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OK, this is where we really start to kick our quest of previewing and introducing every act on this year’s ACL Fest bill to you into high-gear. This is also the post where I’m not necessarily recommending certain acts to you as you hopefully plan your own schedule of shows for that joyous weekend. Come on, it’s impossible to like every single performer out of 130 or more, right? Right. Remember, this isn’t an exercise in me suggesting who you have to include on your must-see list. In fact, some of these artists are entering my consciousness for the first time, even. This is just me, setting a lofty goal and hoping to reach it. There are going to be more acts in the future that we discuss, but I won’t be planning to catch, because they’re just not my thing.

OK, now that’s out of the way, let’s dig a bit, shall we? When a line-up has as many bands as this one does, it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking that certain styles or genres are getting featured more prominently than others might be, but, as soon as you think you’ve decided that electro-pop is the favored style for the festival, you delve further into the line-up and see other trends develop. Such was the case for me. Turns out, there’s a serious amount of rootsy, female talent on this year’s docket, so let’s take a look…

Alison Krauss & Union Station: Not much to say here that hasn’t been said a million times before. It’s certainly a good thing that she’s back with her killer band and doing what has gained her more Grammy nods than almost anyone in history. Her Raising Sand album and tour with Robert Plant from a couple of years ago was certainly a massive success, but it’s nice to have her back doing her style of bluegrass. Her new album Paper Airplane has been hailed as one of the year’s best, and for good reason.

Gillian Welch:This is where it gets tricky. It’s tough to not enjoy Welch’s work. Her voice has a ghostly distinction that will never allow her songs to be confused with anyone else’s. And that’s great. Since her breakthrough eight years ago, she’s been on the top of everyone’s list of greatest modern roots artists. With the recently released The Harrow & the Harvest, she’s seemingly cemented that stature with reviews that have raved about her ability to live up to the hype that has built since her debut. Yes, it’s a solid album, and I imagine that as long as her set doesn’t directly conflict with an act that I just have to catch, I’ll head over to her stage, but… I’m not getting it. I’m not seeing why this album is being handed the title for Album of 2011 already by so many outlets. Maybe I’ll change my mind after catching a song or two in Austin.

The Secret Sisters: OK, this one isn’t even tricky. This one’s easy. OVERRATED (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap) OVERRATED (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap). I caught them in Denton earlier this year, and their set basically put me to sleep and I don’t exactly dig their odd, forced need to look as retro as they want to sound.

Wanda Jackson: the Queen of Rock & Roll and one of Jack White’s recent restoration projects has seen her star re-rise in the last year. Word has it that her performances are inconsistent in terms of general quality, but, hey, any chance you get to see a legend on-stage doing her thing, you need to take it.

To round this category out, here’s a few others to look out for when it comes to the rootsy female…

  • Abigail Washburn & the Village (Gets all kinds of crazy with a banjo)
  • Ruby Jane (A young, immensely talented Texan that made quite the impression at last year’s ACL Fest when she sat in with Local Natives and tore it up on violin).
  • The Greencards (Former Austinites from England and Australia led by one of the best voices in roots music, Kym Warner)

We’re serious. We’re going to sit here and discuss EVERY band that is scheduled to play this year’s ACL Festival in September. It’s going to happen. Don’t believe us? Don’t think it can happen? Just keep watching. We dare you.

For those that have been living under a rock for the last couple of years, Fleet Foxes are a big deal. They become bearded indie-darlings after the release of the pastoral, harmonic debut album, and with the recent Sub Pop release of the even more harmonically stellar Helplessness Blues, they’ve become the CSNY of the current hipster generation.

Hailing from the rainy Northwest, Robin Pecknold and crew did what many suspected might not be possible. make many forget about the first album. Not that anyone will, mind you, but they can if they want to. That’s how great the new disc is. They built upon their vibe without screwing with it and without completely copy-catting it. A tricky feat to say the least. Perhaps you’d like to read more specific thoughts on the new album so as to familiarize yourself? Check out what I had to say when I reviewed the record for Twangville.com a while back.

Deservedly, these guys will be playing a more prominent, later-day slot than they did in 2008, when they played around noon at ACL.

Another band that not only shares a record label home with the Fleet Foxes, but a regional one, as well as love for ragged folk with sweetness to spare are relative newcomers The Head & The Heart. Sweeping out of Seattle, this buzzed-about six-pack of folkies has just released an album that’s more than likely to find it’s place along Fleet Foxes when it comes to many a year-end best-of list (no, it’s not too early to talk about that.) Don’t trust me? Click play on the tune below, and get ready for some mellow, folkin’ gold, my friends.

Lost In My Mind by theheadandtheheart

 

Ok, I told you that in order to introduce you to all of the bands on this year’s ACL Fest bill, I would have to cheat a bit here and there. So, here’s a bit of a cheat as I use this week’s video post to slip in an extra (and non-Texan) preview/intro…

Elbow, from The U.K. are a big friggin’ deal accross the Atlantic, yet they’ve failed to make a simliar splash here in the states, even with their latest album, Build a Rocket, Boys! being perhaps better than the one that nabbed them a Mercury Prize a few years ago, signifying the year’s best British or Irish album. They’ll be in the states this fall, so look for them at ACL!

 This is an installment in the continuing march to this Fall’s ACL Festival. Held in Austin’s Zilker Park every year, this year’s edition is perhaps boasting their strongest line-up yet. Our mission is to highlight every artist on the lineup in some form or fashion before the 3 day shindig kicks off on September 16th.

The UK’s Bobby Long is a singer songwriter who knows his way around folk, rock blues and country. Many might point to his Twilight connection and dismiss him, but that would be a mistake, to be sure.

Long’s latest release, from the Dave Matthews-owned ATO label (Where Dawes and My Morning Jacket are label-mates), A Winter Tale is a fantastic album that seems easy enough to smack a folky genre-label on, until you actually listen and realize that far more is going on than a simple, innocent album with a bit of acoustic strumming and heart-on-sleeve lyricism. Check out a couple of other pieces I’ve penned on Long recently and you’ll see why this post is more than a simple intro – it’s a full-on recommendation.

Day1 of ACL was great. After taping up my blisters and fueling myself with two of Torchy’s Tacos finest morning selections, I made my way back to the hollowed, still not dusty grounds of Zilker Park for Day 2 of this year’s ACL Festival. Below is how the day unraveled…

  

 

Lissie helped start the day right with her folksy, but rocking, early-day set.

 

  • The opening round of performances featured a killer grouping of sweet, female talents. Across various parts of the park; Lissie, Basia Bulat, Caitlin Rose, First Aid Kit and the out-of-this-world Grace Potter, were all strutting their feminine stuff. Each of these acts brought something decidedly different to the table during the morning, as the temps began to rise into the high 80′s. Bulat strummed a uke while Lissie introduced some rocking Bohemia to the crowds. Grace Potter oozed sex-appeal in her sparkly dress that failed to cover up too terribly much. The soulful southern rock in which her band, The Nocturnals, deal in provided a distinct and forceful wake up call to the entire park.

 

  • The 2:30pm slot presented me with a tough choice. Lucero and New Jersey’s The Gaslight Anthem were scheduled to rock stages on opposite ends of the park form one another. Both bands were on my previously composed list of acts that I wanted to catch, but of the two, Lucero is the one I had seen shred in a live setting before. With that in mind, I made my way to the Budweiser stage and secured a pretty close spot near the stage for the band that has basically been handed the crown as latter-day heirs to the Springsteen throne of good ol’ American rock. Such hype is well-deserved, I might add. The punk flourishes that brighten up the anthemic, hard-charging odes to screwed-up love and life on the fringes were ideal and do enough to actually separate them from The Boss, more than most people seem to notice.

 

On a clear day, the skyline of Austin provides a dramatic ACL backdrop.

 

  • While Saturday’s set of shows didn’t provide me with the same I-can’t-believe-I’m-seeing-this type of thrills as Friday evening had, there were still two performances that proved to be revelatory, regardless. The 4:45 pm set from L.A.’s Local Natives was spot-on. Relying on material from their enjoyable debut, Gorilla Manor, the group rode their harmonies and interesting take on chamber-rock for all they were worth. “Sun Hands” might have been the single best performance of a tune all weekend, for my money. The climactic cacophony that ends the song was pure, frenzied madness.

 

  • The other set which proved to be eye-opening also proved to be the weekend’s most thoroughly thought-provoking for me. Former Pedro the Lion leader, David Bazan, has had a decent dose of press ink cover his transformation from a faithful, Christian follower to a skeptical agnostic since the release of his latest, very personal album, Curse Your Branches. From a musical perspective, Bazan’s enjoyable indie-rock set was reminiscent of a stripped-down, raw version of Bobby Bare Jr’s set on the same BMI Stage at the same festival, back in 2008. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, it was hard not to be sucked in during the 40 minute show which took place as the sun finally began its descent. The lyrics that made up the majority of Bazan’s set, which roll out like a pained, vulnerable catharsis, became the focal point, quickly enough, however. For a guy like myself, who, shall we say, has beliefs that align more with Bazan’s past than his present, I found myself not being repelled, but using his art as a means to understand him and his struggle-ridden journey. When Bazan sang “Hard to Be,” where he questions God, it wasn’t offensive in any way, it was enlightening and relatable. How often in a festival setting will an artist create an environment that is closer to a living room concert, instead of a rock show in the middle of 75,00o sweaty souls?

 

Grace Potter is just OK...if OK means insanely hot and ultra-talented.

 

  • Matt & Kim? More like, Meh & Kim. Sorry, oh bouncing 17 year-olds, I don’t get it.

 

  • Closing out my ACL experience for 2010 was the U.K.’s current kings of all things epic: Muse. And epic, their show truly was. Opening up with their us-against-them anthem, “Uprising,” the most powerful of trios belted out tunes that matched the wonder and ferocity of their laser and video-filled stage show. After a handful of stadium-sized rockers, I walked across the park to catch a glimpse of M.I.A, but with her video-screens not projecting any images to the back of the crowd where I stood, hearing only the beats from the stage was pretty anti-climactic after being slayed by England’s most arena-worthy imports.

 

So, there you have it.  Unforseen circumstances led me to skip Sunday’s performances, unfortunately. While there were certain acts that I was excited to catch – Frank Turner, The Morning Benders, The National and Band of Horses, to be more specific – I was able to leave, knowing that I had enough festival intensity to last many times the two days that I enjoyed so thoroughly.

Kelly Dearmore is a freelance writer, mean pot of chili maker and opinionated music lover. To read more about what Kelly is listening to, visit him here on The Squawker weekly or daily on his personal music blog, The Gobblers Knob