Austin City Limits has had a decade to perfect their eight-stage monster of a music event—and over the weekend of Sept. 16-18 they proved once again that they have perfected the art of hosting a festival. The completely sold-out fest featured legendary artists like Stevie Wonder, Arcade Fire, Coldplay, Kanye West, Fleet Foxes and too many more sprawled throughout Zilker Park.
Texas wasn’t in a festive mood as firefighters have been struggling to contain wildfires resulting from the worst drought to hit the state since the 1950s. Still, the park was crowded with fans each day, and the quality onstage was exceptional. Plus, organizations like the Do Good Bus and The Nature Conservatory responded to the struggle by raising money and awareness. Even the festival producer, C3 Presents, pledged to match all donations made to the Do Good Bus on Friday, and musicians like Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and Foster the People also teamed up with the bus to confront this problem.
Despite the heat, day one featured enough artists to make the price of a three-day pass worth it. And so the name-dropping begins! Cults were one of the first bands to open ACL with their cute, catchy indie-pop songs. They were followed by the enchanting James Blake, whose beautiful synth-laden music paired with his lovely voice made for a hypnotizing set. Ray LaMontagne spun folk-inspired stories with raspy vocals, soulful tales of cocaine and women, providing a nostalgic touch of another era to the trendy festival.
Speaking of trendy, Foster the People attracted a horde of fans to the Google+ stage for an energetic performance that was unfortunately hard to enjoy due to the dense crowd (even the photo pit was jam-packed and practically unnavigable). But Santigold also played an energy-laden and powerful set, busting through new and old tracks, as well as multiple costume changes.
Finally, Coldplay and Kanye took their respective stages at opposite ends of the park, almost at the exact same time. Even though I personally prefer to listen to Coldplay’s music, the light show during Coldplay’s set was incomparable to the drama of Kanye’s theatrical ballerina dancers. I ended up dancing, covered in glow stick paint, throughout his performances of "Flashing Lights" and "Can’t Tell Me Nothing."
Day two started off a little rough as the overbearing heat started to take its toll and fans became increasingly hostile. But a welcome shower during indie darlings Young the Giant’s set managed to calm things down. However, the surprise rain wasn’t welcome for everyone; Dallas Green got a quick shock from his mic but still managed to deliver an ethereal performance. Green even asked his fans to put down their cell phones and cameras in the middle of his set and just enjoy his music, a task that is becoming increasingly difficult for our technologically dependent society.
Soulful prodigy Quinn Sullivan (who is only 12 and has already performed with B.B. King and Buddy Guy) also performed early on in the afternoon at Austin Kiddie Limits, and easily deserved a slot on a much bigger stage. However, the biggest stage was mastered by Stevie Wonder, and the ever-solid My Morning Jacket headlined on Saturday night.
Despite the drunken fights and angry security guards, the Bright Eyes aftershow at Stubb’s was particularly beautiful. Conor Oberst seemed uncharacteristically positive and the band even performed their encore of the song "Cannonball" with Gillian Welch.
Day three was as hot as the first but much more magical. Fans were exhausted from the long weekend by Sunday, but that did not keep them from catching The Head and the Heart as they performed tracks from their buzzworthy, self-titled new album. An Austin native with a smoky voice, Suzanna Choffel, gave an equally fiery performance at the Austin Ventures Stage soon after.
A few highlights from Sunday? Broken Social Scene’s cover of "World at Large" by Modest Mouse, and a beautiful performance by Fleet Foxes. There are hardly any words I can use to describe how lovely the sound systems captured the swelling harmonies and complicated guitar patterns of the Seattle band’s old and new albums. Empire of the Sun’s set was striking and filled with strange choreography and costumes; they definitely deserved to be one of the last to play at ACL. Arcade Fire completed the long weekend and closed out the festival. Like the rest of the performances from the weekend and their successful album The Suburbs, I can assure you it was nothing short of fantastic.