Appearing in slightly smaller print on the festival poster but making a big impact on the weekend, these five artists embodied the bench strength of this year’s ACL Weekend 1 lineup and why every fan should brave the heat for the early performances during Weekend 2. In addition to seeing these artists perform live I was fortunate enough to catch up with a few of them and learn more about their music, influences, future plans and much more.
Anthony Watkins II, known professionally as Mobley, took the stage in the earliest time-slot available on Saturday morning and braved the heat for an inspiring performance. Operating as a one-man-band based in Austin, Mobley plays every instrument not only on his released music, but in his live performances. Shifting between keys, guitar, drums and a sample-pad, all while singing, Mobley quickly earned the respect of the audience and did nothing but garner growing praise from the crowd throughout his set. Most notable in his performance was the creation of a “human drum machine” which
allowed Mobley to trigger drum samples simply by tapping random audience members’ hands (who had been brought on stage) as they held them in the air.
Mobley playing his “human drum machine” on members of the audience. | Marshall Heins II/Cooglife
Jackson Stell, a.k.a. Big Wild, hails from Massachusetts but has embraced the California dream turned reality of creating and performing music as a full-time career. Making his debut at ACL on Friday afternoon in the “Tito’s Tent,” the electronic music producer packed the audience with a rambunctious fan-base and showcased his ability to engage the crowd through live instruments, a unique alternative to the sometimes stagnant performances of today’s DJ community, who rely on visual effects to engage audiences beyond the music.
This duo, comprised of Eric Peana and Delwin Campbell (who also go by Potion and P. Sugz), is truly something unique. As Austin natives, they have embraced the city’s motto of “Keep Austin Weird” and enlisted an extensive group of collaborators who share the same mantra. These include Papa Mongoose, Zod, Bambi, Moan, Oolaf, MC RuDi Devino and KD Kinetic, among others. Gracing the “Tito’s Tent” with their presence early Saturday, the duo, along with various collaborators, served up some delicious funk-house-disco-jams . . . and pancakes — real pancakes, cooked in real time, on stage.
Whitney, riding the success of the most recent album, “Light Upon the Lake,” released last year, graced Zilker park with their presence Sunday afternoon at one of the few stages that provided fans with a bit of shade. The smooth indie-rock, soothingly high vocals from front man Julien Erlich, and much needed shade made for a perfect hour to ease through Saturday’s hangover and back into festival mode. Erlich, too, claimed to be battling a vicious hangover from the night before, stating mid-set that it took nearly five songs of their performance that day to stop feeling so hungover. Despite the aching from earlier in the weekend, the band managed to fill its time slot with good vibes, great music and happy fans.
Vanderwaal, who won last year’s season of “America’s Got Talent” at only 12 years old, brought an abundance of youth, energy and excitement to the stage for her 1:00 p.m slot on Saturday afternoon. Despite the heat and the early set, the audience was packed with kids and adults alike. With vocal prowess years beyond her age and a stage presence reflecting that of a veteran musician, Vanderwaal entertained both new listeners’ and longer standing fans. In particular, a young boy named Garrett was entertained with a special birthday shout out and rendition of the classic “Happy Birthday” tune that left the crowd speechless. Still in the very early stages of her career, Vanderwall quickly learned during her set the amount of stamina required of musicians who command the stage and provide fans with a choreographed performance, applauding the likes of Ariana Grande and others. After performing songs from her latest album and several new tunes, Vanderwaal thanked the audience and sent them on their way for a weekend of fun.