End of the Year Special: Austin City Limits Music Festival - Austin, TX - Oct. 2-4
Happy New Year! In order to reflect on the best things that happened to us at Capitol Sound DC in 2015, here is my highlight reel of my time at Austin City Limits 2015.
ACL Weekend 1 was unforgettable. This was our first time at the festival, and we could not have had a better experience. It would be impossible to really capture how special this festival was, but I will certainly do my best.
The first act we caught on Day 1 was Cherub. This Nashville-based electropop duo served as the perfect warm up for our start to the ACL weekend. With bass-driven dance songs like "Disco Sh*t" and smooth synth tunes such as "Chocolate Strawberries" and "Freaky Me, Freaky You," Cherub lit the Miller Lite Stage on fire. The pair exuded good, festival vibes by jumping and dancing to the beat with the large crowd. They also performed a cover of Calvin Harris's "Feel So Close," which got everyone within listening distance dancing and singing along. Cherub closed their set with the extremely popular song "Doses & Mimosas" and invited the audience to sing along. The crowd was thrilled by this familiar tune and jammed out, singing along to the carefree lyrics and bouncing to the electric beat.
Next up on our highlight reel is Tame Impala, who took the Samsung Stage with the Austin skyline as a backdrop. Though generally categorized as a rock, this Aussie band is pretty difficult to squeeze into one descriptive genre. Having released three studio albums since forming in 2007, this band incorporates elements of psychedelic pop, electro/synth pop, and guitar-heavy rock all to make melty musical goodness. Tame Impala's 10-song set kicked off with "Let It Happen" which is also the first track on their recent album Currents. At their 6pm set time, the day was beginning to wind down, and their set complemented the crowd's happy, heat-induced fatigue. It was one of those sets where you can either plop down on a blanket in the grass or get up and do that dreamy, floating hippie dance (I know you know what I'm talking about). This vibe continued throughout the whole set, and it was truthfully a peaceful, chilled out performance to rejuvenate the crowd from a day in the Texas sun.
Next up, we saw George Ezra, who was by far our favorite of the day. To the crowd's delight, he opened his set with the jivey tune "Cassy O'." The whole crowd danced along to George's strumming of his guitar and fed off of his electric energy. Ezra possesses this deep, soulful, weathered voice that doesn't match his youth by any measure. Anyone in the crowd who wasn't familiar with him must have been pretty surprised to hear this vocal style and range from a 22-year-old British kid. Ezra continued to play his nostalgia-driven songs about love, travel, and finding oneself as the Texas sun went down, displaying the most beautiful sunset I've ever laid eyes on. To put it simply, this was one of those moments where you know there is no place you would rather be than right here.
About halfway through the set, Ezra spoiled the crowd with a cover of the famous Bob Dylan/Johnny Cash duet "Girl from the North Country." The crowd gently swayed as he treated us to this little acoustic gem. Ezra also did this cover live for SiriusXM's the Spectrum, which I highly suggest taking a listen to here. After this, Ezra continued the set with two more songs from his 2015 album Wanted On Voyage, "Leaving It Up To You" and "Blame It On Me." To preface "Blame It On Me," he told the audience that he hopes everyone is enjoying his performance, but if they really hate him, they can watch the video to this song where he "gets sh*t on by a bird, bit by a dog, and hit by a car." After a collective chuckle from the crowd, Ezra soulfully sang this recent single and strummed his guitar, as a happy audience reverberated the words back to him.
The next two songs were "Spectacular Revival" and a cover of Macy Gray's "I Try." This was arguably the best part of the set. "I Try" is one of those songs that anyone born before 2000 knows without even knowing how they know it. Ezra's gruff, but impossibly sweet voice led the way through the first verse up to the chorus, and the crowd joined him in shouting out the lyrics to this familiar tune. George also performed this cover at the BBC Live Lounge, and you can watch this performance here.
As he neared closer to the end of this enchanted set, Ezra asked the crowd if we would dance with him, as he played "Barcelona," a romantic tune inspired by his travels through Europe. The sun was almost gone, and the atmosphere in the festival had never felt better. To introduce his next song, George told us the story of when he was visiting in Sweden, when he got too drunk one night and missed his next train to the city of Budapest. After never making it to Budapest, he still wrote a song titled after the city, which turned out to be his most popular single, which first appeared on his EP Do You Hear The Rain? This song is laden with falsetto "Ooh"'s, and each time they came around Ezra stepped away from the mic, encouraging the crowd to sing, and the stage lights lit up, as if in response to the collective voice of the crowd.
The exhilarated audience was nowhere near ready for Ezra to leave the stage. For the penultimate song of the set, Ezra performed "Blind Man in Amsterdam," an irresistibly catchy tune, once again inspired by his travels in Europe. Finally, Ezra closed the set with "Did You Hear the Rain?" This emotionally charged performance started off with a dark stage and a single spotlight on George, as he sang the acapella portion of the song that communicates the passion behind through Ezra's deep, weathered voice. The power driving Ezra's voice combined with the banging percussion and electric guitar was unexpected but inspired awe among the audience. After the last lyric Ezra snarled into the mic, "Lucifer's inside," he thanked the crowd and exited the stage. This electrifying performance was nothing shy of the best of the day. We left the stage on an exhilarating high.
After George Ezra's set, we wandered around the festival a bit and caught the Foo Fighters and Disclosure before the day came to an end. The Foo Fighters drew the majority of the ACL crowd to the Samsung Stage and tore it down. Disclosure gave a fun, electronic dance performance that was the perfect way to get out whatever remaining energy we had from the day.
As if we thought the festival couldn't get any better, Day 2 blew Day 1 out of the water. We started the day with Ryn Weaver on the HomeAway Stage. Weaver and her band gave an electrified, dance-y set as she performed songs from her debut album The Fool. She opened her set with "Runaway," the lead song on her album. The crowd bounced and sang along as Weaver and the band performed this multifaceted tune, adorned with synthy pop sounds and driving percussion. Next, she sang a mini-song known as "OctaTease," which is a teaser of her hugely popular song "OctaHate" that was to come later in the set. Next, Weaver performed "Pierre," a catchy, pop tune that is a bit Florence + The Machine-esque.
Next, she performed two more songs from the album, "Sail On" and "Lay Low." The latter was particularly enjoyed by the audience because of its bumping synthetic beat and the sweetness of Weaver's voice flowing from the speakers. To continue her set, the band members led the crowd in clapping to the beat, as she performed the title-track of her album, "The Fool." The sparkling synths and Weaver's piercing voice spread all over the HomeAway area.
Next, she performed two more songs from The Fool, "Free" and "Traveling Song." To introduce "Traveling Song," Weaver explained the meaning of this solemn song saying, "I wrote this song about my grandfather who passed away... I wrote it as kind of a salutation. Everywhere that I go, and travel, and want to go in life, you see people, and you don't choose who you see..." This song exhales nostalgia and tells the tale of a journey, which Weaver brought the audience along for.
After two more songs, "Promises" and "Here Is Home," she introduced her next two songs, telling the audience there is one we probably don't know, and one that we all know. Weaver began with the latter, and performed her mega-hit single "OctaHate." The whole crowd danced and sang along with Ryn and the band as they all jammed out to this catchy tune. Her final song was "New Constellations," which she introduced saying it's about "not settling" and the idea that "it's not selfish to make the right move for yourself." The crowd swayed and took in this empowering performance, and roared with applause when Ryn finished her set.
Next up on the Samsung Stage was Glass Animals, an indie-electronic band from the UK. The stage was decorated with palm trees and the classic Glass Animals backdrop, and the band kicked off their set with "Walla Walla" from their sophomore album Zaba. As soon as the percussion-driven exotic music started to play, lead singer Dave Bayley started jumping and dancing around the stage, inspiring the audience to do the same. Glass Animals' set encompassed all things indie-tronic, electro-pop, and dance pop. All festival-goers in listening range were feeling the electric beat and bopping along to the music--even the workers at the water filling stations.
By the time the band's hit "Gooey" flooded the festival, the good vibes were flowing in full force. This mega-popular song injected excitement into the bloodstream of the crowd, and a mix of head-bopping and various interpretive dances could be seen across Zilker Park. Next was "Black Mambo," another hugely popular song. This tune features eerily delicate string plucking and keys and the classic Glass Animals symbol-heavy percussion combo.
The word that always comes to mind when listening to Glass Animals is "drippy." In both presence and sound, this band's psychedelic aesthetic emulates a drippy, orange sunset that flows straight from the sky into the ears of the listener. The next two songs performed were "Cocoa Hooves" and "Toes," which both further enhance this trippy vibe. The second to last song on the setlist was a cover of Kanye West's "Love Lockdown." This rendition of the popular throwback re-captured the attention of the crowd as everyone began singing along. The band finished their set with "Pools," a song laden with exotic animal sounds and tribal drums. The crowd ate up the percussion-heavy beat and Glass Animals left the stage with a gleeful and satisfied crowd.
Right after Glass Animals, we crossed the field to see Misterwives at the HomeAway Stage. Having seen Misterwives perform before and being highly impressed, I was excited to see what kind of show the band would put on. The Austin sun was unmerciful and at this point most of the festival goers are running low on energy. As soon as lead singer Mandy Lee came jumping out onto the stage like the firecracker she is, the crowd felt the rejuvenating power of music. They began the set with "Best I Can Do," which is from their debut LP Our Own House. There are few artists I've seen that even get close to matching the amount of energy that Lee displays on stage. Somehow between jumping and dancing with the crowd, she can still belt out those crazy impressive notes.
Next up was "No Need For Dreaming." This song starts out a little slower, and the crowd can focus more on Lee's astonishingly electric voice. The infectiously catchy melody and lyrics compound with a bumping bass to make this a perfect song to dance to. After performing their slower and more relaxed song "Oceans," the band jumped into "Hurricane." This is a very special song, as Lee explained, because it's an anthem about being your own person and not caring about what anyone thinks. One of the lyrics that particularly ignited the crowd was, "won't dance within your walls."
The next song was "Vagabond," an emotional song about being somewhat of a rolling stone with no specific place to call home. Many people know this song as the theme song to MTV's teen drama series Finding Carter. Next up was the upbeat, dancey tune "Not Your Way," another anthem about living life the way you want to, ending with a band kickline.
The following song that Misterwives performed was a classic crowd pleaser: a mashup-cover of "Can't Feel My Face" by the Weekend and Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T." This imaginative and unexpected combo sang beautifully by Lee hyped up the crowd, as it was pretty unlikely that anyone in the crowd didn't know these songs. The second to last song performed was "Imagination Infatuation," and was probably the most fun song on the set. Lee's energy never faltered and she encouraged the crowd to dance with her. Lastly, Misterwives performed their most popular single, "Reflections." As soon as the crowd heard the wispy "Aaah ahh ahh"'s coming from the speakers, we all sang along to every word. There wasn't a still foot in the audience as we jumped and danced and screamed the lyrics with Lee as our guide.
Next, we ran back over to the Samsung Stage where Twenty One Pilots would soon be performing. Disclaimer: I have no idea how to write about a Twenty One Pilots show and do it justice. Some things just have to be experienced in person. But here goes.
The intro to "HeavyDirtySoul" rang throughout the festival grounds as an anxious crowd awaited the sight of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun. The two appeared on stage with Joseph wearing a ski mask and skeleton hoodie, and Dun in a black hoodie and red and black mask. People had been in position to see this set since the festival gates opened that morning, and the field was packed. Dun and Joseph's energy was explosive on stage. The amount of passion they put into every word, note, and beat of every single song is unsurmountable.
At the end of the song, the pair took off their masks and transitioned into "Stressed Out." Despite the fast-paced lyrics, most of the crowd never missed a beat while singing along with Joseph. This song is about growing up and having dreams that don't equate to life's harsh realities. All of the verses in the second half of the song end with the line, "Wake up you need to make money!" and every time this part rolled around, Joseph moved away from the microphone to let the crowd sing. Next up was "We Don't Believe What's On TV," a more lighthearted tune in which Joseph strums a ukulele and Dun plays the trumpet during the chorus. Joseph instructed the crowd to sing the "Yeah yeah yeah!" parts that continue throughout the song. A special part of seeing Twenty One Pilots is that they make every effort to make it a collaborative performance between the pair and the crowd.
The fourth song on the setlist was "Lane Boy." Before the song began, there was an intro of a voice saying, "Why...do I kneel to these concepts? Tempted by control...controlled by temptations. 'Stay low,' they say...stay low." In an interview with Fuse (link) at Lollapalooza last year, Joseph said this song "breaks that fourth wall and to look into what it's like to be a normal person in [their] position." Towards the end of the song, Joseph instructs the audience to get low to the ground, as two people come out onstage in hazmat suits. This imitates the sequence in the "Lane Boy" music video, where Joseph is controlled by the two people and kneels down to them. Once everyone is down, a voice says, "But will they be alive tomorrow?" and the beat drops, causing the whole crowd to jump up and dance with everyone on stage.
The fifth song in the set was "Holding Onto You," which comes from their debut 2013 album Vessel. During the intro to the song, Joseph went into the crowd and stood while the audience held him up. This song is a personal favorite, and it was indescribable to be in a huge crowd of likeminded people singing along. During the bridge, Dun got up on the piano and did his iconic backflip, which is always a crowd pleaser. The next song was "Ride," and Jesse Blum from Misterwives joined the pair onstage to play the trumpet. "Polarize" followed, which the crowd gleefully swayed and sang along to.
As the band continued with the second half of their set, Joseph introduced "The Run And Go" by saying one of the main reasons that they keep it in the set is because it is his dad's favorite song. This song is also on Vessel, and fits into the oldie-but-goodie category. This is one of the most fun songs to hear live due to it's undeniable catchiness and the energy coming from the stage. The next song performed by Twenty One Pilots was their most popular song "Tear In My Heart." Joseph introduced this song saying, "I usually dedicate this one to my girl, but today I dedicate it to A$AP Rocky." If you know the lyrics to "Tear In My Heart," you can understand how funny this was. For example, Tyler sang, "he's the tear in my heart, he's a carver, he's a butcher with a smile." Regardless of the amusing lyric changes, the audience jammed out and the energy at Zilker Park was electric.
Nearing the end of the set, Joseph and Dun played another oldie-but-goodie, "Car Radio," which Tyler said is a true story, and put his ski mask back on. This is an emotionally heavy song, and deserves an emotionally heavy performance. With Joseph on the piano and Dun on the drums, the song began. Joseph is known for climbing on all sorts of things during shows, but what he did was something I'd never seen before. To finish off the song, Joseph climbed to the top of the scaffolding of the Samsung Stage and stood on the metal bar at the top of the stage, where there was only a Texas flag flying. After the final line of the explosive chorus, Joseph tore off his ski mask and looked out onto crowd.
As he climbed down, the intro to their final song "Guns For Hands" rang out. "Guns For Hands" is a hugely emotion-driven song that serves as an anthem for Twenty One Pilots fans. It was easy to pick out who these fans were in the crowd because when Tyler sings, "It's obviously best for them to turn their guns to a fist," it is tradition at TOP shows for the crowd to hold a fist in the air. To finish the song and their out of this world set, Tyler and Josh went into the crowd where there were single drums on platforms being held up by the crowd. The two climbed onto these platforms and played the final drum beats of the song. This performance was unreal.
The next highlight of our ACL experience was seeing Walk The Moon on the Miller Lite Stage. The set began with "The Circle Of Life" from Disney's The Lion King. Once the band had taken the stage and everyone got their Lion King fix, the first notes of "Jenny" erupted from the speakers. This song is from Walk The Moon's debut self-titled album released in 2012. To follow, guitarist Eli Maiman strummed the first chords of "Sidekick," which is from their sophomore album Talking Is Hard. This is a prime song to dance to, and the audience took full advantage. Frontman Nicholas Petricca led the crowd in singing the words while playing the keyboard and the two floor tom drums that remain at his side throughout the performance.
The crowd at Walk The Moon's set was enormous, and everyone there seemed to be having a fun time, embodying the easygoing-ness that Austin is known for. The next song was "Avalanche," one of the most popular ones on Talking Is Hard. Petricca signaled for the crowd to clap along as the band members with their colorful hair and face paint jammed out to this upbeat tune. It is unfortunately rare to see a band that looks like they're having the time of their lives on stage, but Walk The Moon always gives off that vibe. It's impossible to not enjoy their set because the band is full of positive energy and they always deliver it to the crowd.
The following song performed was "Different Colors," the lead track on Talking Is Hard. Pertricca introduced the song by saying, "If you've ever felt all alone or like nobody vibed with you, nobody understood you, then you were dead wrong and this is your song." Inspired, the crowd mimicked the drumbeat with claps and sang along to the "ooh wee ooh ooh ooh"'s that start off the song. Here stood thousands of likeminded strangers singing and dancing to this song about individuality, and suddenly we were all good friends.
Next up, Walk The Moon did "Tightrope." This is also a Walk The Moon classic. Off their 2012 self-titled, the song radiates infectious positivity, which was felt by the ACL crowd. Afterward, the band performed "Up 2 U," which was a change of tune to a more dark, rock 'n roll sound, including some super-high, emotional notes frm Pertricca. Then, the ensemble glided into "Work This Body," which picked the fun vibes back up.
"Portugal" was the next song that the band played on the Miller Lite Stage. Keyboard-driven and quintessentially synth-pop, this song ignited the crowd into singing and dancing. The best part of this song is the build before the chorus, and the crowd clapped along to the kickdrum beat. Petricca spoke the bridge to the field of people, which is a message of humility and positivity. As the band neared the end of their set, they performed "Lisa Baby," a guitar-heavy love song. This was a nice song to chill out to before the grand finale of Walk The Moon's last three songs.
"I Can Lift A Car," was the beginning of the end of the set. This song is about strength and resiliency, and the lyrics spoke to an already gleeful ACL audience. Second to last, Walk The Moon performed their unsurmounted mega-hit "Shut Up And Dance." I've seen this song live before, but seeing it in this crowd was totally different from any other time. It felt like being at a huge party and everyone's favorite song comes on. Singing and dancing with thousands of people to this incredible song was genuinely one of the best moments of my life.
Finally, Walk The Moon closed the set with "Anna Sun." This was the band's first ever hit, and it is arguably the most iconic track in the band's discography. After experiencing this song at ACL, I get chills every time I listen to it. My favorite line is during the bridge, when Petricca sings, "Living my life without / Coming up for air," and it sums up the fun-loving, adventurous spirit that was alive at the festival.
The final stop on our ACL Weekend 1 Highlight Reel is the Honda Stage to watch BØRNS' majestic performance. Garret Borns, dressed in a sunflower jacket, and his band, better knowns as BØRNS took the stage in front of a sweaty, but cheerful audience. To kick off the set, the first gloopy notes of "Dug My Heart" echoed from the speakers. This song is off BØRNS' debut album Dopamine, which was just released in October. Garret has this eclectic presence and an old soul that combine to make his performance truly a special treat. Next up, he played the leading track on his album, "10,000 Emerald Pools," a sweet love song that properly wooed the ACL crowd. Garret introduced himself and the band saying, "I am BØRNS, we are BØRNS, you are BØRNS."
To continue the set, Garett belted out some sweet falsettos that serve as the introduction to the song "Past Lives." Impressed by this stellar vocal performance, the collective roar from the crowd was deafening. As the music shifted into the more upbeat, electro-pop part of the song, the audience followed Garret's lead, dancing to the boppin' beat. At this point, BØRNS had not yet reached his superstar popularity that was right around the corner in the following months. However, though many people didn't know the words to the songs, the crowd for his set was massive, and quite enthusiastic. To follow, the band, along with Garrett and his beautiful electric, began "Broke," a song that sadly did not make the debut album. This song has strong rock influences, heavy on the guitars. It was a total treat to hear this song live because it's definitely missed when listening to Dopamine.
"The Emotion" was the next song performed on the Honda Stage. This song takes a turn for the slow and steady. Just as the title would suggest, there's tons of emotion in Garret's voice and highlights his incredible vocal abilities. The crowd swayed along with the smooth, unwavering guitar chords. To mark the halfway point of the set, next up, BØRNS grabbed the hearts of every age group present, we were treated to an ethereal cover of David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream." This choice is a nod to the old soulfulness that is present in most of BØRNS' music, which clearly draws influence from the iconic 1970s glam rock.
"Fool" followed the cover, and got the crowd even more pumped than before. Employing every instrument on stage, the band really got into this one and sang fantastic harmonies. The next song was a reimagined cover of the classic rock "Four Sticks" by Led Zepplin. With this cover, BØRNS paid further homage to the 1970s rock era that he seems to have influenced his own artistry. Unexpected and brave, this cover further impressed the encouraging audience. Afterward, as if the crowd wasn't already head over heals for Garrett and his music, the band performed "Clouds," another saccharine love song with a hard driving bass line and endearingly delicate lyrics.
Nearing the end of his set, Garret introduced "American Money," a new song from Dopamine. This was my favorite part of the set, and consequently is my favorite song on the album. A bit darker than the others, this song takes on a sultry tone that the crowd ate up. Happy with such a positive response, BØRNS thanked the crowd and said there were two songs left.
The first was "Seeing Stars," a fun electro-pop single released in August. Fairly well-known, this song sparked excitement and dancing throughout the enormous crowd. The last song of the set was BØRNS' huge hit "Electric Love." This song is very well-known and has had many a pop culture cameo. It also just happens to make for an outstanding festival soundtrack, and it felt like every single person in attendance was dancing in sync.
Thank you for taking the time to read about this incredible experience that I had! Can't wait until next year.