We even speculated ourselves: “There’s been rampant speculation about whether or not Beyoncé would make an appearance at ACL Fest. Queen Bey has not played Austin since the early aughts, when Destiny’s Child played the Star of Texas Rodeo (then called Rodeo Austin). We at Team 360 have been conservative on the ‘Yoncé/ACL odds…Beyoncé is no ordinary human being, but she’s a rigorous perfectionist who wouldn’t hit a stage unless she felt 300% ready.”
Promise filled the air on the opening afternoon of the 16th annual Austin City Limits Festival, as fans steeled themselves against the punishing heat and posted up at the American Express Stage in anticipation of Jay-Z’s headlining set, still eight hours away.
They had a few things on their side. Methyl Ethel quelled the heat with their breezy indie rock, and crafty folks strung a blanket across the barricade as a makeshift tarp.
Under such conditions, festival-goers make fast friends. University of Texas students Annie Harris and Abinav Kumar and recent graduate Brianna Spiller braved the sun’s unforgiving rays together, stocking up on GoodPops and kettle corn to last them through the long haul.
Spiller and Harris were no strangers to camping out for a festival headliner; they did the same thing for the Foo Fighters at ACL 2015. Spiller had simple but essential advice: “Stay out of the sun. Drink lots of water. Don’t move. And make friends!”
They practiced what they preached, befriending fellow long-hauler Stephanie Cisneros, who’s been a Jay fan since his first album, “Reasonable Doubt,” which dropped when she was in high school. Cisneros had seen the rapper twice before, but never in this capacity. As she put it: “You’re not gonna be front row unless you pay.”
By 2 p.m., the crowd had swelled again to a couple hundred, with fans eager for Andrew McMahon’s early set. They were the privileged ones, able to find sanctuary in Zilker Park’s precious few shaded groves at the end of his hourlong performance. But as the crowd ebbed and flowed all day, the HOV stans remained, determined to see the iconic headliner front-and-center.
These folks had 99 problems—impending sunburn, hunger pangs, aching feet—but a lack of willpower wasn’t one.
As a genre, country music has existed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, with roots in West Africa. Its current permutation traces its roots back to the early 1900s in Appalachian America, the songs of African-American slaves, European immigrants and Irish and Celtic instrumentation blending together to form a genre of popular music made for and by working people.
Country music’s identity has always been that intersection of sounds and cultures, even if today’s homogenized radio market prioritizes the songs of white dudes whose biggest problem is how to spell the word “move.”
But those roots are part of what led many cultural critics to label Beyoncé’s “Daddy Lessons” a country song, despite it being released by Beyoncé, and despite it not being released on any country formats. Plus, come on, it just sounds like a country song.
The song is at once a tribute to and a reckoning with old country tropes, full of whiskey, sweet tea, Second Amendment rights, mentions of Texas and lots of whooping. It’s also an examination of how the culture(s) that birthed country music fosters a habitual cycle of abuse at the hands of men, whether that be fathers, husbands or anyone else. And it’s also the latest examination of black feminism through music in a long line of such examinations. In a piece for Time Magazine, The University of Texas’ own Omise’eke Natasha Tinsleyputs it this way:
“As Angela Davis argues in Blues Legacies and Black Feminism, blues artists like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey performed songs about lovers’ broken promises as metaphors for the unfulfilled promises of freedom.”
Taken out of context, it’s a revenge anthem. Taken in context of Beyoncé’s visual album “Lemonade,” it’s the turning point where a story of pain, anger and martial strife moves toward a story of peace and acceptance.
I mention all this because Beyoncé’s performance with The Dixie Chicks at the 50th Annual Country Music Awards Wednesday night (the “biggest night in country music,” ABC would have you reminded, ad nauseum) came loaded with baggage.
On one hand, it seems she was added onto the ticket at the last minute as a ratings ploy. How else was ABC going to compete with the most historic Game 7 of the World Series in recent memory? But, minus a news release from “Good Morning America,” the CMAs and hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood barely mentioned Queen Bey (Probably because the hosts only learned about the performance less than 24 hours before air time.)
The CMA social media channels never even announced the performance. In fact, it appears they deleted posts referencing her altogether. And many of the genre’s more conservative fans were not happy she was there at all.
On the other hand, on the same night where the CMAs were paying tribute to its roots and legends of the genre, Beyoncé’s performance with The Dixie Chicks paid tribute to the old guard but was also very of-the-moment. In addition to “Daddy Lessons” sounding more country than 90 percent of what’s on country radio currently, this was also a sort of homecoming for The Chicks, on their own terms.
The Chicks have been performing “Daddy Lessons” on their most recent tour, and this was their first major awards performance in quite some time. The song has some relevance to their struggle as well; everyone knows about their Iraq War comments and the fallout that occurred afterward. Their performance of this song, for them, seemed like a rebuttal of the sexism that’s been foisted upon them since 2003.
The fact that they performed to a mostly-white audience alongside a black pop star, while also inserting some pointed lines from “Long Time Gone” about the state of country music, was just the shot in the arm the genre needs.
Beyoncé’s performance last night highlighted country music’s black roots in a space severely lacking in diversity. Everyone talks about how country music needs to evolve, but in the right way. This is a step in that direction. I’d rather see Beyoncé sing something culturally accurate and relevant at an awards show than sit through another Luke Bryan “M-O-V-E” phonics exercise.
After all, this is Beyoncé’s world. We just live in it.
The Dixie Chicks offered a studio version of their collaboration with Beyoncé on Soundcloud to stream and to download for free.
We’ll say this for the 57th Grammy Awards: #kanyewasright.
Sunday’s music awards show gave us something to talk about, thanks to Mr. West’s fakeout-cum-rant about the virtues of Beyonce’s smash self-titled album over Beck’s award-winning (but, hey, a little snoozy) “Morning Phase.” Let’s not forget, though, that surrounding trickster god Yeezy’s demonstration about artistic integrity (or something) were performances stacked on performances. There was our personal favorite, a duet between Hozier and Annie Lennox, and a Kristen Wiig-featuring “Chandelier” from Sia. Don’t forget a couple appearances from Kanye West himself, either.
This week’s playlist is all 2015 Grammys, all the time: winning songs by artists ranging from Roseanne Cash to Pharrell to Tenacious D, as well tracks from the aforementioned performers and a few more to boot. Be forewarned: the Rihanna-Paul McCartney-Kanye West collaboration “FourFiveSeconds” is not on Spotify. As a consolation, we have included both the original version of “Stay With Me” by Grammy wunderkind Sam Smith, as well as the duet version with Mary J. Blige that the pair performed at the awards show.
Instead of trying narrow down the vast catalog of recorded holiday music into one super-playlist, or instead of only devoting one playlist to Christmas music in a month that’s tailor-made for it, we’ve got the ultimate gift. Each week in December, we’ll wrap up a new Christmas music playlist in a different genre. This week: pop.
David Letterman has said it’s not Christmas until Darlene Love sings “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on “The Late Show.” We agree. But we would also like to throw Mariah into that equation.
Presenting the third week of our Christmas playlist series, dedicated to the most radio-friendly, popular Christmas songs around, plus some Yuletide cuts from chart-topping artists we don’t normally associate with jingle bells. Along with the instant classic “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” we submit *NSYNC’s “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” as a modern standard. While we’re on the subject of teen sensations, check out jolly tracks from Destiny’s Child, New Kids On the Block, Ariana Grande and more.
Pop legends like Celine Dion and Whitney Houston get in on the action, the latter with her rendition of “The Christmas Song.” There are hitmakers from Paul McCartney to Sam Smith here to brighten spirits, and Run-D.M.C. closes it all out “Christmas In Hollis.” (Does it fit the bill perfectly? No, but next week’s playlist is country and folk songs. Our hands our tied.)