Matthew McConaughey introduces Willie Nelson as Mumford & Sons and LCD Soundsystem close Austin City Limits

It would be hard to imagine Austin City Limits ending any more perfect than how the 15th edition went out Sunday night. The day’s lineup was just as diverse as the first two days featuring up and coming hip hop artists, rock and funk bands and massive headliners but it was the presence of Austin’s own Willie Nelson that made it seem truly special.

At age 83, Nelson is one of the most influential and pioneering music artists of all time. The anticipation and energy around the festival seemed to all be about Willie on Sunday and his performance did not disappoint.

The headliners on Sunday night provided perhaps the most difficult decision of the weekend. Mumford and Sons or LCD Soundsystem?

These two massive bands played even grander sets to close out the festival. On one end of Zilker Park, you had LCD’s thumping bass and James Murphy‘s voice serenading the Austin sky. On the other was Mumford’s twanging banjo, Marcus Mumford‘s incredible voice and a new found rock energy. There was no wrong choice to be made and both brought the set that this incredible Festival deserved to close it out.

Here’s a round up of some of the best the final day of Austin City Limits had to offer.

Photo: Cambria Harkey
Photo: Cambria Harkey

Willie Nelson

Perhaps Austin’s favorite son, Nelson has performed hundreds, maybe thousands of concerts in his hometown. But there was a little something special about his ACL set on Sunday.

Right before Willie took the stage, a man in a backwards baseball bat and a burnt orange t-shirt came on stage to introduce him. That man, was maybe Austin’s second favorite son Matthew McConaughey. It quickly became apparent this wasn’t just a concert, it was a celebration.

The eruption of the near 100,000 people in attendance was maybe the loudest of the festival. The crowd spanned generations just like Nelson has. Young kids in their teens were singing along with fans that had been following Nelson for over five decades.
Nelson ran through his incredible catalog with hits like “On the Road Again”, “Whiskey River”, “Mommas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and more but also touched on his perfect country covers of “Crazy”, “Georgia On My Mind,” and tributes to his past friends Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings.

The energy of the show was mind-blowing for a concert being led by an 83 year old. But what was most clear was this was a very special moment for Willie.

He took extra moments on stage soaking it and and embracing the moment.
Nelson has been doing this since the 1950s and sixty years later he hasn’t slowed down. But eventually time will catch up. Nelson knew this, his band knew this, the incredible VIP talent gathered at the side of the stage knew it and the crowd knew it. It was a celebration of everything about Nelson’s music, career and life. It was a moment no one in the audience will ever forget and surely Willie won’t either.

Photo: Cambria Harkey
Photo: Cambria Harkey

Mumford and Sons

Mumford and Sons blew up on the scene seven years ago and their evolution into becoming one of the biggest rock bands in the world has been incredible.

Six years ago I was lucky enough to be front row and center at one of Bonnaroo’s small side stages to see a new folk-rock-bluegrass band I had heard of. The crowd spilled over into the nearest secondary stage and the band was blown away saying it might be the largest crowd they had ever performed in front of. That day I was introduced to what amazing performers they are. Their incredible talent mixed with Mumford’s signature, pitch perfect voice created a sound that is energy packed and exhilarating.

Now three albums, six years and massive success I was seeing Mumford in front of an audience ten times that size. The crowds are not the only thing that has grown. Their talent, sound, and presence has become massive. Their evolution in their latest album Wilder Mind has put them on the level with the best rock bands playing today. In the past going to a Mumford and Sons show was going to be a toe tapping, bluegrass folk show. Now it is on par with bands like the Foo Fighters and Muse in terms of production and rock out moments.

Their growth in popularity and notoriety hasn’t seemed to effect their humility on stage. Marcus Mumford may be one of the most warm, welcome and likeable lead singer in music. His connection to the audience, smile and energy brings their show as much energy as any instrument.

Sunday nights show spanned their entire catalog. They began with “Snake Eyes”, a single from their latest album which perfectly encapsulated their evolution of sound. Their slow folk sound greeted the anticipating crowd but as the song hit it’s chorus, the lights beamed from the stage and their new electric rocking sound erupted. We weren’t at a folk show, we were about to rock.

They didn’t shy from playing their early hits which were met with incredible responses. “The Cave”, “Little Lion Man”, and “”I Will Wait” created amazing moments for the 100,000 plus in attendence to jump up and down and sing together.
How they decided to end the festival was an absolute perfect call. Inviting up the band HAIM and Gregory Porter, they closed the fest with a collaboration of Joe Cocker‘s cover of the Beatles “With A Little Help From My Friends”. The choice of this song and to include musicians of completely contrasting styles and to have the audience be just as part of the song as they were was everything you could ever want to close out a festival.

The growth of Mumford and Sons is something I wouldn’t have been able to predict seven years ago and I don’t know if anyone could have. But it is definitely deserved and an incredible treat to have witnessed. They couldn’t have chosen a better band to play the final note of this incredible festival.

Photo: Cambria Harkey
Photo: Cambria Harkey

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

2016 is the year of Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. They were everywhere this year on the festival circuit, playing Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits. Their infectious sound and ability to get the crowd moving has made their crowds grow larger and larger each fest. And on Sunday, Nathaniel Rateliff was met with nearly 100,000 people “Ooh’ing” and clapping in the afternoon sun.

Their set was an absolute blast. Their soulful sound and big band presence makes them one of the most talented acts at the festival. Rateliff’s incredible voice and roar created some of the most soulful moments of the weekend and their closing number “S.O.B” created one of the best sing along moments of the entire weekend.

They have absolutely blown up this year and you can tell all of this attention and acclaim is new to them. But their incredible show they put on Sunday afternoon shows they are prepared to take advantage of every moment they have.
This band isn’t going anywhere but up from here.

Ra Ra Riot

The New York indie rock band played in the middle of a hot afternoon but lead singer Wes Miles‘ outstanding voice gathered a constantly growing crowd. As they played their newest single “Water”, the crowd had doubled in size and they had surely gained hundreds of new fans.

Photo: roho foto
Photo: roho foto

Gallant

Walking by the Honda stage I heard some incredible notes and infectious soul resonating from one of the festivals biggest stages. This was all courtesy of Washington D.C. R&B artist Gallant. The young 24 year old had an amazing soul/funk band behind him and brought to mind comparisons to Maxwell, Seal and Frank Ocean. It was a curious time slot to see him in the middle of the afternoon, but the soul he was giving everyone took them to the deepest parts of a cool dark night. Gallant is a true talent to keep an eye on.

Keep an eye out later this week for my full round up and my best five acts of ACL Fest.