Do you find yourself looking at the ACL lineup’s long hodgepodge of names and bands wondering who you’re going to see this year?
Without question, the headliners — Jay-Z, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ryan Adams, Chance the Rapper, Gorillaz, Run the Jewels — are all must-see if you’re attending. Yet, there’s so many worthwhile acts just underneath their names you shouldn’t overlook—if you know what’s good for you. Think about it this way, if they’re booked to play ACL, then they’ve already proved they’re pretty dang good.
For what it’s worth, we’ve compiled a quick list of some of the best bands and artists of the mid-section, as it were. All of these picks have an Editor’s Seal of Approval (not physical, purely ceremonial), and are renown for how much they bring it.
By the way — since we’re one week out from the iconic Austin music festival — know that HCN will be covering the first weekend with recaps and artist interviews.
So even if you’re just going for a single day, we’ve got you covered with some of the best of the fest:
(Set times are for ACL Weekend One, Oct. 6-8)
3:15 - 4:15 p.m. @ Miller Lite Stage
Recommended if you like: Foxygen, David Bowie, Electric Light Orchestra
While the band dresses and acts like characters straight out of a Wes Anderson movie, their stellar pop rock anthems hit the core like a ton of bricks. They’re fast-paced, dynamic and dazzle at times like a Broadway show — but rest assured, The Lemon Twigs can rock out. Their music flows from 70s-style ballads into bell-bottom rock seamlessly, and the vocals from frontman Brian D’Addario absolutely soar over all of it. If you’re looking to be turned on to something off your radar this ACL, stroll by their set Friday afternoon.
4:15 - 5:15 p.m. @ American Express Stage
Recommended if you like: Stevie Wonder, Lettuce, The Meters
Known for their goofy stage presence and downright funky R&B and soul grooves, Vulfpeck are a group you’ll be glad you witnessed. The group of nerdy virtuoso players put on ultra-fun sets, where they bring up special guests of all kinds and jam on their smooth tunes as well as covers of gold classics. Part of the charm lies with frontman Jack Stratton, who plays drums and piano, and acts as an over-zealous emcee for the band. Expect to get plenty of banter and intentionally awkward dance moves from Stratton, and probably one of the most pure fun sets at the festival.
2 - 3 p.m. @ Honda Stage
Recommended if you like: The Strokes, Pavement, Cloud Nothings
Who said rock n’ roll was dead? Get real. Car Seat Headrest are a clear vanguard, sometimes lauded as the saviors of indie rock. The songs are sardonic and cheeky, and they’re a combo of a slacker rock mentality with stylish, hammerhead guitar riffs. Singer-songwriter of the group Will Toledo may seem meek, but the sheer power of the band’s fuzzed out, gritty sound will floor you. All ye who have ever felt like an outsider and just wanted to say “screw it” and rock out, this is your band.
3 - 4 p.m. @ Miller Lite Stage
Recommended if you like: Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, Alabama Shakes, Black Pistol Fire
If you’ve ever sat and wondered what punk rock would sound like if it fused with gospel soul, Benjamin Booker’s sound would be the solution to the equation. With a raspy voice that sounds like it’s being ran through a distortion pedal, soulful backup singers and a rock rhythm section rolling on all cylinders, Booker and company put on shows that leave you feeling redeemed. Many of Booker’s songs take on high concepts — politics, disenfranchisement and identity — so while you’re rocking out, you might find yourself caught up in the group’s righteous vibes.
11:45 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. @ Homeaway Stage
Recommended if you like: Erykah Badu, Janelle Monáe, The Soul Rebels
While they’re slotted to play Sunday morning, Tank and the Bangas will surely be taking you to church. The smooth, jazzy R&B group has been riding high off the success of being named NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest winners and have since toured the nation, wowing audiences everywhere. The vocal duo of Tarriona "Tank" Ball, whose slam poet skills shine through, and Anjelika "Jelly" Joseph, who refers to their sound as “soulful Disney”, are a dream team of silky, luxurious singing and wordplay. Don’t miss out on the next big thing here, y’all.
3:15 - 4:15 p.m. @ Barton Springs Stage
Recommended if you like: Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Woods, The Beatles
It was probably a good call to place Whitney, with their warm falsetto vocals and mellow indie soul sound, on the last day of a huge (probably hot) music festival. The group debuted to critical acclaim in mid 2016, and their album “Light Upon the Lake” quickly became the sound of the summer. The group’s breezy 60s pop/rock sound full of horns, George Harrison-esque slide guitar and rollicking keyboards will surely put you in good spirits for the rest of the fest.