of the Zilker Park fall classic. “With Jimmie Vaughan, Arc Angels, and Eric Johnson, Sunday's lineup represents Austin’s inexhaustible fascination with guitar heroism,” opined the Chronicle for the gathering’s first iteration on Sept. 28-29, 2002. Given Vaughan’s sole return in Friday’s second set, 12:55pm, less changed than one might guess. Eighty-four degrees enough to soak you still with perspiration, weekend two lit a fuse with an international blues legend who’s called Austin home since the Seventies. Head-to-toe in black under a cream-colored suede jacket, Vaughan warmed up his trademark Stratocaster with 1990 Family Style instro-workout “D/FW.” Backed by a sextet with a three-piece horn section, the 72-year-old Dallas émigré locked into his suede-smooth sting by second song “Roll, Roll, Roll.” Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s slow blues “Dirty Work at the Crossroads” rang Vaughan all over: sustained single notes piercing the Lone Star heat like shrapnel. Guitar on his hip, pointed skyward, his ripping runs and shredded strings shot off fireworks from the giant Honda stage. State anthem “Texas Flood” reigned next, his solo same as inclement weather: swift, sudden, and blistering.
Jimmie Vaughan and The Tilt-A-Whirl band at ACL Festival 2023.
Nessa Barrett at ACL Festival 2023.
With covers of both the recently-internet-revived Bôa single “Duvet” and the Daria theme song, Austin family band We Don’t Ride Llamas detailed their snarky/dreamy Nineties influences and chops to hit spot-on live recreations. Otherwise, after 2022 rager “The Flies,” the quartet revealed that they’ve been writing, and pretty fearlessly at that. Swaps between punk and alt-rock on unreleased tracks highlighted singer Max Mitchell’s love of jumping from sharp snarls to sweet melodic lines, while the siblings all shared earnest song-introducing duties. Bassist Kit declared one “about how white supremacy destroys the family structure, but [the song] fucking rocks.” Guitarist Chase, before a fast-paced new highlight, explored “how minorities have to try 10 times as hard as their privileged counterparts, and how this affects the production and creation of art.” Drummer Blake chimed in on the pharmaceutical industry before adding “Free Palestine!” Time cut off before their intended finale, WDRL wrapped with a metal takedown of Texas state negligence during the 2021 winter storm. The high-efficiency, highly-localized use of a local’s ACL Fest debut proved refreshing, especially given WDRL’s prominent placement on the midsized Miller Lite stage.
Max Mitchell and Kit Mitchell of We Don't Ride Llamas at ACL Festival 2023.
Maggie Rogers at ACL Festival 2023.
Ethel Cain’s stunning 2022 debut LP Preacher’s Daughter kneels under the weight of its darkness, a song cycle of literary outcast anthems crawling through isolation, abuse, and unanswered pleas for love. In the Friday afternoon heat among the biggest crowd to crash the IHG stage annex of ACL, Cain’s trauma pop countered as almost celebratory, a communal catharsis with young fans shedding tears on the front row and screaming lonely lyrics together. As the stage persona of 25-year-old Hayden Silas Anhedönia, Cain absorbs and absolves like an amulet of teenage angst. The Florida native contorted the crowd across seven cinematically epic songs in her 45-minute set, winding a monotone-spun fatalism into high-wailing release. The slowly unfurled opening of “A House of Nebraska” crashed as Cain fell to her knees, pleading communion that erupted as she took to the edge of the crowd for “American Teenager.” She also shouted out a meal at Terry Black's BBQ during her visit. The singer’s scrawl of searing guitar and southern gothic brutality over provocative pop layers spectrums somewhere between Fiona Apple and Sharon Van Etten – intoxicating and harrowing on the Texas-touched escape of “Thoroughfare” or twisted, dead longing of “Sun Bleached Flies.” But as Cain bounded into the crowd to close with bad love ballad “Crush,” she hugged fans and let acceptance flow amidst all the world’s damage.
Ethel Cain at ACL Festival 2023.
DJ and producer Blond:ish at ACL Festival 2023.
Even in a tight festival hour, Portugal. The Man made space for the land acknowledgment that they’ve made a feature of their shows. Brianelly Flores and Raven Price-Smith, UT-Austin students and co-directors of operations at the university's Native American & Indigenous Collective, gave opening remarks, calling for support in lobbying their school to return the remains of thousands of Indigenous people currently kept in its collections. After, the Portland-based band crowded the stage, eight in all, to mash winding guitar solos and glittery, danceable tracks. Over almost two decades, Portugal. The Man has gained acclaim enough to attract an elbow-to-elbow dinner-hour crowd through the likes of infectious rebel yell “Feel It Still.” Their live set showed how much grit still exists: Crunchy guitar mashups wove throughout, punctuated by flashes of Seventies art-rockers Yes. A brassy, scuzzy sax roared to life on “Modern Jesus.” Groovers like “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” pulsed with fuzz the recording doesn’t quite capture. As the sun set over Zilker, colorful lights prepared us for the headliner portion of the night while Portugal. The Man sent everyone off with a cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom.” As if another acknowledgment of their dichotomies, undulating background images spanned from Care Bears to aerial footage of flooded streets. Somehow, the mashups – all of them – worked seamlessly.
Zoe Manville of Portugal. the Man at ACL Festival 2023.
The Lumineers delivered an unforgettable headlining set on Friday night for one of the biggest audiences of the entire festival. They kicked off their performance surrounded by a packed crowd at the end of a long catwalk. With songs like “Cleopatra,” “Flowers in Your Hair,” and “Ho Hey,” the band set the tone for a magical evening and weekend ahead.
Wesley Schultz and Lauren Jacobson of The Lumineers at ACL Festival 2023.
GloRilla at ACL Festival 2023.
David Shaw of The Revivalists at ACL Festival 2023.
Starting nearly 10 minutes late and shaving that off the back end with an early finish, Sudan Archives didn’t need even that late Saturday afternoon in the Tito’s tent to make an open-and-shut case for a bigger stage next time through ACL. After all, Brittney Parks isn’t your average entertainer. Carnal soul singer, provocative electro fiddler, commanding emcee, the 29-year-old Midwestern prodigy turned Tinseltown operative literally prowled the elevated platform. Squaring her shoulders and dipping her head – braids done up Minnie Mouse-style – she struck a leonine pose in throwing stares and glares while delivering a manifesto on romantic liberation and feminine self-possession. “Sometimes I think that if I was light-skinned/ Then I would get into all the parties/ Win all the Grammys, make the boys happy,” she spat on the title track to last fall’s sophomore stunner Natural Brown Prom Queen. Torching a diary of sex, race, community, some bars such as “OMG Britt” somehow recalled an alternate good kid, m.A.A.d city. Mostly, though, “Milk Me” and “Freakalizer” burned out bullseyes. Accompanied by a multi-instrumentalist bassist and wielding her violin bow like a rapier, Sudan Archives staked an unmitigated claim on fame, pure and simple.
Sudan Archives at ACL Festival 2023.
With a stacked lineup at 6 p.m., attendees had the option of seeing Thirty Seconds to Mars, Tegan and Sara or Alanis Morissette. Morissette highlighted the American Express Stage, running around and crooning out those notes she’s known for. She made sure to get the crowd singing along to hits like “Head Over Feet,” “Ironic” and “You Oughta Know.”
Jared Leto’s 30 Seconds to Mars delivered a performance that stole the show. The actor-singer’s grand entrance, which saw him leaping from the very top of the stage, set the standard for the weekend. Leto even invited photographers on stage to capture the sea of fans before stepping into the crowd himself, standing on the barricade as the audience lifted him into the air.
Jared Leto of Thirty Seconds to Mars at ACL Festival 2023.
Mid-day at the T-Mobile stage was filled by country music firecracker and original wild child Tanya Tucker. The West Texas native began performing at the age of 13, when the song “Delta Dawn” became a huge hit. Can we just say, they don’t make them like Tanya anymore: classic country songs mixed with a stage presence that plays and thrives off the crowd.
Tanya Tucker at ACL Festival 2023.
If anyone in the crowd grappled with competing priorities, Tegan & Sara understood. “One of our lifelong career dreams was to open for Alanis Morissette, not play at the same time,” Tegan Quin said early on in their Saturday afternoon Tito’s tent appearance. It did seem like an odd schedule conflict: There wasn’t exactly a glut of confessional, moody pop rock of Canadian origins at ACL this year, so why were both acts playing at the same time? “That's like disrespecting the queen of our country, for God’s sake,” Tegan added. Despite the early C3 ribbing, the twin sisters and queer icons played a high-energy set that zoomed through highlights of their two decade-plus career. And they had fun along the way. Before launching into “Where Does the Good Go,” Tegan prompted single members of the audience to raise their hands and get a good look at who else had a hand in the air. And if a match was made, she said, “just remember who helped you find your love – this gay band.” Later, when someone popped the question during “Walking With a Ghost,” the sisters took to teasing. Sara noted that the proposal happened as she sang “out of my mind” and, after discovering the straight couple had only been dating a year, Tegan quipped, “That’s some lesbian shit to get engaged that soon.” The banter, spirit, and nostalgia was delivered in spades. By the end of the set, Morissette felt like just another inevitable conflict rather than a wrenching decision.
Tegan Quin of Tegan and Sara at ACL Festival 2023.
Jessie Ware shook up ACL Fest both Saturdays with an ebullient dance bash. She took us deep in our feelings with a cover of Cher’s “Believe,” got “freaky deaky,” wielding a snake tail whip and coached the “Beautiful People” through simple choreography. “There’s nothing quite like a group dance, is there?” she said, before we freed ourselves in the afternoon sun.
Jessie Ware at ACL Festival 2023.
Noah Kahan’s songs are written in his eyes. Sad, intense, hurt, grateful – onstage, the Vermont balladeer’s eyes emote as deeply and clearly as his vulnerable lyrics. The effect was even more magnified for his Saturday evening T-Mobile stage headline, as his face frequently filled the screen behind. After the popularity of last year’s third LP, Stick Season, took even Kahan by surprise, the 26-year-old songwriter nonetheless commanded the massive crowd easily, with openers “Northern Attitude” and “She Calls Me Back” producing fervent sing-alongs. “I’ve seen so much positivity and smiling in this crowd, and it’s starting to piss me off,” joked the artist, who advocates for mental health through his Busyhead Project nonprofit, before “New Perspective.” “My job is to bring you down.” The mellow-build-breaking-into-crescendoing-choruses formula held effectively tight until the solo acoustic “Growing Sideways,” but the set highlight was Mumford & Sons joining for the crushing “Call Your Mom.” Marcus Mumford’s distinctly scratched vocals harmonized perfectly against Kahan’s Bon Iver trill. The 12-song set ran long, bleeding 7 minutes into Foo Fighters’ start on the opposite stage, but the roar of the crowd singing “Stick Season” and “Homesick” may have rivaled even the main headliners.
Noah Kahan at ACL Festival 2023.
Alanis Morissette at ACL Festival 2023.
Coi Leray started her set on a bed wrapped in a white comforter, but there was nothing sleepy about her performance. Among the rising female stars in rap on the ACL lineup, Leray’s set was a must-see, with energy that left the crowd buzzing.
Coi Leray at ACL Festival 2023.
At the Dickies Arena in Fort Worth on Monday, the 1975’s Matty Healy read a 10-minutes-long statement from his phone defending his actions at a festival in Malaysia three months earlier. The overseas Good Vibes fest was canceled after Healy kissed bassist Ross MacDonald onstage and spoke against the country’s anti-LGBTQ laws, adding to a swirl of controversies around the band’s current Still… At Their Very Best U.S. tour. Lucky for ACL crowds, the divisive British bandleader stuck to the setlist as the filler of Shania Twain’s Weekend One-only spot, perhaps mellowed by copious cigarette puffs between the lines of “Happiness” off latest 2022 album Being Funny in a Foreign Language. Sticking to short spoken intros, bulletproof Eighties pop rock bombast, and sax solos, the live-expanded quartet’s Honda stage headline only made way for a narrative ahead of 2018’s “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)" – by which time Healy had loosened up with glasses off and acoustic guitar on. “This is the first place we ever came to as a band in America,” he said of the 1975’s breakout South by Southwest 2013, about which they’ve previously reminisced on renting a home from a major league baseball player outside of Austin. “We got chased out of a house by a guy with a gun because he thought we were gay, true story. We had to share a bed because we didn’t have any money. We’ve always had fun here.”
Matty Healy of The 1975 at ACL Festival 2023.
The dance vibes continued over on the IHG stage with Swedish pop singer Tove Lo. The performer is well-known for her provocative songs, performances and videos. So we weren’t shocked at her continuous wardrobe malfunction. It hardly seemed to faze or bother her. Much of her latest release Dirt Femme is electronic and synthy, a perfect recipe for turning the field of grass into a nightclub dance floor. Just like the song says, she is in fact a “Cool Girl.” Tove Lo did a fantastic job working the stage throughout the performance. Her audience ate up her signature sexual dance moves.
Tove Lo at ACL Festival 2023.
Speaking of the rising pop star…anyone who’s seen a music video by Rina Sawayama knew they were in for drama on Saturday, but the stage show was even more than many hoped for. Opening with dancers frolicking in white sundresses, moving through a simulated hurricane, and acting out emotional turmoil with staged lovers and a boxing coach, this was at times more a play than a concert. But Sawayama’s strong voice was exciting to listen to, even if a listener wasn’t keeping an eye on the stage. The spitfire queer icon also called out the state of Texas for suing Planned Parenthood, as an introduction to “STFU!” — an honor that was previously reserved for Matt Healy of The 1975, who headlined the same stage.
Rina Sawayama at ACL Festival 2023.
Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters at ACL Festival 2023.
The T-Mobile stage got crowded at 5 p.m., hosting British-Nigerian rapper Little Simz, whose sound is inspired by and reminiscent of classic hip-hop. Many of her songs contain captivating beats paired with beautiful piano melodies. Little Simz had an aura of feel-good-ness about her set, including a song titled “Woman” with lyrics such as, “Woman to woman, I just wanna see you glow.” We love some female empowerment jams. She had great flow on the verses and catchy hooks she would spit off as she would glide and bop around the stage in her classic black-and-white Vans. Hers is a sound that would pair well with The Fugees.
Little Simz at ACL Festival 2023.
Microscenes reveal when artists are pulled from the lengthy ACL lineup for other area events. Austin indie lovers Resound presented papier-mâché-adorned Nashville punks Snõõper at the Ballroom for an aftershow to their Saturday BMI stage set. corook made their own BMI debut after playing the new Welcome Home Festival on the Kerrville Folk Festival grounds, which placed the Nashville-based singer-songwriter alongside outsider music giants like Laraaji and Kimya Dawson as an up-and-coming folk-pop-ish booking. For those unfamiliar with 28-year-old Corinne Savage, I’ll offer the words to their internet-beloved, campfire-ready self-acceptance anthem – “If I were a fish and you caught me/ You'd say, ‘Look at that fish!’/ Shimmering in the sun/ Such a rare one.” A few in the Zilker crowd wore frog bucket hats, as the singer did in their viral April video. Backed by a guitarist and drummer, the Atlantic Records signee mixed a kiddie rainbow aesthetic, including a furry, googly-eyed orange keyboard stand, with adult sentiments like “Has anyone in Austin ever felt mentally ill?” The bouncy, funk-touched pop journey through Lizzo-level-positivity – especially on punchier live presentation of “Hell Yeah” – managed to integrate spirit fingers, sock puppetry, and a plastic toy saxophone. Slotting “If I Were a Fish” second to last, the threepiece gathered to share the mic for finale “It’s OK!” In a corook-y contrast now made familiar, the lullaby twisted in “ oh, you’re fucking kidding me, another school shooter?” before closing out on a festy “ na na na na na .”
Corook at ACL Festival 2023.
Sunday evening meant it was time for the face-melting Yeah Yeah Yeahs to take on the Honda Main Stage. The iconic Karen O took the lead, rocking the stage with her flashy, green tasseled jumpsuit with "KO" all over it, most prominently on her belt. She is the epitome of a rock star: microphone twirling, water spitting, and yet at times even soft. The set felt tame compared to the prior week where O shoved an entire microphone in her mouth. But the crowd this week was treated to an extra song.
Karen O does a good job of being a complimentary frontwoman to the rest of the rock talent on stage, all of whom are still at the top of their game and able to shine with her, not just behind her. Watching these rock legends demand that “Heads Will Roll” after their decade-long break was a great way to end the weekend.
Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs at ACL Festival 2023.
Yves Tumor at ACL Festival 2023.
Crowds only increased at Zilker Park on Sunday for the last day of the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Headliners Mumford & Sons and ODESZA closed out the second weekend, giving audiences a show to remember.
The day began with artists such as Leon III, Ralph’s World, The Moriah Sisters and more opening up their respective stages. Madison Cunningham, who has been opening for Hozier’s tour, welcomed everyone at the American Express Stage.
Suki Waterhouse at ACL Festival 2023.
Dope Lemon and Quin NFN warmed up the crowd with energetic sets. Dope Lemon stunned the crowd at the Honda Stage with their hit “How Many Times.”
Over at the T-Mobile Stage, Del Water Gap had the crowd dancing and singing along to songs from his newly released album ‘I Miss You Already + I Haven’t Left Yet’ and older tracks. He played hits like “Perfume,” “All We Ever Do Is Talk” and “Gemini.”
The artist discussed thinking about quitting music during the COVID-19 pandemic but continuing and going on a three-year tour afterward. He closed out the show with his arguably most popular song “Ode to a Conversation Stuck in Your Throat” and climbed one of the towers on stage to keep the audience’s energy up.
From the start of the day, many festival-goers crowded around the American Express Stage to get a good view of Niall Horan. Horan made a point to be very conversational throughout the set, playing songs from his first solo album ‘Flicker’ and his recently released work ‘The Show.’
Horan stunned the crowd with upbeat hits like “If You Leave Me,” “Save My Life” and “Meltdown.” Fans of his previous band One Direction were surprised to see him pull out “Story of My Life” after he prefaced the song saying it was “new.”
The Irish singer had everyone singing along to his cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule The World” originally by Tears for Fears. He closed out the set with one of the first songs he released as a solo artist, “Slow Hands.”
Following Niall Horan on the American Express Stage, Hozier put on a show right as Golden Hour was setting over the festival grounds. Both Hozier and Horan joked about the “Irish takeover” on the stage that day.
Opening the set with “De Selby (Part 2),” Hozier immediately had the crowd dancing and singing along. Typically, the musician opens his tour with “De Selby (Part 1)” and leads into the second part, but as that track is slower it was left out.
There were some tracks like “To Be Alone” and “Would That I” where it was encouraged for the crowd to sing along at certain points. But, with songs like “Cherry Wine,” “Work Song” and “Almost (Sweet Music),” the crowd harmonized all on their own accord, knowing every word.
Hozier enlisted the help of one of his backing vocalists to duet “Damage Gets Done” with him in place of the original co-writer, Brandi Carlile. Many of the songs featured in the set were from his recently released album ‘Unreal, Unearth.‘
Closing out his performance as the sun set with one of his biggest hits, “Take Me To Church,” the crowd pulled out phone flashlights, lighters and even a few matches lit as hands swayed in the air to the vocalizing Hozier was doing.
Hozier at ACL Festival 2023.
The light show truly began when Labrinth took the T-Mobile Stage. As the main artist on the Euphoria Original Score, many songs throughout the set were recognizable by fans of the show, including “Nate Growing Up,” “Still Don’t Know My Name” and “Formula.”
Some hits that the audience knew but forgot were originally by Labrinth may have included “Genius,” “Never Felt So Alone” and “Beneath Your Beautiful.” Labrinth even mentioned before “Beneath Your Beautiful” that the song was released before he was well-known and the audience wouldn’t know it’s him.
Labrinth at ACL Festival 2023.
Closing out the festival were headliners ODESZA and Mumford & Sons. ODESZA’s set came first, including bass bumping throughout Zilker Park from the Honda Stage and strobe lights illuminating the grounds.
Mumford & Sons put on quite the show with fireworks, dazzling lights and intense guitar solos that made the crowd dance whether they knew the song or not. The band opened with hits like “Babel” and “Little Lion Man.”
The performers focused on the musical breakdowns in each song, letting the vocals start slower before the beat dropped letting the musical aspect of each song shine.
Later into the performance, the band brought out Celisse on guitar for a few songs, then Trombone Shorty for their cover of “House Of The Rising Sun” originally by The Animals. This cover felt like a religious experience with Marcus Mumford’s vocals, the intense light show and the trombone solos.
When the band moved to the B Stage and pulled Hozier up to sing, the lights were beaming up and the vocals carried. Hozier stayed for a performance on the main stage of “Awake My Soul” that included Celisse and the Huston-Tillotson University Concert Choir.
This was the third year Mumford & Sons headlined ACL Music Fest, and they closed out the weekend with one of their best-known songs “I Will Wait.”
Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons at ACL Festival 2023.
Marcus Mumford, whether as a solo artist or as the frontman of Mumford & Sons, always knows how to deliver a memorable ACL performance. The band’s headlining set to close out this year’s festival was no exception, as they delivered a career-spanning set to put an exclamation mark on the weekend’s festivities.
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