Austin City Limits Festival 2022: Kevin Morby, The War On Drugs, Billy Strings and More (FESTIVAL PREVIEW)

On the cusp of the 20th Anniversary of Austin City Limits Music Festival, the city itself seems poised to recapture the pre-pandemic magic of Austin’s live music scene. Yes, the festival returned last year after a two-year hiatus but it felt different, as if live music had not fully made a comeback yet. 2022 feels different. There is less trepidation as fans worry about which headliner might cancel (Stevie Nicks canceled last year to much disappointment) and more excitement about which performers fans will see October 7-9 at Zilker Park.

Texas act The Chicks (formerly The Dixie Chicks) headline Friday while Pink tops the schedule on Saturday at the American Express Stage. The Red Hot Chili Peppers return to the main stage Sunday for fans of legacy artists, but perhaps most intriguing near the top of the bill is Paramore, making their first ACL Festival appearance on the main stage Sunday at 6 p.m. 

While headliners often drive ticket sales (3-day tickets are sold out, single day tickets are still available), it’s really the bands down the bill that add value for true music fans at large format festivals. ACL Festival is no exception. We think most fans will discover and enjoy music down the lineup poster perhaps more than the top-billed acts on this year’s schedule.

Friday, October 7

Kevin Morby – Honda Stage – 3 p.m.

Friday is a good example of how artists scheduled earlier in the day might present standout performances. Despite headliners The Chicks and SZA’s top billing, there is arguably better quality music before headliners hit the stage. Arriving early for songwriter Kevin Morby on the Honda Stage at 3 p.m. is the call. The low-fi, indie songwriter has played to increasingly larger rooms each visit to Austin. Morby is another Texas native playing the festival, hailing from Lubbock.

Morby’s most successful album to date is his sixth effort, 2019’s Oh My God which reached number 2 on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart. He is currently touring in support of seventh recording, This is a Photograph, released in May of this year on the Dead Oceans label. The title track is worth a listen as it shows Morby’s considerable songwriting chops along with an unconventional song arrangement that makes it stand out in the crowded singer/songwriter genre.

Genesis Owusu – Tito’s Stage – 4 p.m.

Young Ghanian-born Australian Genesis Owusu presents music that sounds more mature than his age (he’s 24). The ARIA-award winning artist who took four trophies home at last year’s Australian Grammys including Album of the Year makes fusion hip-hop that has been described as a mash-up of jazz and hip-hop. While there are elements of jazz in Owusu’s music, there is a funk and soul influence that perhaps overshadows the jazz element in his work. This might be the most intriguing act playing Austin City Limits Festival on the opening day. That feels apropos considering the Tito’s Stage has gained a reputation for booking hot, new, up and coming acts.

Billy Strings – T-Mobile Stage – 7 p.m.

There might not be a jam band performer who is rising faster on the live music circuit than Billy Strings, who graduates to the larger T-Mobile Stage at ACL Festival after playing the BMI Stage in 2019. In the ensuing three years, the flat-picking guitarist has since taken the bluegrass world by storm. The talented artist has played with Bill Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead, landed his 2019 album Home at number one on the Billboard Heatseekers and Bluegrass Album charts, and won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album. If exceptional musicianship is your bag, don’t miss this set.

Other notable acts:

Gayle – Miller Lite Stage – 3:15 p.m.
Arlo Parks – Tito’s Stage – 4 p.m.
Big Gigantic – Tito’s Stage – 6 p.m.
SZA – Honda Stage – 8 p.m.

Saturday, October 8

Mama Duke – Barton Springs Stage – 12 p.m.

Austin-based LBGTQ hip-hop artist Mama Duke is worth arriving to Zilker Park early for on Saturday. The gifted rapper has quickly made a name for herself both in and outside Austin since launching her musical career in 2018. In 2020, Mama Duke, aka Kori Roy from Palacious, Texas, dropped her first album Ballsy, which includes a song about her experiences as a queer black and Mexican woman. The track, “Found A Way” set the tone for her style of rap and established Mama Duke as an emerging force in Texas hip-hop.

Adrian Quesada’s Boleros Psicodélicos – Honda Stage – 3 p.m. 

By now, any music fan in Austin knows to pay attention to music released by Adrian Quesada. The gifted guitarist and producer was a founding member of Grammy-winning Latin act, Grupo Fantasma. He’s also co-founder of breakout Austin group Black Pumas, a member of Grupo offshoot Brownout, and a number of other respected bands. Quesada has production credits on over 150 recordings as disparate as free form jazz-influenced horn jams by Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe to metal rockers The Sword. In short, Quesada is a musician’s musician who makes his debut solo recording, “Boleros Psicodélicos,” a gem of a Latin music album.

Featuring equally disparate guest performers as Quesada’s production work, from Money Mark (Beastie Boys’ DJ)  to Natalia Clavier (Thievery Corporation) to bandmate Jaron Marshall (Black Pumas), the record frames traditional Latin boleros in a fresh light. It will be interesting to see which guest performers take the stage with Quesada.

The War On Drugs – T-Mobile Stage – 7:15 p.m.

When War on Drugs made their debut album Wagonwheel Blues (2008), the group was labeled a neo psych-rock act, but the band formed by Adam Granduciel and Kurt Vile (who left the band after their debut release) soon evolved into much more than that. Elements of indie-rock and Americana are found in the music, which is heavily influenced by artists like Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and Wilco. The latter is Granduciel’s “favorite modern day band” according to NPR. Yet the group has influenced a number of bands to pursue a guitar-forward and synth-heavy sound that resembles nothing like his musical inspirations.

2017’s A Deeper Understanding (Atlantic Records) won a Grammy for Best Rock Album the following year. Despite this fact, the critically acclaimed record which preceded that release, Lost in the Dream, might be hardcore fans of the band’s most respected album. None other than hypercritical rocker Ryan Adams called the record a perfect recording.

Other notable acts:

Sofi Tukker – Miller Lite Stage – 5:15 p.m.
Lil Nas X – American Express – 6:15 p.m.

Sunday, October 9

Darkbird – BMI Stage – 1:15 p.m.

Austin indie-rockers Darkbird are long overdue to hit the ACL Festival Stage this year after first being invited to perform in 2020 (before the festival was canceled due to COVID), then again last year, and had their set scratched after a weather delay. Finally, after a three-year wait, the incendiary live act hits the BMI stage early Sunday afternoon. Led by frontwoman Kelly Barnes and guitarist Brian Cole, Darkbird brings the energy of 80s hair metal bands and music more akin to classic rock with a liberal dose of pop and indie vibes. Early arrivals to Zilker Park on Sunday who make it to this set are in for a treat.

Caleb de Casper – Barton Springs Stage – 1:15 p.m.

Perhaps the only disappointing aspect of Caleb de Casper’s booking at Austin City Limits Festival is that he’s  playing opposite another beloved Austin act, Darkbird. But for fans of glam and synth rock by an over-the-top, gender-bending bandleader, this is the call. De Casper’s most notable live performance was a wild, sold-out show at Mohawk last October with NOLA Bounce queen Big Freedia. It was clear they won over the audience with a stellar performance.

Spoon – Honda – 4 p.m.

Austin’s most successful rock band over the last 20 years is without a doubt Spoon. The indie rock quintet led by founders, Britt Daniel (vocals, guitar) and Jim Eno (drums) are bringing to ACL Festival their strongest lineup to date with Gerardo Larios (keys, guitar), Alex Fischel (keys, guitar) and Ben Trokan (bass). The group is touring in support of their latest release, Lucifer on the Sofa.

Paramore – American Express Stage – 6 p.m.

The power pop of Paramore may not be for every music fan but there is no denying the star power of lead singer Hayley Williams. The band’s second album “Riot!” (2007) earned platinum sales status on the strength of three hit singles. The band was nominated for Best New Artist in 2008. Paramore won a Grammy in 2013 for their fourth, eponymously titled album. This will be the group’s debut ACL Festival appearance. Aside from the band’s obvious appeal, that is perhaps the most compelling reason to put this performance on your schedule.

Other notable acts:

Primo the Alien – Tito’s Stage – 12:45 p.m.
Dehd – T-Mobile Stage – 1:45 p.m.
Eric Tessmer – BMI – 5 p.m.
Japanese Breakfast – T-Mobile – 6 p.m.
Goose – Barton Springs Stage – 7 p.m.

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