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Austin City Limits kicked off on Friday morning to a healthy crowd. 

The iconic Austin staple is back in full swing following COVID-19. However, the lineup is notably not as jaw-dropping as it has been in years prior, according to online discourse (and personal opinion). However, this is not to say that Austin City Limits has fallen by the wayside. 

Want to know my personal theory? The pandemic ensured that live music was the first industry to be shut down and the last to come back up. As a result, all artists of every size have to cancel their tours and performances, the main source of income for most musicians in this modern day. Now that things are returning to a sense of normalcy, anyone that did not tour is on the road. Usually, artists aren’t all out at once. Tours are staggered. But now, it’s not uncommon to see multiple acts in your city in the same week, even on the same day. Festivals were eager to snatch up any of the musicians’ open days for their events, and even well-established gatherings like Austin City Limits must have had a hard time booking a lot of A-listers. 

Asleep at the Wheel

But with that being said, there’s still plenty to see! I started off the day right with Asleep at the Wheel. They opened their set with “Miles and Miles of Texas,” getting their biggest hit out of the way at once before diving into the rest of their catalog. Although they only played for 45 minutes, they managed to hit a  lot of beats before closing with “Texas Playboys Theme.” 

Photo by Ashley Osborn

Noah Cyrus

Next on my personal list was Noah Cyrus. The young starlet has a voice startlingly similar to that of her older sister. However, she has settled into a very different genre and vocal style to the point that the two sisters are easy to distinguish. The crowd swayed to “Again,” a song recorded with the late XXXTentacion. Although the audience wasn’t overwhelmingly large, it didn’t seem to matter to them. All it meant was more room to dance. She finished her set with a beautiful rendition of “July,” a song that gained even more internet success following the addition of Leon Bridges as a collaborator. 

Photo by Rachel Osborn

Carly Rae Jepsen

One thing I must note is the effort many artists put into their sets this year. Carley Rae Jepson, for example, performed among clouds, a rocket ship, and giant dangling stars. She kept the more casual fans waiting for her 2012 Hit “Call Me Maybe” until the middle of her set, convincing enough of them to stay by the time she reached that point. Her energy was excellent, jumping around as she performed a well-balanced set. 

Photo by Pooneh Ghana

SZA

SZA was one of the largest draws to Friday night’s date. She opened with “All the Stars” from the top of a classic re-and-white lighthouse to the cheers of a packed audience. She stayed at the top for “Supermodel,” only descending the ladder before starting “Gina.” This was another performer people had been itching to dance to. SZA’s stage presence was undeniable, surrounded by an all-black company of dancers and musicians. She kept the crowd laughing, oversharing between songs with details that bordered between relatable and absurd. Overall, her performance was one of the most entertaining of the night. 

Photo by Roger Ho

The Chicks

The act of the night was The Chicks. Their 2020 name change has done nothing to diminish their recognizability. If anything, it seems to have earned them the respect of more fans than ever before. Old and young, country and other, danced together to hits like “Cowboy Take Me Away” and “Wide Open Spaces.” A speel fell across the crowd halfway through the set as The Chicks covered Beyonce, Fleetwood Mac and Patty Griffin. The night closed fittingly with “Goodbye Earl.” 

If you like the sound of the acts above, consider checking out Austin City Limits next weekend.

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