Significantly more people crammed into Zilker Park on day two of the 2011 ACL festival than day one. It had been forecasted that the weather during the 10th annual festival would be in the triple digits, but Saturday began in the same overcast haze as the day before. Again, the sky broke as festivalgoers wearing Native American headdresses, Where’s Waldo shirts, and no shirts at all ran toward Young The Giant in the warm rain.
Fresh from their show-stealing performance at this year’s VMAs, Young the Giant is the complete antithesis of what you’d except from a VMA performance; their music isn’t pop, performance art, or anything you will hear remixed at a club. It’s straight California rock.
YTG kicked off their set with the walking melody of “Apartment,” the first track on their self-tiled album, following with the Vampire Weekend-meets-Sam Cooke sound of “I Got.”
“This song’s called ‘Guns Out’,” frontman Sameer Gadhia said to the soaking audience. “I want you guys to dance along with us, that’s right.” Gadhia’s voice is infallible. He radiates energy – his body must be bruised up from hitting the tambourine so hard against himself. “We’re going to keep on goin’,” he said, introducing recent single “Cough Syrup,” asking the audience if they knew the words. “If you do, sing along.” As they wrapped their set with “My Body” everyone finally seemed to realize that yes, they have heard of these guys before.
Turning the corner of the park later in the day, the crowd at Skrillex was ridiculous, practically overlapping with the crowd gearing up for Cee Lo Green’s performance on the far end of Zilker.
Cee Lo took the stage, jazzed with energy, introducing himself as “three-hundred and twenty-three pounds of raw sexuality.” Most people were just sitting through the painful hour of Green’s set to make sure they had a good spot for headliner Stevie Wonder later in the evening. “Can you handle that Austin?” No. Not really.
“Are there any freaks in the house tonight? Because I don’t want to be alone,” said Green in front of an all-chick band. The fact that he was essentially backed by a hot girl band, dressed in red spandex and exposed black bras, kind of felt like some form of a political statement.
On the way to the Court Yard Hounds at Austin Ventures, “Forget You” could be heard in the background, fading away, step by step.
Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, or the well-mannered two-thirds of country group the Dixie Chicks, walked onstage all smiles, to perform “Delight (Something New Under The Sun).” “Well hello Austin!” Robison excitedly yelled. “Here we go.”
“We are the Court Yard Hounds and we are so excited to be here,” they said as the sun set on Zilker Park. “We’re ACL virgins,” they confessed, but you’d never know, with two hauntingly beautiful, classically flawless performances of “Then Again” and “Fear Of Wasted Time,” from their self-titled album. They can do no wrong.
Over on the Honda stage, Chromeo gave a tribute to their friend DJ Mehdi, who tragically died on the evening of his 34th birthday. “He passed away earlier this week, one of the greatest DJs on planet earth.” They played song “I Am Somebody” a track of Mehdi’s on which Chromeo is featured. “DJ Mehdi forever, y’all.” They said, “Rest in peace, DJ Medhi.”
As Chromeo’s lights went out for the night, white lights flickered on the AMD stage, announcing headlining act My Morning Jacket’s performance. The band came onstage without a word, starting with power-vocal performances of “Victory Dance” and “Circuital.”
During “I’m Amazed,” MMJ tore it up and brought true rock & roll to ACL. “Goddammit you make me feel like flying.” Frontman Jim James said. “So holy, so loving is your energy. It feels so good to be here with you.”
The audience felt the same way – a performance so dynamic and captivating – there was no notion of anyone leaving for Stevie Wonder’s set.
Turning past the Austin Ventures stage, Wonder was heard talking between songs about the state of Georgia death penalty, which doesn’t have much to do with music, but, okay. Headlining at ACL must serve as a platform.
After the death penalty rant, Wonder played “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing.”
“Yeah Stevie!” audience members yelled out. Multiple generations were in the crowd; kids and young adults weaned on their parents’ music danced in the muddy grass and sang along.
“If you’re in love, and you’re really in love, then I’m singing for you,” Wonder announced before playing beloved songs “Overjoyed,” “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” and “My Cherie Amour.”
Everyone was smiling, dancing with their friends and enjoying the cool night breeze. If there was once thing the entire audience agreed on, it was their love of Stevie Wonder: the eternal optimist.
Wonder summed up day two of ACL best, saying, “Every time I come to Austin, it’s always awesome.”
Laura Stillo is the Arts & Entertainment Writer and Creative Social Media Producer for YouPlusDallas. Follow her on Twitter at @laurastillo.