ACL Fest 2017: 13-year-old Grace VanderWaal draws huge crowd at autograph tent

Jessie Chatham said her day at the Austin City Limits Music Festival still would be a good one if she didn’t get a pair of T-shirts autographed by teen pop star Grace VanderWaal, but it’d definitely be a bonus for the 14-year-old Austin resident.

From her spot in line about 60 yards back from the Waterloo Records autograph tent, she didn’t know what her chances were.

Grace Vanderwaal takes a picture with Anna Haffelfinger, 11, of Austin during the second weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“I already got to see her play today, so it’s OK if that’s all that happens,” said Chatham, who came to the festival with her mother, Leslie, on Saturday specifically to see the “America’s Got Talent” winner play an early afternoon set on the HomeAway stage. “I have no idea what I’ll say if I get to meet her. I just think she’s so genuine with her songs.”

READ MORE: She’s 13. And she may be the breakout star of this year’s ACL Fest.

Organizers at the autograph tent said VanderWaal’s hour-long session was expected to draw the largest crowd of the day, with many of the thousands who saw her perform migrating into the quickly growing line for a chance to get a quick “hello” and have merchandise autographed.

While VanderWaal’s fans were queueing up, Austin electropop duo Missio were enjoying their time with a procession of fans who came to say hello and get albums, shirts and more signed.

Instrumentalist and backing vocalist David Butler said taking part in autograph and meet-and-greet sessions give the pair a chance to hear how their music has impacted listeners.

“There’s lots of dark things in our music and we’re saying here’s what we struggle in our own lives,” he said. “Lots of the fans come to talk about how the music has affected them and the stuff they struggle with, and maybe we help them continue walking down the path of keeping up with their sobriety or something like that.”

Grace Vanderwaal signs her autograph for Lila Grace during the second weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Vocalist Matthew Brue said he looks forward to shaking hands and putting a human face to fans he’s built rapport with on social media.

“It’s cool to put a face with a Twitter handle and see friendships formed by seeing people all the time in little moments like that,” he said. “In the world we lived in there used to be a line where the artist was untouchable. Now nothing is off limits and your entire life is out there. Music is the doorway and it lets people into what inspires someone.”

Back in line for VanderWaal, Arlington residents Scott and Melissa Spencer waited with their daughter, Sophia, 10, for a chance to get a poster signed.

The family had had a teary moment together during VanderWaal’s song “You Don’t Know My Name” at the end of her set and were looking forward to Sophia getting a chance to meet her musical hero, if only for a moment.

“This is all for her,” Scott Spencer said as Sophia clutched her rolled-up poster and waited for the singer to arrive and start greeting fans. “It’s great that we can enjoy music together that we both enjoy. We’re also going to see Tash (Sultana), Glass Animals and Red Hot Chili Peppers together tonight.”

Grace Vanderwaal signs a poster for a fan during the second weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN


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