Lucy Dacus keeps calm and carries the crowd away at ACL Fest

Lucy Dacus is the calm before the storm. And during the storm. And after. Also, she might be the storm.

The Richmond, Va., singer is the proud owner of the warmest, most mellifluous voice this side of Sarah Jarosz soaked in whiskey, or a smoldering Fiona Apple after a healthy nap. Though I wish her the greatest success and an upward trajectory, the small BMI stage on cloudy day was the ideal house for Dacus’ vibe Saturday at Austin City Limits Music Festival. It was peaceful, it was intimate, it seemed like a rain storm could break out any moment. Hard to tell if it was the gray in the sky or the force of nature on stage.

Lucy Dacus tunes her guitar between songs during her performance on the BMI Stage during the first weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival on October 1, 2016. (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)

Lucy Dacus tunes her guitar between songs during her performance on the BMI Stage during the first weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival on October 1, 2016. (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)

Dacus kicked off the set alone, her voice a dark swell of “Blue Velvet” sweetness. Beautiful to listen to, with a hint of menace looming somewhere backstage. No menace, as it turned out: just her band, who built out the rest of Dacus’ distinctly American rock sound with peppy drums and reverberating, silvery guitars.

That Main Street sensibility played well with Dacus’ lyrics, which swirl with the musings of someone looking in from the outside. On “Strange Torpedo,” she’s actually just trying to look someone in the eye. A new song found Dacus protesting that she’s “just as good as anybody else” (and “just as bad”), and asking if her subject will remember her at all. There’s an insecurity that, coming from other thoughtful folks with guitars, would feel manic or panicked. For Dacus, cradling her guitar like a pillow and furrowing her brow to push out a keen so pure, it feels immensely brave and confident.

Even when pleading for someone to not make fun of her pigeon feet and knobby knees, Dacus’ voice is a liquid avalanche of honey, whipping up a tempest and bringing it back down just as easily. And everyone assembled at the stage was happy to be a buoy in Dacus’ sometimes stormy sea.  On her breakout song, “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” the singer demures, “Is there room in the band? I don’t need to be the front man. If not, then I’ll be the biggest fan.” Those roles seemed comfortably filled, hate to break it to her.

One audience member shouted out the name of her high school; at another point, the singer recognized a friend in the crowd. After a chilled out cover of “Dancing In the Dark,” Dacus dedicated it to her father (“No. 1 Bruce fan”).

As Dacus said, it felt like a hometown show. Hard to see how any show of hers could feel like anything else.

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