ACL Fest: Teen sensation, soulful Brit, Sam Smith draws the masses

Sam Smith performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Friday October 10, 2014. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Sam Smith performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Friday October 10, 2014.  JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Sam Smith performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Friday October 10, 2014. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

In a repeat of last weekend’s events, a massive crowd formed to welcome British soul singer Sam Smith for his 5:15 p.m. set on the Miller Lite stage. As his band set the scene a high-pitched squeal ripped through the audience and a group of mostly female fans packed to the front of the stage began to chant the singer’s name.

Not everyone was convinced of the singer’s appeal. “If I needed to create a dying cow effect, I’d use Sam Smith,” one of the bro’s in the back remarked as he unleashed his velvety croon over the crowd.

For the most part, however, the audience seemed engaged. The crowd remained thick through most of his set and many in the audience sang every word, even on the more minor hits. Smith, for his part, was impressed. “I seriously can’t get over how big this crowd is. It’s unreal,” he said. Remarking that this show would be his last in the States for a few months, he also admitted that American audiences “do it better when it comes to this.” The crowd was delighted.

The audience was diverse in both terms of race and age, but the front section seemed to skew young and female. His incredible radio success this summer has propelled Sam Smith into the ranks of the hottest teen heartthrobs. The fact that a somewhat pudgy, openly gay pop singer could achieve such a feat is telling. For the generation coming up the link between superstardom and sex appeal is more nuanced than what industry bigwigs have assumed it was for years. For the young screaming minions at the front of the stage, Smith’s appeal was less about romantic fantasy and more about the ability to tap into broad, universal themes of love and loss, to reach into the hearts of his fans and express something they couldn’t find the words for themselves.

Author: Deborah Sengupta Stith

Deborah Sengupta Stith has been hanging out in dimly lit corners of the city soaking in the music scene for almost 20 years. Twitter: @deborific

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