After having a delayed opening during weekend one, the Austin City Limits Music Festival opened on time as planned with very pleasant weather for its second weekend. Festival goers told us they felt a great relief attending the second weekend of the fest after learning that up to 86% of concert-goers on the first weekend were vaccinated.
Before we get to all the performances we attended throughout the weekend, we need to give props to the festival organizers for a superb job on the operational side. Everything from COVID-19 protocols to transportation to the entry process was handled brilliantly. It allowed for an overall very positive experience.
The only thing that didn’t happen, which was not surprising at all and very hard to enforce, was the requirement for attendees to wear their masks in high-risk areas such as near the stages where a lot of people come together. Outside of that, there were many hand sanitizer stations, places to get free masks, and even a tent to get a free COVID-19 vaccination.
To put it simply: we felt incredibly safe and comfortable the three days we spent at Zilker Park.
Miley Cyrus – Friday at the Honda Stage
Friday night was headlined by festival queen Miley Cyrus. Over the past few years, the singer has hit the festival circuit pretty hard opting for it over a proper arena tour. But it works out perfectly with the overall image and sound she’s embodied now. Rock and roll fits her well – and even the likes of Elton John and Metallica have said so about her.
On the Honda Stage at nightfall, Cyrus turned the fest into a party-like atmosphere with a 90-minute set that had everything from her hits such as ‘We Can’t Stop’ and ‘Midnight Sky’ to flawless covers of songs like ‘Maybe’ by Janis Joplin and ‘Heart Of Glass’ by Blondie. Surprisingly, however, it was songs from early on in her career – ‘7 Things,’ ‘See You Again,’ and ‘Can’t Be Tamed’ – that had fans singing at the top of their lungs. Most of those fans seemed to be in their mid to late 20’s and have clearly grown up with the singer since her Disney days.
Another high point was her heartfelt delivery on another song from yesteryear ‘The Climb,’ which prompted an almost choir-like sing-a-long at the park in one of those unforgettable concert moments. She closed things out with her 2013 hit ‘Wrecking Ball’ – intertwined with a bit of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ by Prince – and the biggest song of her career ‘Party In The U.S.A.’
Megan Thee Stallion – Friday at the Honda Stage
It was a real hot girl shit mood that Megan Thee Stallion imposed over ACL on Friday night before Miley’s headlining set. In 2019, she had very disappointedly missed her festival appearance because she was late. Two years later, not only did she show up, but she delivered. The last two years have been massive breakthroughs for the rapper – somewhat aided by TikTok. She put on a show that attests to everything she’s been able to accomplish recently.
Her set was defined by twerking, body positivity, massive confidence, and more twerking. She gave fans in her home state a Texas-sized performance that included her hits such as ‘Hot Girl Summer,’ ‘Body,’ and ‘Savage.’ The latter was sans the remix featuring Beyonce. She also gave a nod to her feature on Cardi B’s ‘W.A.P.’ and Tyga’s ‘Freak’ – later closing out her sweaty set with her critically-acclaimed track ‘Thot Shit.’
Unlike weekend one, fans didn’t get a surprise and unplanned appearance by Miley during Megan’s performance. Boo.
Doja Cat – Saturday at the Lady Bird Stage
Saturday night belonged to someone that’s had somewhat of a parallel career to that of Megan Thee Stallion. For the second day of the weekend, Doja Cat took the stage amidst a slew of now-deleted tweets in which she complained about being overworked the day before. At one point, a few tears came out of her in what was a moment of feeling overwhelmed whether by the clear fan appreciation in the crowd or the amount of work she’s done in the last couple of years. Regardless of that, she delivered what we considered to be the best set of the entire weekend.
Not only is she a good rapper and singer, but she has a stage presence and personality that many artists long for. Her set was energetic and fun, which is exactly what she is. She doesn’t take herself too seriously and that’s why people are drawn to her. Not only does she know how to work a crowd, she also knows how to dance and play instruments. She’s the whole package.
Her hour-long performance saw her blast through most of her hit songs such as ‘Like That’ and ‘Get Into It (Yuh)’ early on. She had the crowd moving to songs from her latest album Planet Her with the likes of ‘Woman,’ ‘You Right,’ and ‘Kiss Me More.’ Doja wrapped things up with a more rock-leaning rendition of her TikTok hit ‘Say So,’ a song that she has mentioned many times she is tired of performing. Girl, you’re going to do it for the rest of your life. Ha!
Billie Eilish – Saturday at the Lady Bird Stage
It has been incredible to see Billie’s ascend to superstardom. Just two years ago, she appeared at ACL Fest during an earlier time slot. Don’t get it twisted, she was already one of the most popular artists on the lineup due to the massive success of her debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? Two years later, she returned with a bigger production and a well-deserved headlining slot.
She poked fun at her fans with a middle finger during ‘NDA’ from her new album Happier Than Ever since some fans had displayed disdain for the single when it came out. She quickly retracted the obscene gesture with a ‘just kidding, you know I love you.’ Fans now love the song, so she gets the last laugh. Likewise, with the song that closed her set – the title track ‘Happier Than Ever’ – a quick and subtle FLOP ERA graphic appeared on the screen. That was something that some fans had also said online when she was putting out the album’s singles in the last year or so. Everyone at Zilker Park sang their hearts out to that song.
Eilish made it a point to infuse some social justice commentary. With the recent abortion ban in Texas, Eilish made her stance clear – even saying ‘men shouldn’t talk about women’s bodies … you know what, men should just shut up forever.’ She also touched on climate change prior to her performance of ‘all the good girls go to hell.’
It was the slower moments of her set where she shined the most. The flawless rendition of ‘when the party’s over’ made the 70,000+ attendee festival feel as intimate as a small dive bar. You could hear a pin drop as Eilish navigated the difficult song with ease. ‘everything i wanted’ was another one of those moments – with the screens showing the entire audience – as the song is dedicated to her fans.
Eilish is masterful at what she does. One thing remains a certainty: she will headline festivals around the world for the rest of her career.
Tate McRae – Sunday at the Lady Bird Stage
Despite it being a very hot Texas afternoon, Tate McRae performed a very good set at ACL on Sunday. The Canadian pop star showed off her vocals and dance moves. She’s a very good dancer!
It is impressive to see someone so young (she’s only 18) do what she did on stage. She did a full hour that had more prominent songs than you’d expect for someone that is still working on her debut album. A person in the crowd was overheard saying ‘I didn’t know she sang this’ and later on ‘I know this one too!’
And it’s true, she has plenty of songs that you’d probably recognize – mostly due to social media. ‘Working’ with Khalid just came out earlier this summer and it’s already left its mark online. The same can be said about her Troye Sivan collab ‘You’ and her biggest hit ‘You Broke Me First,’ which appropriately closed out her set.
There were a few other lesser known songs that left more to be desired – some that sounded very much the same and felt repetitive. However, other songs made up for it. ‘I wrote this one about a boy I had a crush on. It’s called ‘Stupid.’ That witty line lead to one of those songs. ‘Stupid’ is A+ fun pop material and very catchy.
Karol G – Sunday at the Honda Stage
Colombian singer Karol G brought some Latin flavor to ACL Fest on Sunday evening. With a very good slot just before Duran Duran’s headlining set, a decent-sized crowd gathered to see what she was all about. While most people there were indeed Latinos (mostly from Mexico, some Colombian and Puerto Rican, etc.), there were also a lot of English-speaking people there that had no idea who Karol G was. But they opted for her over Greta Van Fleet, or they were just there early to wait for Duran Duran. It was fun to watch their reaction throughout her performance.
There was a collective smile on everyone’s face when Karol G said that she was going to introduce herself in English for the first time. She said how she didn’t know if she could pull it off before doing it with proficiency. Throughout the set, you could feel a sense of achievement by the singer. It was one of those ‘I’ve made it this far’ moments that you could feel from here. It was, at times, emotional.
Karol G danced her way to songs from ‘El Makinon’ to ‘Ay, Dios Mio.’ She performed her Tiesto collab ‘Don’t Be Shy’ live in its entirety for the first time ever – that one had the crowd jumping throughout. She finally closed out her set with her biggest hits ‘Bichota’ and ‘Tusa.’ The latter which prompted a thunderous sing a long.
Duran Duran – Sunday at the Honda Stage
Sunday night was an interesting one. Stevie Nicks and DaBaby were both supposed to headline that night, but one canceled and the other one got canceled. Thankully, ACL nailed it with the replacements in Duran Duran and Tyler, The Creator.
Duran Duran have been around for a little over 40 years. Still they are as good as ever. Opening their set with ‘Hungry Like The Wolf,’ probably their most well-known single of all time, set the tone quickly. It was almost hit-after-hit with just a couple of newer songs somewhere in between. They had fans dancing to bangers like ‘Notorious,’ ‘Pressure Off,’ and ‘Rio.’ Their backing vocalist shined during ‘Come Undone’ with frontman Simon Le Bon saying that she deserves to always be centerstage.
Speaking of Le Bon, that is what a good frontman is. His charisma radiated from the stage to the masses. He seems to love to do what he does. His good time is contagious. It created a very cool, festive atmosphere to wrap up this year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival.
Other Acts We Saw That We Loved
Finneas, who is in many ways the mastermind behind the Billie Eilish brand musically, also has a lot going for him. He performed a very pleasant early evening set on Friday night with his sister supporting from side stage. ‘Let’s Fall In Love For The Night’ is an absolute bop. He is about to embark on his first ever solo tour. We very much recommend it.
Rising pop singer Remi Wolf had fans dancing to her groovy tunes on Saturday afternoon in a set that also included fun covers of ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley and ‘Electric Feel’ by MGMT. Wolf has a very positively aggressive approach to her onstage persona, but it works deftly. Her singles ‘Disco Man’ and ‘Photo ID’ were well-received by the crowd.
Indie folk genius Phoebe Bridgers, who jokingly said this was probably the only time she was opening for Doja and Billie, performed a headlining-worthy set on Saturday afternoon. She put on a clinic that was disappointedly cut short by ACL due to her going over one minute. That ended with her kicking down a mic stand and later tweeting ‘Fuck ACL.’ What was fucking awesome was her performance of her single ‘Kyoto.’ That made the end feel irrelevant.
Chris Lake turned things up at ACL on Sunday evening. For whatever reason, it always feels like the mood at a festival on its last day at sunset is at its peak. You’d think people would be sad it was almost over. But the DJ had other plans. His set had a significant crowd gathered at the smaller Miller Light Stage.
Earlier that day, another one of our favorites of the weekend, Austin’s own Nane performed at the festival for the first time ever. This was after the weather delays the week before had canceled their performance. It was splendid. Their soul and rock blend works outstandingly well with the singles ‘Always On My Mind’ and ‘This I Know’ being the highlights of the set. They welcomed the Austin F.C. drumline on stage for their last song. It almost felt like a celebration of the city, the music, and its core culture of diversity.
You can check out more of our ACL Fest coverage on our Instagram page.
(Featured Photo: Ashley Osborn for ACL 2021)