The ‘Wild,’ wild fest face-off: Wild Child vs. Wild Belle

Austin City Limits Fest organizers are clearly messing with us. The very different Wild Belle, a Chicago-born dancehall-leaning pop sibling act, and Austin indie folk group and local radio hit-makers Wild Child played at the same time on the same day, 1 p.m. Sunday.

Did you mean to see Wild Child or Wild Belle? How do you know if you were at the right show?

Austin, TX - Natalie Bergman of Wild Belle performs during day three of ACL Music Festival at Zilker Park on October 2, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman-Statesman

Austin, TX – Natalie Bergman of Wild Belle performs during day three of ACL Music Festival at Zilker Park on October 2, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman-Statesman

Was the crowd sizable?
You were probably at Wild Child. The seven-piece played to one of the more massive crowds I’ve seen in years at this time on this stage–this year dubbed the “Homeaway Stage.” (Disclaimer: I spent more time at the Wild Child set than Wild Belle’s. More on that in a minute…)

Were fans visibly digging the band?
Probably Wild Child again. Blame it on being hometown heroes and all, but the crowd at Wild Child was abnormally into the show. Chit-chat was kept to a minimum (my number one “get-off-my-lawn” old-man gripe about most ACL Fest crowds) and people were dancing, clapping, and participating in call-and-response “da da da” or “ba ba ba” sing-along shenanigans like they were actually having a good time. (What a concept…) The crowd at Wild Belle felt more lukewarm, the standard mode for early afternoon sets.

Was the band dressed in their thrift store/vintage shop finest?
You may have been at Wild Belle or Wild Child. Both dress in cool bohemian modern hippie attire. Kudos to both for dressing for the job they want: musician.

To be clear, I say all the above not to take away from Wild Belle, who I’ve always enjoyed live and feel would make a mighty fine early afternoon pick for fans next weekend, but to credit Wild Child for proving a stand-out act this sunny Sunday afternoon.

As an open skeptic of any and all things labeled “folk,” I assumed I’d spend my time with the more danceable and hip Wild Belle, but Wild Child proved music fest gold. Their barefoot gypsy hippie-hillbilly barefoot soul was charming and irresistible. Their upbeat, bouncy, bright and earnest pop sound blasted away the fest-third-day cobwebs with a rainbow of positivity across a crowd spotted with tots on shoulders and flags whipping in the wind.

But Wild Child is almost cheating: I’m a sucker for male-female harmonies and live horns (in the band’s case, trumpet AND trombone, the secret king of the brass family).

“It’s good to be home,” smiley singer Kelsey Wilson said. “This is the greatest city in the world, y’all.”

Whichever “Wild” act you did (or didn’t) catch this Sunday, you should see both in the future. Wild Child plays next on Oct. 21 Dallas’ Nasher Sculpture Garden. Wild Belle will be back at Zilker Park for ACL Fest weekend two.

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