Austin City Limits Festival 2011 – The Highlights

ACL Festival

Looking back at this year’s ACL festival we’re pleased to report that music was wonderful and the weather was almost perfect (especially when compared to some infamous years past). With so much to enjoy, we inevitably missed some great moments but we were there for these highlights.

Friday
Asleep at the Wheel’s festival starting set. Even though we only heard it, there’s something comforting about a 10-year-tradition involving a 6-ft Texan, especially if that Texan is Ray Benson.

Brandi Carlile’s mini-cover of Alabama. It wasn’t the last time we heard something about needing fiddle in the band to play in Texas that weekend but Jeb Bows is in the list of our top five pickers.

Ray LaMontagne and The Cave Singers were our first tough choice. Add to that Foster the People, Bright Eyes and Gary Clark Jr. all overlapping, we throughly enjoyed some drive-by listening.

Mavis Staples knocked our socks off. Pure and simple.

Saturday

The Belle Brigade impressed us at SXSW earlier this year, it was great to see their So-Cal stylings and close our eyes to pretend it was some early Buckingham-Nicks era Fleetwood Mac.

Talented producer, Daniel Lanois, who appeared with his latest project Black Dub (which is apparently code for massively talented people) had us appreciating the crazy breadth of his musical career.

Abigail Washburn. We had to make a choice between Iron and Wine and Alison Krauss. It was a tough one but it was rainy and the tent was brimming with banjos. We heard reports of Robert Plant and Patty Griffin watching Krauss’ set which confirmed what we knew already: folk music fans were missing something great no matter where they were.

Wanda Jackson, still rocking into her 70s with Jack White at the production helm. She sounded exactly like the Queen of Rockabilly. And we loved the age diversity of the crowd.

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings added another banjo to the tent. And perhaps were the only band that didn’t have a single electrical component on an instrument.

We tried counting, there were some 20 folks up on stage between the New Orleans Preservation Hall Jazz Band and bluegrass legend Del McCoury’s boys. Together they melded strings and horns and twang into a southern-fried-gospel-tinged-extravaganza. We didn’t mind missing the Court Yard Hounds at all.

Despite reported sound problems, Stevie Wonder was an experience. I couldn’t tell you a single thing about his performance other than it was incredible.

Sunday

We woke up Sunday glad that it was day three. No matter how great a festival is, day three is the one where we start to question our sanity. We drive-by listened to ex-Austinites The Greencards and receivers of much buzz, The Head and The Heart before Ryan Bingham. While we have respected Bingham’s accomplishments he put on a special show that kept us planted within earshot for the hour. Of course, Richard Bowden is also on that list of our top-five fiddlers.

Randy Newman. The man behind the collective soundtracks of many lives, wry humorist and winner of nearly every music-related award has written some of our absolute favorite songs and scored some of our favorite movies. It was an honor to end our ACL 2011 festival humming “Short People.”

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