Six days, hundreds of sets and thousands of colorful of moments, and our team was there for all of it. In these highlights, we share standout moments and experienced over both weekends. And get ready for 2017: They’ve already announced Oct. 6-8 and 13-15 for next year.
DEBORAH SENGUPTA STITH
Kendrick Lamar: Standing in a field full of thousands shouting “We Gon’ Be Alright” at the end of a terrible summer defined by far too much death was cathartic and necessary.
Lizzo: She’s a wicked fierce emcee who sings like an old-school soul queen and brings a solid dance team with all the right moves. It’s hard to express the full-body joy I felt, watching Lizzo and her Big Girls representing for hip-hop culture and for women everywhere.
Austin Kiddie Limits: Relocating the kids section into a shady grove with a separate entrance and extended hours made bringing little ones to the festival easier than ever. In addition to standard faves, such as punk hairdos and hands-on instrument demos, street performers and bubble artists from Circus Picnic entertained the kids in front of a bank of picnic tables, giving parents a welcome opportunity to sit down and chill.
Austin women representing: From Gina Chavez commanding the crowd in a powerful Saturday suppertime set that mixed bilingual cries for social justice with fun covers of “Uptown Funk” and “I Will Survive,” to Magna Carda’s Megz Kelli slaying in the Sunday opening slot and Jendayi Bonds rocking fiercely with Charlie Belle, it was wonderful to see Austin women shining so bright.
Anderson.Paak: He sings, he raps, he dances AND he knows how to work a groove out on a drum kit. The man is “nothing short of amazing.”
Corinne Bailey Rae: A spectacular singer and consummate entertainer with a versatile backing band that shifted gears effortlessly with her.
Catfish & the Bottlemen: You want the rock? These Brits brought it, full-tilt for an hour in the midday sun.
Basia Bulat: Among many worthy smaller acts on the festival’s most intimate official stage, this Canadian singer-songwriter’s always-adventurous indie music was the coolest.
Brett Dennen: The groove-pop singer-songwriter’s set just past noon set a perfect bright and sunny tone for the festival’s final day.
Amanda Shires: Up against Willie Nelson’s massive draw on the fest’s final day, the native Texan fiddle player and singer-songwriter, who also plays in her husband Jason Isbell’s band, turned in a radiant set on the BMI stage that deserved a bigger audience.
Willie Nelson: The red-headed stranger’s triumphant ACL Fest return had to be a highlight whether you’d seen him 10 times or never before. As a member of the latter camp, I’m almost glad I waited 27 years for this golden hour homecoming.
The Front Bottoms: I didn’t realize how much I liked this New Jersey band until I saw them and listened to the lyrics with a crowd singing them in my ears. It’s affirming to hear people sing about everyday insecurities and being kinda lame sometimes.
Lizzo: The surest path to enlightenment and body poppin’. To gush about her killer pipes, ferocious flow and armor-piercing wit would be enough, but she’s also a force for self-esteem in a world that loves to marginalize.
LCD Soundsystem: James Murphy almost made me cry. I’m glad I saw them alone that first-weekend evening. The first time I saw the band was also my first ACL, in 2010. I walked across the Congress Avenue Bridge after midnight, looked at the skyline and played “Someone Great” on repeat in my earbuds.
Lucy Dacus: My favorite 2016 fest discovery. Fearless words of confession and a voice with warm, timeless power.
Haim: The three Haim sisters returned to ACL Fest as made elites, but still touring behind the breakout 2013 album. Not only is it an immaculate, finely tuned live LP rich with singles, but the band worked in a spot-on Prince tribute and covered “I Would Die 4 U.”
Tory Lanez: I didn’t love how Kendrick Lamar’s backing band slowed down his rap anthems, veering too far off message. Luckily this Toronto up-and-comer showed how much sweat and power comes from the traditional trope of rapping over your own backing track.
Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”: Everyone from DJ Mel to DJ Mustard spun this sign-of-the-times protest song. It’s one that’s spent the past year accenting Black Lives Matter rallies. At ACL, when Lamar finally performed it, Zilker Park’s conscience woke up.
Radiohead’s weekend two set: Radiohead’s vastly superior second-weekend performance included a (relatively) giddy Thom Yorke, dancing and chatting in funny voices between songs. It also featured the best of the band’s high and lows, the Nirvana quiet-loud shred of “My Iron Lung,” the staggered piano pulse of haunting “Pyramid Song,” and the lonesome falsetto of perfect set closer “Fake Plastic Trees.”
Nao: The soulful singer-songwriter’s self-branded “wonky funk” is an irresistibly danceable mix of nostalgic ’90s R&B and futuristic Prince cool that wouldn’t feel out of place on a mixtape with TLC and Janet Jackson — or being beamed through space from an alien civilization.
Jack Garratt: With a James Blake-meets-Stevie Wonder voice and Stevie Ray Vaughan guitar licks, lovable one-man band Garratt is a force of nature live, whipping between a semicircle of live and electronic instruments with ease. Bonus points for his weekend one tumble off stage, which he effortlessly played off as kneeling for a guitar solo, and for managing to squeeze in the most crowd-pleasing cover of the fest, the theme to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
Eliot Sumner: Plenty of famous musicians’ kids can draw a crowd of curious celeb-obsessed gawkers (and celebs themselves), but Sting’s daughter Eliot Sumner can keep them. The stony cool bassist and singer’s tight sound has a furrowed-brow intensity and new-wave urgency that harkens back to the Police.
ERIN J. WALTER
Jess Glynne: Opener “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself” brought me to tears and it was all girl-group dance party from there.
Andra Day: With covers of Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam,” Kendrick Lamar’s “No Make Up,” and Queen’s “I Want It All,” plus her own singular soul songs, Andra Day and her powerful voice inspired ACL to rise up.
Band of Horses: If there is anything better than hearing “The Funeral,” “The Great Salt Lake” and “No One’s Gonna Love You” live, under the Zilker Park stars, I cannot think of what it is.
Joey Purp: An exuberant rapper with great beats, great hooks and a story to tell — he could be a star.
Banks & Steelz: Wu Tang’s RZA teamed with Interpol’s Paul Banks to create what sounded like much, much cooler Interpol songs.
Radiohead: If you’re a fan, you loved the distinctive virtuosity like you always do. If you aren’t, at least you heard Zilker go silent for Fake Plastic Trees.
LCD Soundsystem: Sure, they’re always great, but man, they’re ALWAYS great.