If Austin City Limits (ACL) 2016 Day One felt like a dream (80 degree weather, family friendly, short lines, Radiohead) Day Two was a rude wake up call that three-day music festivals can be werk werk werk. Texas’ legendary heat and humidity was in full effect with grey skies threatening to rain down on the parade of shirtless frat boys and frat girls with barely there shorts who seemed to double the crowd size from the previous day. The result was not a bad one, just a more “spirited” one (both in mood and Miller Lite consumption) with the emphasis shifting more towards a Zilker Park kegger with 75,000 of your closest friends whom you call “bro.”
Ironically, 21-year-old Lucy Dacus is from that party-hearty age group, but is clearly on the outside looking in. The Virginia singer/songwriter has been branded with that “old soul” tag, playing a brand of grungy alt-rock tinged with pinch of alt-country twang. The doe-eyed and precocious Dacus, held her guitar to her side like a security blanket before leading her four man band into her hit single “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” a hook-laced statement song about “identity” that many of her passing peers too busy posing for Instagram pics should take as a “mantra.”
The UT (University of Texas) flocked to DJ Mustard’s club heavy anthems like $4 Boilermakers as the LA-producer rattled off hits like Rihanna’s smash “Needed Me,” Drake’s “Pop Style” and Travis Scott’s “Antidote.”
Meanwhile, the old Longhorn alumni were gathered at the Samsung stage for a hip hop history lesson being taught by Z-Trip. The mad mash-up professor schooled the crowd with classics from Biz Markie to the Beastie Boys before calling up the legendary LL Cool J as the keynote rapper. The ageless Queens MC is known more as a B-rate TV actor and host now, but that all his CBS sins were forgiven when he busted out a few bars of his 1990 hit “Mama Said Knock You Out.”
The spry, buff, LL clearly has taken care of himself as he’s pushing 50 and his pop-rap anthems “Doin It,” “Loungin (Who Do Ya Luv),” and “Around the Way Girl” still hold up, but his over-exaggerated winking and endless lip-licking came off as more creepy uncle than virile playboy when he handed out long-stem roses during “I Need Love.”
AlunaGeorge and Melanie Martinez take a vastly different approach to making pop-inflected, girl power anthems, but both provide must-watch shows that appeal to the 16-year-old in all of us.
While, the massive student body migrated to HomeAway stage for The Chainsmokers, the rest of the crowd posted up at the Samsung stage (clearly the best of the two days) to stake out their spot for Kendrick Lamar. I was not sure what to expect, not from the incendiary Compton rapper who is not afraid to speak his mind, but from the Central Texas, majority white crowd.
To my surprise it was nothing like I had envisioned. As soon as the 29-year-old rapper came out firing with “Can’t Hide Love,” the largely teen and twenty-something crowd scat-rapped along with Lamar as he unleashed powerful songs about race, freedom, and fame, while backed by the amazing Wesley Theory fourpiece band.
It was quite a sight to behold as video screens flashed a loop of former president and favorite Texas son George W. Bush stumbling out of a limo and images of Ron and Nancy Regan, while Lamar stalked the stage, holding onto a mic like a Molotov cocktail, sweat pouring off him as he flashed a wry gunslingers’ grin. It brought to mind that famous quote from White Man Can Jump, when Wesley Snipes tells Woody Harrelson, “Look man, you can listen to Jimi but you can’t hear him. There’s a difference man. Just because you’re listening to him doesn’t mean you’re hearing him.”
Whether the Austin crowd were just mimicking or actual understanding what the social raptivist was saying might not be the point at all, but the connection was definitely real, making it the most memorable image on Day Two of ACL.