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ACL: At 21, Keeps Getting Better

Story: Cory Weaver and Jennifer ROlf

Photos: Cory Weaver

It’s just another weekend in mid-October—unless you’re attending Weekend 2 of the Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL). This is our fourth year covering one of the best festivals in the U.S.—two weekends with more than 140 bands performing on eight stages. Looking at a schedule with that many acts is both daunting and exciting. It was necessary to divide, collaborate and conquer as best we could.


As always, the headliners and secondary headliners draw all the attention—but, it’s the unknowns or the “I wish I had caught them when they came through town last time” artists that really make this festival what it is. HOT TAKE: Over the four years of Bands Through Town covering ACL, this year’s was the most complete and balanced line-up that we’ve experienced.


Of course, you had your must-sees and recommendations but, if you had to make the tough decision to see Portugal. The Man instead of The Revivalists, or Blond:ish rather than Lil Yachty, or Bob Moses over Noah Kahan, you were sure to not be disappointed with your choice.

(L-R) The Lumineers, Maggie Rogers, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The 1975 and Mumford & Suns

The Headliners: The Well-Oiled Machines

On Friday night at the Honda stage, a large crowd waited in anticipation for the Lumineers’ set to begin. A cover of Rihanna’s “Desperado” played in full, while a dark stage displayed wispy clouds on the big screens until the words “I Don’t Wanna Be Alone” appeared at the song’s conclusion. A roar of applause took over as two shadowy figures emerged and made their way down a long catwalk into the crowd. As lights began to illuminate the stage, Jeremiah Fraites sat down at the drums and Wesley Schultz grabbed a guitar and the microphone while the notes for “Cleopatra” began. For more than an hour and a half, the band worked through their many hits like “Flowers in Your Hair,” “Angela,” “Ophelia,” “Gloria,” “Where We Are” and, of course, “Ho Hey,” a song that lead vocalist Schultz said many fans tell them they play as the first song at their weddings. He explained that the song is about a breakup (a clue may be in the lyrics, “I don’t think you’re right for him (Hey), think of what it might have been”), and suggested to the crowd that “Dead Sea” would be a better choice. It's a song that’s more romantic and was inspired by his girlfriend, now wife, when she said, “You never let me sink—you’re like my Dead Sea.”


On the same stage just before The Lumineers’ slot was Maggie Rogers. We could spend 500 words expounding on her set, but one word sums it up: BOSS. There’s no question that Rogers owns the stage once she steps foot onto it. Opening with “Overdrive” and immediately continuing with “Love You for a Long Time” and “Alaska,” she established that this would be a relentless show for the ACL crowd. Rogers, clad in a black bodysuit adorned with a long, black transparent skirt, explored every inch of the massive mainstage in her knee-high patent leather boots. She kept the favorites coming with “Falling Water” and her biggest hit thus far, “Light On.” She squeezed in a mashup of “Retrograde” into Whitney Houston’s, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and, an unreleased song from her “still being mixed” upcoming new album, “Don’t Forget Me.” Rogers’ set was one of our favorites of the weekend.

We really wanted to feature Yeah Yeah Yeahs first in this recap, but it’d be too obvious that this was our “if you could only pick one band to see” set of the weekend. The otherworldly trio completely controlled a massive crowd Sunday at sunset. Quite honestly, the stage should’ve been thrown back on the trucks it came in on and sent to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame or, better yet, dismantled and given a Viking funeral in Lady Bird Lake, because no one was going to outperform Karen O, Nick Zinner and Brian Chase on that stage ever again.

 “Spitting Off the Edge of the World” set it off, as Karen O danced around in a custom fashion piece that perfectly meshed with her personality—fringe and spandex. After starting with a few songs off their recent album, Cool It Down, they kept the 12-song, hour-long set living primarily in the deep-cut space with the likes of “Black Tongue,” “Soft Shock,” “Gold Lion,” “Y Control” and the ultra-revealing and vulnerable “Maps.” They finished with “Heads Will Roll” and “Date With the Night,” a perfect end to a way-too-short set.

The 1975 have been touring worldwide nonstop since August…of 2022, and I’m not sure if tour burnout is showing its stretch marks or if it’s just part of Matthew Healey’s persona now. Playing the second weekend only, the Kerouac-inspired English pop-rock band is a major draw—attracting tens of thousands every time they take stage—but Matty H. just seemed happy to be moving from song to song…while still standing. But, can you blame him with such a rigorous tour schedule? Despite assumptions and criticisms, the group shows up, delivers, and the crowd and their fans love them. Between swigs from a flask and drags from multiple cigarettes, the garish leader dispatched all the hits that the 1975 had to offer. The loud roars of approval echoed through Zilker Park and infiltrated the Foo Fighters set as “About You,” “I’m in Love With You,” “Robbers,” “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You),” “Chocolate,” and “Somebody Else” fulfilled all expectations.

Marcus Mumford was on a streak at ACL, playing in his fourth of the last six festivals, this time with his band. Simply put, Mumford & Sons came to entertain. They are a complete unit, which is why Marcus’ solo endeavor last year seemed lukewarm (although a notable highlight was his performance of “Kansas City” from The New Basement Tapes). The band powered their way through the set, all the while making sure the crowd knew that they were happy to be back at ACL and wouldn’t mind coming back every year. Crowd pleasers like “Little Lion Man,” “Guiding Light,” “The Cave,” and “Believe” were captivating, but bringing out Hozier for “Timshel” and “Awake My Soul” may have been the duet we needed in 2023 and perhaps outshined their finale, “I Will Wait.”

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(Top-Bottom, L-R) Bob Moses, M83, Cigarettes After Sex, and Thirty Seconds To Mars


The Subheads: ACL’s Noteworthy Sub-Headliners

After more than a decade of playing together, the Canadian duo Bob Moses simply mesmerizes—whether you’re a first-timer or a veteran to their live performances. As day faded to night on Saturday, the group closed out the Miller stage with a nonstop, seamless 12-song set, featuring their Grammy Award-winning “Tearing Me Up” early on. A massive crowd kept growing throughout and they were treated to a nice surprise, a cover of INXS’ “Need You Tonight.”  


We were excited to catch one of our bucket-list bands, M83, and equally excited to see/hear how their euphoric, electronic-heavy sound would translate live, and boy…we should never have had any assumptions about the veteran French group led by founding member, Anthony Gonzalez. Their 15-song set was a triumph as they rolled through songs fresh from their March 2023 release, Fantasy, and then leveled things out with 20+ year old songs from Before the Dawn Heals Us (“Teen Angst,” “Don’t Save Us From the Flames,” “*”) and Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts (“Gone”, “Noise”, “Run into Flowers”) before sending the crowd into a frenzy with “Midnight City.”

The West Texas trio Cigarettes After Sex closed out the Miller Lite stage on Sunday and kept the vibe real low. Cast in just a singular spotlight, lead singer Greg Gonzalez swooned with his ambient tales of romance and love as their most popular hits like “Cry,” “Sunsetz,” “K.” and “Apocalypse” put the crowd into a dream-like trance.


Thirty Seconds to Mars had one of the most memorable moments of ACL when lead vocalist Jared Leto leapt from the rafters high above the Honda stage and down to his spot, front and center, as he sang the band’s hit, “Walk On Water.” Clad in what looked like a high-dollar post-apocalyptic space suit, Leto spent very little time standing around during the set. He was in and out of the audience and roamed from far stage left, back to far stage right. The energy garnered from the crowd seemed to be a necessity as the band’s mantra just may be: keep the fans entertained—and not only did they entertain the thousands at ACL, the set was live-streamed as well. During “Seasons,” Leto brought singer-songwriter Devon Gilfillian on stage to perform with them. During Weekend 1, Leto brought Austin’s Calder Allen on stage to sing on the same song and was assisted by Austinite Matthew McConaughey, who helped select fans to come on stage for their final song, “Closer to the Edge.”

(L-R) Kim Deal of The Breeders, Tove Lo, Sudan Archives, Yves Tumor and Myron Elkins.

Some of the most entertaining musicians of ACL can be found on the smaller stages, like the Tito’s tent stage, the IHG stage, the T-Mobile stage and the smallest of them all, the BMI stage. None should be discounted as they provide the foundation of the festival and seem to be a launching pad to stardom. For instance, Dayton, Ohio rockers The Breeders, who hit it big in the ’90s with “Cannonball,” delivered a memorable 19-song set with other favorites like “No Aloha,” “Drivin’ on 9” and “Divine Hammer.”


Same stage, different day, the scantily clad festival wear extends from the festival grounds and onto the stage with the Swedish dark-pop songstress, Tove Lo. Her style evokes many high-pitched screams from the crowd as her sex appeal is found not only in person, but in her songs as every word of “Attention Whore,” “Talking Body” and “Habits” were shouted back at her.


Under the Tito’s tent, Sudan Archives’ delayed start on Saturday because of technical difficulties left more time for the crowd to swell, eventually spilling out of the sides and back, as they eagerly awaited the Cincinnati native’s set. She then emerged with her signature violin and gave us songs like “Milk Me,” “NBPQ (Topless)” and “Selfish Soul,” all while maintaining her coquettish vibe. Yves Tumor also had the tent bursting at the seams with fans ready for his EDM-meets-rock sound on Sunday. U.S.-born and Italy-based Tumor reminds us of Nine Inch Nails, Tool and perhaps vocally, a lot like Rob Zombie. The crowd was pumped for his pulse-raising experimental psychedelic electronic rock incantations like “Limerance,” “Kerosene!” and “Gospel For A New Century.”


The BMI stage is a must-stop at ACL. In past years the stage has featured Gary Clark, Jr., Shakey Graves, Maren Morris, Weyes Blood, Catfish and the Bottlemen, and an extraordinary blues vocalist that we discovered when he opened for Kaleo at The Pageant back in April 2022, Myron Elkins. The 21-year-old Michigan native embodies the bands he grew up with, such as The Allman Brothers, Tom Petty and Bob Seger—all known for their distinct vocals and storytelling. Much like Marcus King, you sit back and wonder where a voice like that comes from; shortly after you just stop questioning and enjoy it.

Unknowns and pleasant surprises:

Thee Sacred Souls were in an early mainstage slot and immediately became “an add them to your playlist” act. When the trio played “Will I see You Again?”, comparisons to St. Paul and the Broken Bones came to mind. Dope Lemon is indeed dope, but there is nothing sour about the music. Australian singer-songwriter Angus Stone loves monikers (his debut album was released under the pseudonym “Lady of the Sunshine”). Since 2016, he’s been Dope Lemon and has been emitting soulful desert rock that was perfectly placed in the heart of Texas.

Keeping with the Australian vibe, The Teskey Brothers endured on the sun-soaked Miller Lite stage. The Melbourne rock band has a dominant bluesy sound, and Josh Teskey’s lead vocals match it perfectly. They will be coming through St. Louis to the Pageant in May 2024.


The T-Mobile stage had some nice surprises in store for the earlier crowds. On Friday we caught the set of Abraham Alexander, a Ft. Worth native who impressed with his brand of Texas soul. On Saturday, Nashville-based Devon Gilfillian’s botanical-inspired suit captivated the audience almost as much as his alt-indie-soul did. He got a nice bump of notoriety when he appeared on stage with Thirty Seconds to Mars later in the day.

Sad We Missed:

Hozier, Del Water Gap, Noah Kahan, Blond:ish,

Oliver Hazard,  and Jane Leo (Played Weekend 1 only)

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