AUSTIN — Day 2 of the 10th annual Austin City Limits Music Festival brought a much-welcomed rain, unwelcome humidity and slightly smaller crowds than Day 1. The late-afternoon shower added some desperately-needed moisture to the painfully dry Zilker Park festival grounds, which have fell victim to the same drought that has enraptured much of Texas for the better part of summer. Indeed — the dry conditions, battering sun and long hours of daylight have resulted in a “burn ban” during the festival weekend as the city finds itself in the midst of Stage 2 water restrictions. (Want a glass of water at a bar or restaurant? You’re going to have to ask — maybe twice.)
Stevie Wonder and My Morning Jacket occupied the top spots on Saturday night, usually considered the premier time slots of any 3-Day festival. And while My Morning Jacket was a relentless, hard-rocking machine during its 90-minute set, Wonder was quite the opposite across the park. Taking the stage 20 minutes late with little fanfare, Wonder jammed out Motown standards like “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You” and Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” in a set plagued with sound issues. The ’70s icon alternated between keytar and keyboards and preached a sizable amount of Christian, political and social themes between songs that elicited mixed reactions from the fiercely independent and self-proclaimed “weird” Austinites.
For all the appeals of seeing a living legend like Wonder on stage before your eyes, he simply failed to compete with the rock ‘n’ roll juggernaut of My Morning Jacket and songs like “Mahgeetha” reaching for the heavens several hundred yards away. Later that night, during one of the many downtown after-shows, Bright Eyes front man Conor Oberst thanked his crowd at Stubb’s Waller Creek Amphitheatre for “…leaving My Morning Jacket to come see us — though you made the wrong choice.”
The unexpected highlight of the day was Australian indie-pop quartet Cut Copy. With the second-to-last set on the main stage, Cut Copy took its seemingly too-large billing and owned it entirely. Part fundamental new wave, part dance punk, songs like “Take Me Over” from 2011’s “Zonoscope” kickstarted the rain-soaked crowd.
Late in the evening, Brooklyn rockers TV on the Radio played hard and fast to a sizable crowd on the Google+ stage, the unofficial indie-rock stage. Lead singer Tunde Adebimpe proved an electrifying front man, flanked by guitarists Kyp Malone to his right and David Andrew Sitek to his left. Opener “Halfway Home” set the tone for the complex performance, building steadily to a massive sing-along that came during “Wolf Like Me,” the single that first broke the band five years ago.
The first half of the day was dominated by all things folk, for better or worse. Alison Krauss and Union Station brought frenetic bluegrass picking to the Bud Light stage while singer Abigail Washburn played an intimate set on the Vista Equity stage under tent enclosure. Midday showers sent many shelter-seekers to Washburn’s performance, and the throngs of concertgoers sitting Indian style in the grass under the tent turned the massive festival into an intimate space. Famed singer-songwriter Gillian Welch ran 30 minutes behind schedule after Washburn, sending the majority of her expectant audience to other stages.
Elsewhere, folk music wore an indie-rock hat in the form of Seattle’s Moondoggies and Canada’s City and Colour. Both bands with modest afternoon sets offered a breather with affable background music, if nothing else.
Sadly, the much-talked-about collaboration between the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Del McCoury Band did nothing but cheapen the legacy of both groups. Part road show, part variety hour, part mash-up — the set never truly got off the ground. Each group would take turns on abbreviated songs, then join the other — adding horns to a classic bluegrass stomp, or banjo and fiddle to a jazz standard. It was gimmicky, at best, and the audience would have been better served with two unique sets from the two otherwise unrelated groups.
Andy Beam is a New York photogrpaher and a new contributor to Reverb.