Friday Top 5: The Country Side of ACL
Somehow I got picked to write the Top 5 that drops on the first day of ACL (who makes these schedules, anyways?). The wonderful writers here at the ATH have already provided an abundance of great recommendations, interviews and previews that are better than anything I could ever do, so I’ll talk about the only thing that hasn’t been covered. Music with a kick of country. If you find yourself wandering near the Austin Ventures stage with some time to kill in-between the Brontosauras Flag and KTTD sets… here are a few recommendations that I promise won’t suck.
I’m pretty ashamed that I’ve lived in the Texas hill country for the better part of 14 years and have yet to see Asleep at the Wheel perform. Whether it’s laziness, traffic, lines or work, I can just never seem to make it to the park by noon on Friday to catch them. Asleep at the Wheel is a 7-piece western swing band that has been doing their thing for close to 40 years and have collaborated with the likes of Willie Nelson and the Blind Boys of Alabama. Ray Benson and the gang are a true jewel of our great state… I just wish they’d get a Saturday evening time slot, so I could enjoy them while sipping a Lone Star under the stars.
Playing on Friday from 12:25 to 1:10 on the AMD stage
Phosphorescent is probably the least country band on my list (at least currently), but the influences and history are there for singer-songwriter Matthew Houck. His latest effort, Here’s to Taking it Easy, is a more conventional indie/folk album but the real country gem is To Willie, his 2009 Dead Oceans release of Willie Nelson covers. It’s a wonderful interpretation of Nelson’s work and is full of traditional country influences. And on a side note, I’m not really sure why Willie doesn’t play ACL fest every single year. Thinking selfishly, it’d be a great opportunity to bring Matthew and Willie together on stage for a duet.
Playing on Saturday from 2:00 to 2:45 on the Austin Ventures stage
Mr. Carll is the first of two Lost Highway artists that top my list. Hailing from the Woodlands, he’s a Texas singer-songwriter cut from the mold of other Texas greats such as Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. So yeah, you won’t find any run-of-the-mill radio lyrics here. Not just a guy and a guitar, he also brings an old school brand of foot stomping honky-tonk with his band The Poor Choices. I haven’t had the privilege of catching a Hayes Carll’s set , so I’m really looking forward to it as a way to wrap up the festival on Sunday.
Playing on Sunday from 7:30 to 8:30 on the Austin Ventures stage
Honestly, I’m much more excited to see Alison Krauss in her element with the boys from Union Station than I was seeing her with Robert Plant a few years back. This is traditional bluegrass music at its finest. A truly timeless act with some of the best dobro, mandolin, banjo and fiddle playing around. You might also know Dan Tyminski, the guitarist for Union Station, as the lead vocalist for “Man of Constant Sorrow” from O Brother, Where Art Thou?. The band recently released an album of new material entitled Paper Airplane, and I expect them to be as fine-tuned as ever after Alison’s recent hiatius. Oh, and she has the voice of angel. So there’s that.
Playing on Saturday from 4:00 to 5:00 on the Bud Light stage
Country music fan or not, Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses is an act you don’t want to miss. I was lucky enough to catch him last year, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a set full of gritty country rock defined by Ryan’s signature slide guitar and soulful songwriting. He’s another Lost Highway artist, and his latest effort Junky Star was produced by the legendary T Bone Burnett. I’m naturally attracted to his music because I think he’s got a bit of the raspy voice that Bruce Springsteen has and even tells stories in a similar way. People have also described his songwriting in the working-man vein of Woody Guthrie and Dylan. Oh, and he’s a former bull rider. And won an Oscar.
Playing on Sunday from 4:30-5:30 on the AMD Stage
So there are my recommendations… and feel free to add any I may have missed. I’ll freely admit that I’m not familiar with every single band on the lineup. Sadly, Old Crow Medicine Show had to back out of the festival… it would have been hard deciding between them & Ryan Bingham. Hope everyone has a great time.