10. Valerie June
Valerie June has always operated in a folk and bluegrass framework, which made her a natural fit for the roots-focused bill of Tito’s Handmade Vodka stage. But her ability to vocally surge forward like a breaking dam, then streamline it into the bend of a river gave her an otherworldliness that continues to set her apart from others in her field. A kiss-off rumination like opener “Somebody to Love” would have worked just as well in the surrounding wilderness as it did under a tent with a pitch-perfect backing band of shit-kickers.
09. Mondo Cozmo
Sometimes a musical act finds their footing after releasing their first album. That’s not a knock on Mondo Cozmo‘s debut, Plastic Soul, which brims with catchiness and heartland muscle. But the album relies a touch more on mood and synths than the band’s live show, a mutating beast whose sound seems to grow with the size of the audience. The ACL crowd was easily twice as big as the one at Lollapalooza just two months earlier, pushing anthems such as “Chemical Dream” and “Shine” to new Springsteenian heights. Granted, Josh Ostrander has always taken his cues from The Boss, but in terms of scope alone, there’s a huge difference between Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. and Born to Run. Lately, Mondo Cozmo has been reaching for the latter.
08. Everything on the BMI stage
Not every act on the BMI stage hailed from Austin, but the festival’s tiniest stage seemed committed to showcasing the spirit of strangeness—something that gets celebrated on a daily basis in the capital of the Lone Star State. Robert Ellis‘ latest band, Traveller, explored the humorous side of range life; Spencer Ludwig elevated his lighthearted funk from novelty to virtuosity with his trumpet work; and Luke Combs adorned his pop-country songwriting with enough eccentricities to reclaim that genre’s formerly good name. “Keep Austin weird” is a phrase that gets thrown around so much, it’s hard to tell what it even means anymore. The BMI stage’s answer would likely be “Keep Austin inventive.”
Rap and R&B play home to plenty of weirdos these days, but D.R.A.M. still manages to be in a class all his own. Crooning to the point of near-parody, he’s too goofy to ever be James Blake, Frank Ocean, or The Weeknd. After all, darkness usually isn’t your forte when you sing about WiFi, Ubers, and the finer points of bagels with lox. That’s why it made sense to put D.R.A.M. on ACL’s Honda Stage in the blazing afternoon sun. Decked out in flip-flops, a bathrobe, and sunglasses rimmed with golden palm trees, he came into his own as a potential future headliner here, hosting a party as much as he was performing a show. When he left the stage for a quick change after “Caretaker”, he made sure his piano man kept the crowd entertained with some ivory-tickling. When there seemed to be a lull, he kept up the energy by reminding everyone to love their mama. And when the audience screamed for his most popular song, you’re goddamn right he closed out his set with “Broccoli”.
06. Carson McHone
While country is only part of the sonic equation in Austin, there’s no denying that, when most folks think of the type of music to come out of Texas’ capital, they probably think of someone like Carson McHone. A purveyor of no-cheese, no-bullshit honky tonk, she and her songs conjured the sounds of beer mugs clinking and peanut shells being crushed under boots. Neither of those things existed in the dimly lit Tito’s tent, but a well-deep voice, crackerjack backing band, and salty song titles like “Dram Shop Girl” and “Maybe They’re Just Really Good Friends” do wonders for the imagination.