In the months that follow Coachella’s opening weekend, music festival fever sweeps the nation. From coast to coast thousands gather in open fields and parking lots to listen to eclectic lineups of musicians trying to please their existing fans while making some new ones in the process. Although it feels like a bubble waiting to pop, 2019 still saw plenty of festivals packing in audiences all across the country… just not in Houston.
There’s no need to rehash Houston’s troubled relationship with music festivals again. This is a city founded on a bayou, and if we can build the most diverse city in the nation on a swamp, perhaps, in time, we can trick someone into gambling on Houston weather not ruining their big weekend. Until then, one of the best major music festivals in the country happens to be only a few hours down the road.
Austin City Limits Music Festival has been around since 2002, and in the last few years it’s done a great job breaking away from the festival pack by booking lineups based not just on virality but on great tunes as well. With other big festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Bonnaroo featuring headliners that are very of the moment, ACL favors legit rock icons as part of their offerings, which makes for more compelling and interesting schedules. Sure, they’ve got their mix of modern stars as well, but it’s their forward thinking in looking to the past that has really strengthened the brand.
ACL may be the one festival that truly has something for everyone, so with that in mind here are our picks for who to check out this year, from the biggest of bands to the new names you might not know.
Rock Legends: The Cure
For all the doom and gloom their look suggests, few bands have ever balanced the sad and the sublime as well as goth icons The Cure. The group recently entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and spent the summer doing festivals around the world; their ACL appearance marks their first performance in Texas in over three years. Whether “Boys Don’t Cry” is a personal anthem, “Lovesong” has a permanent home on your makeout mixes, or you simple enjoy the joy of “Friday, I’m in Love,” you’re going to get the hits and then some. They are a band you want to appreciate while you’ve still got the chance.
See Also: Guns N’ Roses. This might be your best shot to see your favorite mercurial frontman without having to worry about the show starting two hours late.
Current Star: Childish Gambino
Is Donald Glover really going to retire his Childish Gambino moniker? That news came out over a year ago, yet he returns to Austin still rocking that name and the songs that made him one of the most loved figures in modern music. Even those who may not appreciate his rapping or his singing have to admit that he’s an excellent showman, putting together headlining shows and festival performances that are stunning in their presentation. You’ve never seen a crowd respond the way Gambino crowds respond when “This is America” kicks in.
See Also: Billie Eilish. Yes, she does have a headline Houston date in between ACL gigs, but there’s something to be said about witnessing a rising star rock a crowd of 30,000 festival goers.
Houston’s Own: Lizzo
In 2016, Lizzo was the first artist to hit the Honda stage—one of the festival’s two main stages—on Sunday morning. In front of a crowd of a few hundred, she performed like she was a headliner, giving all of herself in the time she was given. It was the type of performance that wins over every set of eyes there to witness it. She returns to the festival this year with a prime evening slot, the direct support to Cardi B (weekend one) and Robyn (weekend two) and the owner of one of the most popular songs of the year, “Truth Hurts.” What a difference a few years makes.
See Also: Megan Thee Stallion. God willing a cold front will have blown into Texas before ACL kicks off, but “Hot Girl Summer” really is a state of mind.
Right at Home: Joseph
Before ACL was amping up their hard rock and hip-hop offerings, most folks thought of it as more of a folk festival. While Joseph do have their edge—“Good Luck, Kid” is one of the low-key best rock songs of the year—their musical roots are very much in that folk realm. This trio of sisters have some of the best harmonies going right now and a catalog of songs that display them splendidly. Looking for an easy in to their work? Check out their lovely cover of the Tears for Fears classic “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
See Also: The School of Rock. Every year kids get their first taste of the world of music festivals, and we should all support the next generation of musicians.
Crossover Sensation: Faye Webster
Earlier this year Faye Webster released her third studio album, Atlanta Millionaires Club, to glowing reviews, and for good reason: It’s a gem of a record. Her blend of throwback country and folk with a modern R&B twist works better and goes down smoother than other country/hip-hop adjacent projects released this year, delivering hooks that’ll stick in your brain long after you’re done streaming them. A potential star in the making, get on the bandwagon now so you’ll look cooler if and when she blows up down the line.
See Also: Kacey Musgraves. You don’t need me to sell you on seeing the best thing going on in country music today.
Austin City Limits Music Festival, Oct. 4–6 and 11–13, 2019. For more information and tickets, visit aclfestival.com.