Embrace it or avoid it, the 2017 edition of Austin City Limits Music Festival was a resounding success. Good weather and great music made for a quality experience all-around, especially if you kept an eye on our local bands. To celebrate two weekends of quality showings from Austin artists, here’s our annual ACL Music Fest Superlative Awards.
NOTE: I covered Weekend One, so artists who were Weekend Two only were not considered for this list. Fortunately, a number of Austin artists played both weekends.
Biggest Surprise: Melat
When I first saw Melat on the bill and listened to a few tracks, I filed her under the “not for me” category. While I whole-heartedly respected her craft and artistry, the free-form soundscapes on her latest album weren’t my cup of tea.
My misconceptions were blown out of the water during Melat’s Sunday performance. On the Tito’s Stage, in front of a live crowd, her raw talent was on full display. I knew she had vocal chops to spare, but the way she attacked the mic was stunning. Her older material bounced with sultry groove, while her newer, more avant-garde work pulled together beautifully. A set so good, I feel like I owe her an apology.
Best Blast to the Past: Asleep at the Wheel
This was a razor tight race between Asleep at the Wheel and The Black Angels. But in the end, I had to hand the win to the honky tonkers. Ray Benson and his crew of fiddle-playing, key-ticking, guitar-picking rebels simply belong on the ACL stage.
Despite hearing the group dozens of times, seminal classics like “Route 66” and “Miles and Miles of Texas” consistently bring a smile to my face. And that’s the root of what makes Asleep at the Wheel timeless. Regardless of your musical tastes or city of origin, listening to these long-standing local legends makes you feel like a true Austinite. An important slice of local music, Asleep at the Wheel continues to bring it live, nearly 50 years after their inception.
Best/Most Daring Style: The Wild Now
While I understand the logistics of putting the early afternoon bands close to the entrances, the stage positions are brutal. At noon, the Miller Lite Stage (nearest to the beer hall) was flooded with sunlight, turning the front of the house into an oven. And what did lead singer Taylor Baker come out wearing? Black tank top, dark coat, and leather pants.
It takes a special brand of brave to wear non-breathable fabric during a scorching afternoon set, but Baker pulled it off flawlessly. The band’s set was astounding, filling the air with light, catchy indie pop, well suited for the time and place. Even Baker commented on her uncomfortable choice of attire, but it didn’t stop the set one bit. A true pro.
Most Inventive: Mobley
Anybody who’s been to a Mobley show knows he enjoys nothing more than experimenting with the audience. Be it a new sampler track, different instrument or brand new tune he’s trying out, this one-man-band dares to be different.
During his Saturday set, Mobley pulled out his entire bag of tricks. He turned the crowd into a drum circle by giving them a tom-tom and sticks. He even attached triggers to the hands of four audience members, transforming them into a living, breathing drum machine. Add to the mix his usual blend of solo sampling, drumming, and guitar-shredding, and Mobley’s creativity was in full display.
Best Breakfast/Most Entertaining: CAPYAC
Ever show up to a festival and realize you haven’t eaten anything? A wall of food vendors charging $10 an item looms before you and your wallet starts aching. Sound familiar? Those of us who checked out CAPYAC’s set during ACL Music Fest got a pleasant surprise when they made us all breakfast. Yes, during the group’s Saturday afternoon set, they had a young lady on stage cooking pancakes and tossing them into the crowd. That’s all she did for an hour. Awesome.
Free flapjacks aside, CAPYAC pulled off the most entertaining set of the weekend. From their deep stretching before the set, to their lavish costumes, the members of CAPYAC are master of both musical and visual entertainment. And of course, their brand of party funk boogie and European backbeat house was electric. If you didn’t smile during their set, then your face was broken.
Best of Show: Spoon
There were four bands in the running for this award, but I had to go with the obvious choice. Simply put, Spoon proved why it is still revered in the indie scene. Playing a set largely comprised of well-known classics from an extensive discography, these giants of the Austin scene and beyond proved why they’ve maintained critical and audience acclaim for over two decades.
The secret sauce is how well the band members communicate musically. Not one member of the band, even when soloing, feels bigger or more important than the others. Lead singer Britt Daniel’s energy and zeal for performing made well-worn classics, like “I Turn My Camera On” and “Don’t You Evah,” feel as fresh as newer tracks like “Inside Out” and “Hot Thoughts.”
It’s easy to become great for a minute. It’s nearly impossible to maintain excellence for two decades. Spoon’s ACL Music Fest performance proved its legendary status. The best local set of the festival.
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
Who was your favorite local act during ACL Music Fest 2017?
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