Lizzo: When women get together ‘the universe conspires with us’

Rocking fishnets, heels and swagger for days, Minneapolis rapper Lizzo was a revelation in her early Sunday sets at Austin City Limits Music Festival 2016. She performed with an all-female crew — a DJ and two dancers — and together they put on one of the most memorable sets of the weekend. It’s not just that’s she’s a killer rhyme-slinger who also can sing like an old school soul queen; it’s that she’s writing all her own rules. Lizzo creates her own definition of cool, sexy and beautiful, and no one can deny it.

RELATED: She said, He said: Lizzo is the way and the truth at ACL Fest

For the last five years or so the 28-year-old sensation-in-the-making has been bubbling up on the hip-hop underground, performing in several all female crews, most notably the Chalice. Her solo project is a reconfiguration of previous acts, featuring many of the same players, including DJ Sophia Eris. In October, she released her major label debut EP, “Coconut Oil,” on Atlantic, and earlier this year she picked up a host spot on the new MTV live music show, “Wonderland.”\

RELATED: Details on Elizabeth McQueen’s podcast, “This Song,” featuring Lizzo

While she was in town for ACL Fest she taped an episode of the KUTX podcast “This Song” which was released online last week. She also sat down with us for this conversation about women, hip-hop and embracing your inner goddess.

Austin360: You’ve been doing this for a minute. Does being around the same crew of female artists you’ve worked with for years help you to grow as an artist?

Lizzo: Yeah. Totally. It’s our support system. I think there’s something really special about when women get together. That’s why they try to keep us so separated and insecure because when we get together we can do amazing things. Supernatural things almost. When we’re together things just click into place. We have to constantly remind each other how much we need each other because the universe just conspires with us.

Lizzo, middle, performs, at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Sunday October 2, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Lizzo, middle, performs, at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Sunday October 2, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Where do you think the message that women aren’t supposed to like each other comes from?

From the patriarchy. It’s a device that’s been used to keep women in competition with each other, I think, since the beginning of time. When women were worshipped as goddesses, somebody always had a problem with that and tried to keep us from being those goddesses. Especially in this culture, in Western culture, I think that there are actual devices at work to keep women separated and intimidated and in competition with each other. Especially in hip-hop. And especially in most male-dominated things like the (music) industry and corporate America, but when we find each other and we stick together, it’s amazing. They can’t break us up.

Obviously, you’re moving in hip-hop, which over the last 10 years or so has been rife with a lot of misogyny, a lot of really negative messages. You bring this new positive energy that some of us have been waiting for.

I feel like this wave of hip-hop though, you have the typical misogynistic rapper… but rappers are starting to rap more about love. You have someone like Young Thug. Off the top, a trap rapper from Atlanta, you’re like, “What’s he gonna talk about?”

But Young Thug has a song called “That’s my Best Friend” talking about his fiance and he says (singing) “Never will I cheat on you…never will I lie.” You have someone like Fetty Wap who is talking about the girl that he loves, “Trap Queen.”

I feel like rap and hip-hop is starting to move towards a respectful lane with women I think that I’m very blessed to be coming up in this time. Maybe feminist hip-hop or someone like me, a feminist, wouldn’t have gotten as much (love) in the nineties or early 2000s.

Lizzo at the Austin City Limits Music Festival on October 2, 2016. (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)
Lizzo at the Austin City Limits Music Festival on October 2, 2016. (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)

You take ownership of the word feminist.

I’m not, in my songs, saying, “I’m a feminist so listen up.” But by merely existing with my group of women, being strong and doing what we want and loving each other and being really good at our jobs, we are feminism. And I think that dudes, when they see us at festivals, all the rap dudes, when we come in contact with them, they respect that.

You call your female followers “Big Girls,” and you say you’re always repping for the big girls. What’s that like?

It’s easy because I’ve been doing it my whole life. I’ve never been a small person. I was on set of my show at MTV on Thursday and I walked by and one of the girls, she was like this heavier girl, she was like, “You’re making big girls look so good right now! Yes honey, you better work.”

And I was like, “Exactly.”

I realize that the way that I look isn’t gonna change. I’m a black woman with a big body and if I don’t make the best of that, then I’m gonna make the worst of life. So I feel good and I feel like a lot of women didn’t have somebody, at least in my genre to look up to like that. So I’ma just keep doing me and the haters are gonna be haters.

A friend of mine who’s in her 40s told me she almost cried watching you perform because she thought about how much it would have meant to have someone like you to look up to as a young girl.

Older women will come up after a show and be like, “I just wish you existed when I was a teenager. And my daughters listen to you.”

That’s literally why I’m doing this. That’s it. I’m not doing this for likes on Instagram or any kind of fame. I’m doing this for success, of course, and to take care of my family, but ever since Prince passed away, I was like, “I’m dedicating myself to positive music.” And it’s a beautiful thing because I’m finding other artists… a new wave of positivity that I think the world really needs right now. We’ve been singing about emo stuff and drugs and depression and those people can still do that, because that’s their lane, but there needs to be a balance. Life is all about the balance and I think where there is darkness and drugs there needs to be happiness and health. That’s what I’m here for.

(This conversation was lightly edited for length and clarity.)

Lizzo, right, performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Sunday October 2, 2016.  Jay Janner/American-Statesman
Lizzo, right, performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Sunday October 2, 2016. Jay Janner/American-Statesman

Surplus ACL Fest water donated to North Carolina hurricane relief efforts

Olivia Stout holds up an American flag while her boyrfriend, Dylan Ionnotti, snaps a photo of Willie Nelson performing on the final day of the second weekend of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 9. 10/09/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Olivia Stout holds up an American flag while her boyrfriend, Dylan Ionnotti, snaps a photo of Willie Nelson performing on the final day of the second weekend of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 9. 10/09/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The Austin Disaster Relief Network, a Christian non-profit organization, partnered with Tito’s Handmade Vodka and C3 Presents, the company behind Austin City Limits Festival, to send two 18-wheelers full of  hurricane relief supplies to Lumberton, North Carolina on Saturday. The community was among the hardest hit by flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew earlier this month, with water service still disrupted late last week.

The first truck contained cleanup supplies, toiletries, clothing and basic necessities donated through drives hosted by ADRN, which connects more than 175 churches around Austin. The second truck was loaded with 19 pallets of surplus canned water from ACL Fest, donated by C3 Presents. Tito’s Handmade Vodka funded the trucks.

“Austinites understand the physical, spiritual and emotional impact of disaster after facing four disasters in the last year and half, including two historic disasters,” Daniel Geraci, Executive Director of Austin Disaster Relief Network, said in a statement. “It’s inspiring that we’re able to use the water from Austin City Limits Music Festival, one of our biggest community events, to support hurricane survivors in North Carolina.”

 

Early bird tickets for ACL Fest 2017 on sale Tuesday

Olivia Stout holds up an American flag while her boyrfriend, Dylan Ionnotti, snaps a photo of Willie Nelson performing on the final day of the second weekend of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 9. 10/09/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Olivia Stout holds up an American flag while her boyrfriend, Dylan Ionnotti, snaps a photo of Willie Nelson performing on the final day of the second weekend of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 9. 10/09/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The sounds of our favorites Austin City Limits Festival 2016 acts are still ringing in our ears, but let’s go ahead and talk about next year. Dates for ACL Fest 2017 are Oct. 6-8 and Oct. 13-15 and the first (cheapest) round of passes for both weekends go on sale Tuesday at 10 a.m. at aclfestival.com.

The lineup for ACL Fest generally comes out in May and single-day passes will go on sale in the summer.

RELATED: The informal Austin360 2016 ACL Awards

ACL Fest 2016 aftermath: Our informal Austin360 Awards

The Austin360 crew awards some favorite — and sometimes less favorite — moments from two weekends at Zilker Park:

Best Video (above): We’re biased, of course, as we shot this one. And technically it wasn’t part of the fest, though it co-stars Margo Price, who lit up the HomeAway stage both weekends. But, really, what could be cooler than Price and Shawn Sahm singing songs that Doug Sahm used to sing, with the sun setting over Doug Sahm Hill in Butler Park? — Peter Blackstock

Lauren Wagner holds a sign on the front row during the LCD Soundsystem concert at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Sunday October 2, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Lauren Wagner holds a sign on the front row during the LCD Soundsystem concert at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Sunday October 2, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Best Reunion: Who cares if they didn’t really break up? LCD Soundsystem, who last played the fest in 2010 right before their sorta-split, felt like a classic headliner. James Murphy and band spun old-school digital dance magic before creating a truly communal moment with a closer of songs like “Someone Great” and “All My Friends.” Major Lazer for the kids;, LCD Soundsystem for the grown-ups. — Eric Webb

Lizzo, middle, performs, at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Sunday October 2, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Lizzo, middle, performs, at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Sunday October 2, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Best Use of Booty (tie): Major Lazer should have reigned supreme in a category that seems tailor-made for the “Bubble Butt” crew, and their four-piece dance team did perform phenomenal gluteal acrobatics. But Lizzo and her Big Girls brought a body-positive, bootylicious celebration that was “Good As Hell.” — Deborah Sengupta Stith

Worst Use of Booty: Die Antwoord’s Ninja showed the audience his butt in the most hostile way possible, like a primate, right before it starts pelting you with poop. — D.S.S.

Sasha Elkhart tries to fill an inflatable chair at ACL Fest weekend on Sunday October 2, 2016. Dave Creaney/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Sasha Elkhart fills an inflatable sofa at ACL Fest on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016. Dave Creaney/American-Statesman

Best Use of Air: We’re talking air sofas, and they have divided our ACL nation. They are large and comfortable looking and seemingly a dream spot to lay a body down for a power nap. They are large and comfortable looking and not very rock ’n’ roll (it’s a fest in a park, not your living room). ACL officials have officially declared them chairs and subject to chair rules. — Sharon Chapman

LISTEN: STATESMAN SHOTS AT ACL FEST, AN IMPORTANT DEBATE ABOUT AIRBEDS

Worst Use of Air: Nature’s delivery of ragweed. Our clogged sinuses will not forgive you, evil pollen. — D.S.S.

Thom Yorke and Radiohead perform on the Samsung Stage during the first weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival on September 30, 2016. (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)
Thom Yorke and Radiohead perform on the Samsung Stage during the first weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival on September 30, 2016. (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)

Best Radiohead Song Played Only Weekend 1: “2+2=5” is Radiohead’s Orwellian protest epic; it builds, whirls, and melts steel beams. During a season of political paranoia and presidential uncertainty, it was a resonant moment of clarity. — Ramon Ramirez

Best Seat in the House: Bathroom lines flowed freely, streaming in and out of new modular bathrooms with two big benefits. No. 1: more bathrooms per square foot and the introduction of urinal trough walls for the guys. No. 2: toilets that flush! (Think: airplane bathrooms.) —Eric Pulsifer

Gallant performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Saturday October 1, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Gallant performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Saturday October 1, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Most Uncontainable Emotion: With his smoldering set closer “Weight In Gold,” R&B artist Gallant kicked over the mustard-colored, mid-century chair that gave his stage a regal feel. He also brutalized a mic stand, convulsed wildly, thrashed ‘til he fell to the ground, and unleashed a falsetto firestorm that seared the moment into all of our hearts. — D.S.S.

Best Form and Function: The sunbrella is a UV-ray shielding miracle — a portable shade provider — that helped us survive the midafternoon sets in style. Once you add it to your fest pack, you’ll never go back. — D.S.S.

Kacey Musgraves performs on the opening weekend of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 2. 10/02/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Kacey Musgraves performs on the opening weekend of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 2. 10/02/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Most Likely to Succeed Willie: One of the biggest stories of ACL 2016 was the triumphant return of Willie Nelson. But his puffing pal (and former Austinite) Kacey Musgraves made her festival debut with an assured set that seemed like she’s been around for a decade. Combining progressive chill with rhinestone twang, Musgraves is watching the throne. — E.W.

Best Guitar Licks: Hundreds of axes were slung over the weekend, but we doubt anyone worked as much texture and color into their playing as Bombino, the Tuareg guitarist who blew our minds. — D.S.S.

Best Off-Campus Event: “Other Voices,” second weekend at Arlyn Studios. The Irish television program’s semi-secret tapings at one of Austin’s most storied recording hubs was a home run for those who had a chance to sneak over Friday through Sunday and catch acts ranging from locals Wild Child to headliners Mumford & Sons. — P.B.

Thom Yorke of Radiohead plays the Samsung Stage at ACL Fest weekend on Friday October 7, 2016. Dave Creaney/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Thom Yorke of Radiohead plays the Samsung Stage at ACL Fest weekend on Friday October 7, 2016. Dave Creaney/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Longest Birthday Party: Thom Yorke was pleased as punch to ring in his 48th year with ACL and Radiohead. Most birthday parties I have been to have more cake and fewer hours of sinister whining. — E.W.

Best Olive Garden-esque Tour of Italy: The 7 p.m., Friday night stack of M83, Flume and Band of Horses. Every set was distinct and lively (oh, I took the tour my friends) and the tail end of Band of Horses — a sturdy unit at the end of a tour — was stunning. — R.R.

Best Veteran Eats: The Mighty Cone, people, the Mighty Cone. We can eat it year-round in Austin these days, but there seems to be something extra special in the sauce when it’s at Zilker Park. — S.C.

A friendly mix of Texas and Oklahoma fans, plus a stray Aggie, take in the Red River Rivalry at the ACL Fest Beer Hall on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Dave Creaney/American-Statesman
A friendly mix of Texas and Oklahoma fans, plus a stray Aggie, take in the Red River Rivalry at the ACL Fest Beer Hall on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Dave Creaney/American-Statesman

Best Moment of Sports Catharsis: The Aggies had this wild, double-overtime win over Tennessee on the fest’s second Saturday. All of those godless maroon-clad fans made sure to let everyone know. — R.R.

St. Paul & the Broken Bones perform at ACL Fest on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. Erika Rich for American-Statesman
St. Paul & the Broken Bones perform at ACL Fest on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. Erika Rich for American-Statesman

Best Dressed Band: You were likely toasty wearing jeans at the fest, so imagine how the sharp-dressed gents of Alabama soul outfit St. Paul and the Broken Bones felt in their snazzy suits. Probably how they looked: hot. Singer Paul Janeway was devastatingly dapper in a fuchsia and teal floral blazer and a pair of golden boots, to match his golden microphone — and voice. — E.P.

Best Fest-Welcoming Vibe: Brett Dennen’s easy-breezy 12:15 p.m. set on the Samsung stage was a perfect way to begin a sunny Sunday afternoon, as a few solid gold ACL Fest dancers could attest. — P.B.

Most Outdated Performance Trope: The encore. Can we go ahead and kill the encore? Over the past 10 years or so it’s evolved from a pure expression of fan love into a forced exercise. Artist leaves the stage without playing biggest hit. Audience is obligated to cheer enthusiastically before artist returns to play said hit. Austin audiences are often a bit lazy — and I’ve seen this play out embarrassingly at club shows too many times. At a tightly structured festival, it just doesn’t make sense. Die Antwoord, Major Lazer and Radiohead are among the artists I watched try to pull off an encore at Zilker. Radiohead was the only one who didn’t immediately hemorrhage half their crowd — and that’s only because they pretended to shut down their set a full 30 minutes early and we all knew they weren’t done. Artists, please play everything you want us to hear. If at that point the crowd really won’t let you go, it will be so much more meaningful for everyone. — D.S.S.

ACL Fest dates are set for October 2017 in Zilker Park

Dax Robol, 2, stares up at the sunset sky from atop his father Ryan's shoulders at the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival in Zilker Park on Oct. 1, 2016. Tom McCarthy Jr. for American-Statesman
Dax Robol, 2, stares up at the sunset sky from atop his father Ryan’s shoulders at the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival in Zilker Park on Oct. 1, 2016. Tom McCarthy Jr. for American-Statesman

Now that the sun has set on the Austin City Limits Music Festival’s 15th year, the dates have been announced for the 2017 event in Zilker Park: Oct. 6-8 and Oct. 13-15.

For now, here’s the festival’s official video recap of 2016’s two weekends:

 

Burning Questions: LCD Soundsystem edition

A LCD Soundsystem headlining show is a pretty safe bet. They were great when they got together in New York 14 years ago, great when they got big in indie dance rock circles through the aughts, great when they called it quits five years ago after a Madison Square Garden farewell concert, and great when they reunited for their “revival tour” (as frontman James Murphy put it) this year.

They were great when they closed out the first ACL Festival weekend last week, and, yes, they were great on Sunday, when they closed out Weekend 2.

So the big questions – “Should have I gone?” “Was it good?” “Should I feel ridiculous if LCD Soundsystem played two shows in eight days in my town and I missed both of them?” – are off the table. How about the small questions:

Q: How close would the Texas A&M flag get to the stage? 

Glow sticks fill the sky as LCD Soundsystem close their set with the song "All My Friends" on the final day of the second weekend of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 9. 10/09/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Glow sticks fill the sky as LCD Soundsystem close their set with the song “All My Friends” on the final day of the second weekend of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 9. 10/09/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

A: Surprisingly close – up next to the Mexican flag and well in front of the Californians and the Swedes. Good on ya, Aggies.

Q: Would Murphy endorse any other ACL Fest acts?

A: Yes.

Murphy: “Anybody see Willie?”

Audience: “Woooooo!”

Murphy: “Excellent.”

Q: Who had a better time, the people on the lawn or those in the VIP platform to the side of the stage?

A: The amount of dancing on the lawn was staggering. One concert-goer worked himself into such a lather that he needed his own splash zone; another pre-emptively cleared people out of the way just as part of his plans to start dancing during the penultimate “Dance Yourself Clean.” On the platform, people seemed much more reserved. Sorry, big shots – you may be drier, and your toes may be un-bounced-upon, but you still missed out.

Q: Is it a good idea to play “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” in the middle of a wild electro dance rock extravaganza?

A: This is a tough one. On one hand, “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” (NYILYBYBMD for short) is a slow torch song, and a strange one at that, so it can’t help to ground the bouncing to a halt.

However, it is a great tune. The crowd belted it out along with Murphy like the cops did that Pogues song in the Wire (if you’re an LCD Soundsystem fan, you probably get that reference). And when they broke from NYILYBYBMD into “Dance Yourself Clean” for the show’s home stretch, it launched the whole show like a slingshot.

So, on balance, yes. “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” does not bring people down.

Q: What’s the best instrument to air-play during an LCD Soundsystem show?

A: What should win – Guitar. Because air-guitar is cool (relatively speaking), and keeping up with the dance beats while still throwing in enough licks and distortion to remind people of the band members’ distant rock and punk roots is an unusually tough job as guitar gigs go.

What will win – The gentleman who kept seamlessly switching from air-keyboards to air-drums and back.

Q: Did any news break during the concert?

A: Yes. Sunday’s show was the band’s last of the year, but they’ll be back on the road in three months promoting a new record with new songs (Audience: “Woooooo!”).

So good news, straw-man-from-the-introduction who missed the show: LCD Soundsystem might be coming back soon to a town near you.

Check them out. They do not disappoint.

ACL Fest review: In defense of Mumford & Sons

The knock against Mumford and Sons is that the U.K. band co-opted American roots rock and turned it into arena shoutalongs for the radio. They may not have heard the stuff until watching “O Brother Where Art Though?” but they finished six days of Austin City Limits with a roaring, populist sendoff on Sunday.

“This might be my favorite festival in the world,” singer Marcus Mumford said, before noting that it was the band’s final 2016 gig. “And you’re going to f*cking dance with us aren’t you?”

If Radiohead (a band that Mumford onstage called the greatest in the world) was an uninviting and pretentious tangle, tonight was highway cruising with respect to offering two hours of clap-ready, earnest work for, well, most people.

That includes a group of international teens, some silver-haired boomers who actually held up lighters and not smartphones, and even a cluster of men with “crew” wristbands.

Marcus Mumford was among the guests who joined Willie Nelson on stage to play "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," at the end of Willie's performance at The Austin City Limits Music Festival on October 9, 2016.  (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)
Marcus Mumford was among the guests who joined Willie Nelson on stage to play “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” at the end of Willie’s performance at The Austin City Limits Music Festival on October 9, 2016. (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)

“I wish the Allman Brothers would come out,” one deadpanned beforehand. Two songs in he was singing along to “Little Lion Man.”

“That’s a lot of people, man,” Mumford said, observing the view.

For “Believe,” an ocean of patrons sung into their iPhones while simultaneously filming strangers doing the same. Like Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior bringing riches to baby Jesus, some apparent EDM ravers blessed the Mumford faithful by throwing glowsticks at strangers. Heal the world and all that.

Sometimes all you need are anthemic “whoa” parts, a fiddle player buried in the mix, and a trombone holding some dank whole notes in second position for several minutes. Can Mumford play with Band of Horses? Of course not, but people will respond to at-your-window romance when it has big choruses and the vulnerability of a late-night text message.

Mumford is a showman who cuts loose and stomps into adoring well-wishers like Bono. But with all the grace of a sloppy wedding where the shirt becomes unbuttoned and you’re diving in. It’s undeniable, even the reaching and handfed “With a Little Help From My Friends” Beatles cover in the style of Joe Cocker at the end. The Haim sisters spread the love, showing up to sing backup vocals on it.

And with a season-changing Samsung set, Mumford and Sons joined the all-time ranks of bands like Coldplay, Goo Goo Dolls, and Journey that write songs you listen to on desktop speakers at work, when you need a good cry.

ACL Fest 2016 review: St. Paul & the Broken Bones get down and rise up

St. Paul &  the Broken Bones perform at ACL Fest on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. Erika Rich for American-Statesman
St. Paul & the Broken Bones perform at ACL Fest on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. Erika Rich for American-Statesman

Was there a more fest-mascot-like performer at this year’s ACL than Paul Janeway of St. Paul & the Broken Bones? OK, maybe Lizzo, who inspired her own crazy cult following across the two weekends of the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park. But Janeway clearly could be her close compadre.

One of the most passionate singers and theatrical performers in Americana music, Janeway threw every bit of himself into the frontman role with his horn-driven Broken Bones backing band late Sunday afternoon on the HomeAway stage. Decked out in a bright red suite with checkerboard trim, the ferocious bandleader was a tour de force of emotion, and the crowd rewarded him by returning his energy in kind.

Some of them seemed to know what was coming, as if they’d been to last weekend’s show, or had seen previous gigs by the Birmingham, Ala., band and knew what Janeway might try to pull off. “Oh, there he goes!”, someone near me remarked when, in the midst of one especially intense number, the singer sank to the stage and gradually rolled himself completely under the drum riser. Eventually he made his way back out, getting tangled up in a giant gold carpet before finally breaking free, crawling to his knees and triumphantly rising again, to uproarious cheers from the crowd.

“Is everybody still with us?”, Janeway shouted about 40 minutes in, and the response assured that they were. “We play a lot of festivals,” he continued, “and I’ve got to be honest, this has ben one of our favorites this year.” He might say that everywhere he goes, but you got the feeling it was genuine, given the love he got back from the fans after nearly every tune in the group’s hourlong set.

Plus, how many of their other festival sets concluded this year with a walk over to an adjacent stage to join in a massive group sing-along with Willie Nelson on “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away?” A ton of the festival’s performers were up there on that stage with Willie, but you sure couldn’t miss the bespectacled jolly good fellow in the bright red suit.

Amanda Shires makes the most of an unfortunate slot at ACL Fest

Amanda Shires performs on the BMI stage at ACL Fest on Oct. 9, 2106. Tom McCarthy Jr. for American-Statesman
Amanda Shires performs on the BMI stage at ACL Fest on Oct. 9, 2106. Tom McCarthy Jr. for American-Statesman

The vast majority of the time, the Austin City Limits Music Festival does an admirable job of avoiding time-slot conflicts between similarly spirited artists. A perfect record is as impossible as guessing fans’ preferences, but it’s clear they work hard at keeping the tough choices to a minimum.

Which is what made Amanda Shires’ 6 p.m. Sunday slot — opposite Willie Nelson  — so baffling. The Nashville-via-Lubbock fiddler and singer-songwriter, who’s made a half-dozen records of her own in addition to playing in her husband Jason Isbell’s band, is a true talent that plenty of roots-music fans who came to see Willie would have greatly appreciated.

A couple hundred or so did catch her set at the BMI stage, as a massive throng descended on the Samsung stage for Willie. They were rewarded with a terrific performance from Shires, who alternated between fiddle and guitar, and her three-piece backing band, a set that spotlighted material from her brand new album “My Piece of Land.”

But just how crazy was it for Shires to be pitted against Willie? She noted that the last time she performed at ACL Fest, she was playing fiddle in the band of Billy Joe Shaver — one of Willie’s closest friends. “I don’t know where he is right now, but I wish he was here,” she said, before adding with a laugh, “He might be over at the Willie Nelson stage!”

Shires certainly took it in stride, joking in a pre-show interview that maybe she could find a creative way to avoid the conflict: “We could just like get him super stoned and see if he misses it.” For ACL Fest’s part, a booker noted that sometimes similar acts are scheduled for the same time to help relieve potential overcrowding at one of the stages.

Whether that was the case here was unclear, but the outcome was that not enough people got to hear Shires go hard for the heart with a Dolly-esque vocal on “Devastate”; rip through a blazing fiddle solo in the middle of “Look Like a Bird”; and pledge beautiful, bluesy love on the new album’s resolute yet tender closing track, “You Are My Home.”

By the end of her set, it was easy to imagine that Willie himself might well have wanted to hear her.

 

ACL Fest: Your first Willie Nelson show, according to an Austin native

I was born and raised in Austin, Texas, the live music capital of the world. I had never seen Willie Nelson in concert until Sunday.

It wasn’t too hard a feat to accomplish. I am not from a country music family. I am not from the kind of folks who drink from the well of our city’s reputation — we did not do “weird,” nor red-headed strangers and cosmic cowboys. I did not know what weed smelled like until I was 18.

Willie Nelson plays the Samsung Stage at ACL Fest weekend on Sunday October 9, 2016. Dave Creaney/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Willie Nelson plays the Samsung Stage at ACL Fest weekend on Sunday October 9, 2016. Dave Creaney/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

But I know the score. Willie’s legend looms as large over Austin as the spirit of Texas itself. I should know; I write about him all the time for work. With a reputation to protect and a soul to save, my sole wish for Austin City Limits Music Festival’s 15th year could only be granted at 6 p.m., Sunday, weekend two. Willie, or bust. And it looked like a lot of ACL had the same idea.

Olivia Stout holds up an American flag while her boyrfriend, Dylan Ionnotti, snaps a photo of Willie Nelson performing on the final day of the second weekend of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 9. 10/09/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Olivia Stout holds up an American flag while her boyrfriend, Dylan Ionnotti, snaps a photo of Willie Nelson performing on the final day of the second weekend of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 9. 10/09/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

A cult assembled at the Samsung stage, and shortly after the hour struck, the video screens piped in adulation from fellow fest acts Conor Oberst, Raury, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Local Natives, RZA (most strangely) and Ray Benson (most sweetly). Kind as it was, that presentation soon evaporated from memory with the only celebrity appearance that could top the inherent excitement of pending Willie.

Matthew McConaughey, doing his best John the Baptist. Not long after he rolled out the burnt orange carpet, bidding the crowd to give a “big, badass rowdy hello and welcome,” the main event sauntered out, doffed his hat and got to business. For such a milestone, it felt as casual as a bandana wrapped around braids.

Matthew McConaughey joined Willie Nelson and a group of special guests on stage to sing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," as the finale for Willie's performance at The Austin City Limits Music Festival on October 9, 2016. (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)
Matthew McConaughey joined Willie Nelson and a group of special guests on stage to sing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” as the finale for Willie’s performance at The Austin City Limits Music Festival on October 9, 2016. (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)

Trigger and Willie, who’ve obviously been down the road with each other more than a few times, shot out of the gate with “Whiskey River” and “Still Is Still Moving To Me.” The sweet fight in Willie’s voice was unmistakable. The tumbling twang of his strings, even if I hadn’t heard them from guitar to ear before, lit up deeply felt memories of a Texas life, from Gruene Hall trips to Hays County fairs at Christmas to radio waves in my grandpa’s truck on trips from Round Rock to Luling. Even the clouds of pot smoke tasted just like I’d always hoped they would.

What, you thought the sun wouldn’t noticeably go down when Willie gave it a lyrical nudge on “Night Life”? I heard a woman many yards away cheering with so much frenzy that she was gargling her screams into the golden hour. Willie threw one out for Merle — “It’s All Going To Pot” — and one for Waylon — “Good Hearted Woman.” He played the songs you want him to play, like “Crazy” and “Georgia On My Mind.” A streak of Austin hymns moved with the spirit: “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” “On the Road Again,” “Always On My Mind.” On the second song, two little girls in front of me braided their hair. Did they know …?

I didn’t listen to these songs growing up, but they must have seeped in by osmosis. The words formed in my mouth as surely as Willie sang ’em.

Willie Nelson Throws a bandana into the crowd from the Samsung Stage at ACL Fest weekend on Sunday October 9, 2016. Dave Creaney/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Willie Nelson Throws a bandana into the crowd from the Samsung Stage at ACL Fest weekend on Sunday October 9, 2016. Dave Creaney/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“Here’s a new gospel song we wrote,” Willie said toward the end of the hour. Of course, it was “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.” But fittingly for this church boy, such a religious experience ended with a little gospel. Willie got his own choir, sans robes, for “I’ll Fly Away.” Rateliff, Margo Price and members of Local Natives and Mumford & Sons came on stage for back-up. Couldn’t steal the man’s show, though. He saved “I Saw the Light” for himself, the audience and the Good Lord.

Willie Nelson is joined by a group of musicians performing at the festival and special guests to sing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," as the finale for his performance at The Austin City Limits Music Festival on October 9, 2016. (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)
Willie Nelson is joined by a group of musicians performing at the festival and special guests to sing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” as the finale for his performance at The Austin City Limits Music Festival on October 9, 2016. (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)

With a few red bandanas flung, a red-white-and-blue guitar strap tossed, goodbye waves distributed to the park and hands shaken with McConaughey and Mayor Steve Adler, Willie was off. He wasn’t a headliner at this year’s ACL, but he was a king.

More accurately, he was ACL’s grandpa, and this was the family reunion. Those of us who weren’t yet in the family still got an invite. And even though none of us brought a side-dish, Willie still made us feel at home.