Was there a more fest-mascot-like performer at this year’s ACL than Paul Janeway of St. Paul & the Broken Bones? OK, maybe Lizzo, who inspired her own crazy cult following across the two weekends of the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park. But Janeway clearly could be her close compadre.
One of the most passionate singers and theatrical performers in Americana music, Janeway threw every bit of himself into the frontman role with his horn-driven Broken Bones backing band late Sunday afternoon on the HomeAway stage. Decked out in a bright red suite with checkerboard trim, the ferocious bandleader was a tour de force of emotion, and the crowd rewarded him by returning his energy in kind.
Some of them seemed to know what was coming, as if they’d been to last weekend’s show, or had seen previous gigs by the Birmingham, Ala., band and knew what Janeway might try to pull off. “Oh, there he goes!”, someone near me remarked when, in the midst of one especially intense number, the singer sank to the stage and gradually rolled himself completely under the drum riser. Eventually he made his way back out, getting tangled up in a giant gold carpet before finally breaking free, crawling to his knees and triumphantly rising again, to uproarious cheers from the crowd.
“Is everybody still with us?”, Janeway shouted about 40 minutes in, and the response assured that they were. “We play a lot of festivals,” he continued, “and I’ve got to be honest, this has ben one of our favorites this year.” He might say that everywhere he goes, but you got the feeling it was genuine, given the love he got back from the fans after nearly every tune in the group’s hourlong set.
Plus, how many of their other festival sets concluded this year with a walk over to an adjacent stage to join in a massive group sing-along with Willie Nelson on “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away?” A ton of the festival’s performers were up there on that stage with Willie, but you sure couldn’t miss the bespectacled jolly good fellow in the bright red suit.