Kendrick Lamar’s rhyme skills are mind-boggling, but when he taped an episode of “Austin City Limits” a year ago, his sheer emotional force as a performer blew me away. Throughout the performance, he allowed himself to be vulnerable, talking openly about his struggles with depression and how he uses his art as therapy. He invited us deep into his personal experiences and, forging that connection, he created a visceral understanding of how all our lives intersect. He opened us up, so we could feel in our bodies why these songs are so important.
The evening had the fervent energy of a religious revival, especially in the moment before he played the song “Alright,” when the audience was swept up completely. It was one of the most astounding things I’ve ever seen at a show.
Sometimes I believe the best way to tell a big story about an artist’s power is to tell a small story about the impact he has on an individual. So to get ready for Lamar’s headline sets at ACL Fest, I went back to that rainy Friday night in October 2015 to take a deeper look at that moment. This time, instead of telling my own story, I looked at it through the eyes of nearly a dozen other people who were scattered around the theater that night. I wanted to know what they experienced and how it impacts them nearly a year later.