Austin City Limits 2014: Best of the Fest (REVIEW)

Like Coachella and Bonnaroo, the Austin City Limits Festival (ACL) has solidified its status in the upper echelon of festivals in that each year it practically sells out before releasing a lineup. That is a coveted place to be for a music festival and can mean two things: the experience itself is so special that it doesn’t matter who’s playing, and that simply attending the festival for many is a status symbol. ACL is both of these things, and serves as a source of pride for not only many locals, but the loads of people who travel from far and wide to experience it. This year’s lineup – the same both weekends give or take a few acts – reflected the social media savvy, festival-going demographic with hugely popular acts like Lorde and Iggy Azalea placed alongside EDM heavy hitters like Skrillex and Calvin Harris. But, like most people’s Spotify playlists these days, the lineup featured a little bit of everything and it was difficult not to find some enjoyable tunes worth braving the crowds and selfie-snapping teeny-boppers for. Here are some of the standout sets from the second weekend of ACL Fest…

Best Performance From a Legend – Jimmy Cliff

Jimmy Cliff almost never opened his eyes during his Friday afternoon set. This is probably because the reggae legend was channeling some sort of higher power, the very higher power that has allowed him to remain a beacon of positivity throughout his musical career. Now in his elder years Cliff seems to have found a new vigor for performing. His set, which featured uplifting classics like “You Can Get It If You Really Want” and “Vietnam,” had the entire audience basking in his joy. His impeccable take on Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” was the type of moment to make you tear up, even if the people standing next to you are certain it’s an Elton John song.

Here’s a fanshot video from weekend one…

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Best Use of a Harmonaboard – Jon Batiste and Stay Human

These young musicians unquestionably put on one of the best performances of the weekend. Led by the charismatic Jon Batiste, who handles piano, vocals, and the underrated harmonaboard, the group make a style of funky R&B that is completely their own. The band’s scorching take on “St. James Infirmary” oozed with New York cool and New Orleans swagger. When they concluded their set by marching triumphantly into the crowd and finishing their song amongst the people, they left everyone in the tent a fan.

Best Overall Talent  – Ana Tijoux

Chances are you haven’t heard of Ana Tijoux, but the French-Chilean hip-hop artist definitely put herself on the radar at ACL. Her politically and socially aware rhymes flowed out and felt potent even if she wasn’t speaking in English. Backed by her tightly knit band who never lost the groove, Tijoux balanced her rapping with lush singing, making for one of the unexpected better acts of the weekend.

Best Potential for a “Freebird” Bustout – Blackberry Smoke

At first glance the retro-fitted long hairs in this Atlanta band looked like they could’ve doubled for Stillwater in Almost Famous, but their set of blazing Southern rock was a welcome presence amongst the blips and bleeps that dominate the night at ACL. The band channeled the likes of the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers, cranking out laid-back jams while nearby the kiddies danced to DJs tapping buttons.

Here’s a fanshot video from weekend one…

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Best Titans of Hip-hop – Outkast

Outkast have played just about every music festival this year, which in a sense makes their “come back” something of a novelty. But for each audience, there is a majority who have probably never seen them before and thought they never would. Andre 3000 and Big Boi owned the stage and commanded the crowd while making their way through a set that included hits like “Hey Ya,” “Rosa Parks,” and “So Fresh, So Clean.” While their set didn’t deviate much from the rest of their shows, those dying to see one of hip-hop’s greatest acts left were treated to a top notch show. Hearing Outkast bust out “Elevators (Me & You)” was a magical moment for any fan.

Here’s a fanshot video from weekend one…

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Best “I’m Finally Seeing Beck” moment – Beck

Plenty of snobby music critics had not so nice things to say about Beck’s set, but those of us looking to catch him for the first time found more than enough to be happy about with his set. Old favorites like “Devil’s Haircut,” “Loser,” and “Hell Yes” were played along with new material off his recently released Morning Phase, all of which rocked hard in the live setting. Beck himself looked to be enjoying the performance immensely and his high caliber band gave his songs that extra push to explode off the stage.

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Best Should Have Been a Main Stage Act – Lorde

Lorde is basically the hottest act on the planet right now. She also only played the second weekend of the festival, making her set even more of a draw. For these reasons it made little sense to place her on a smaller stage between the two main stages, which pissed off many a Pearl Jam fan forced to brave the clusterfuck and listen to suspiciously perfect live versions of “Royals” and that new Hunger Games song.


Best “Late Night Show” – The Sword Do512 Party

This show was not part of the festival, but it is worth mentioning purely for the reason that it may have saved this writer from drowning in a sea of bland indie pop. The black-clad crowd at the Scoot Inn was treated to a free show from Austin’s finest metal act courtesy of local party mongers Do512, and the Sword had zero problems throwing down a set of brutal, Sabbath-tinged heavy rock and roll.

Most Ideal For the Weather – Interpol

Heavy rains on Saturday morning left Zilker Park a muddy mess, and while it wasn’t nearly as much of a deluge as last year, foreboding clouds lingered throughout the day. Interpol’s dark, hip rock proved a complimentary soundtrack to the damp conditions and cloudy skies, and songs like “Evil,” “Hands Away,” and “NYC” briefly turned the muddy field into a dark, drugged out nightclub.

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Best Jamboree – Turnpike Troubadours

It ain’t easy playing a set when you have Lorde on one side and some DJ called Zedd on the other, both blasting fecal beats into the air and sedating the masses. Luckily, the Turnpike Toubadours had no problem throwing their own little dance party in the middle of it all. The band’s set of country rock harkened back to the days when ACL featured a strong presence of Americana and regional acts, and anyone lucky enough to catch the set threw down and grooved right along.

Best Rocking Out in a Hammock – The Replacements’ Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson

According to bassist Tommy Stinson, who mentioned it onstage, Sunday’s ACL set may have been the last Replacements show of their tour. Hopefully this doesn’t mean the last Replacements show ever, but it could. Luckily, loyal fans were treated to a special set from the legendary Minneapolis punks that fired out of the gate with two of their biggest songs, “Alex Chilton” and “Left of the Dial.” Wearing paint-splattered overalls (and only that), Paul Westerberg led the band through a elegantly sloppy cover of Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” and later on paid tribute to Texas with a rambling version of Billy Joe Shaver’s “Live Forever.” In true Replacements fashion (aka not giving a fuck) Westerberg – who suffers from back problems – had his roadie bring out a comfy looking hammock and laid back while picking away and singing on a handful of songs. When Stinson hopped in with him the two had a good laugh and rocked back and forth, both literally and figuratively, making for one of the truly standout moments of the weekend.

The Replacements
The Replacements

Best Sunday Chill Sesh – Real Estate

Real Estate’s Atlas is definitely a frontrunner for album of the year with its thoughtful lyrics and airy instrumentals. In the live setting the band stretches out their songs and allows them to unfold in mysterious ways that wash over you and always feel like climbing a musical staircase. At ACL their set was relaxing and pleasant, and had the effect of floating along in a cloud of bliss.

Real Estate
Real Estate

All photos by Maggie Boyd.

Check out our PHOTOS from DAY 1, DAY 2, and DAY 3 of the 2014 Austin City Limits Festival!



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2 Responses

  1. To leave off Foster the People (who, by many reports, outdrew headliner Beck on the same Samsung Galaxy Stage the first Friday of each week) and not mention them at all is a true shame.

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