This year’s Austin City Limits lives up to its reputation as a two-weekend festival that consistently brings in huge names to headline. Texas’ flagship festival booked Radiohead, Kendrick Lamar, LCD Soundsystem, and others in a top line that rivals many of the major festivals around the country. What is surprising, though, is that for all the expected fodder that fills out the lineup, a truly stacked bill of fresh, young artists from around the world got buried in the small lines towards the bottom.
This year’s Tiny Fonts showcase was difficult to put together because of the breadth and depth of the lineup. Some artists, like the extremely talented Julian Baker and Lucy Dacus, had to be left out since we’ve covered them comprehensively in other festival guides, and if you don’t know to check them out by now, you’re just not paying attention. Others, like Domo Genesis, Kevin Devine, and Honne, didn’t make the cut because of how stacked this year’s lineup is. Boasting rising stars in rap, R&B, soul, electronica, and country, this year’s ACL delivers a wide variety of acts that proves the festival still has its pulse on the next wave of up-and-coming artists. Instead of going to Sixth Street and nursing that hangover until 4 p.m., do yourself a favor and make sure you show up to the festival early enough to catch some of these artists before they blow up.
Saturday, 1:45 P.M., Tito’s Handmade Vodka (Weekend Two Only)
It’s strange that so many of the great R&B/rap acts are buried so low on this lineup, but the truth is that ACL has assembled a stellar offering this year. First up is Joey Purp, the young Chicago rapper who made waves earlier this year on the strength of his excellent mixtape, iiiDrops. A member of the loose Chicago collective Savemoney, his mixtape contains features from Chicago contemporaries Saba, Mick Jenkins, Vic Mensa, and Chance the Rapper. Still, Purp establishes himself as a clear, resonating voice among a crowded field. He is able to deftly maneuver between somber reflections on violence and carefree jams about having sex on planes (thankfully without J. Cole this time). He had an undeniable summer smash with the playful “Girls @”, a Chance-assisted, Knox Fortune-produced propulsive monster that should play as well at the festival as it does in clubs.
Saturday, 12:00 P.M., Cirrus Logic (Weekend One Only)
Jazz Cartier is a rising rapper out of post-Drake Toronto whose songs occupy an intriguing midpoint between the jazzy introspection of Mick Jenkins and the murky melodies of Travis Scott. He impressed with his talent and breadth at an early morning Lollapalooza set and stands poised to do the same at ACL. He’s put out an impressive run of singles since last February’s mixtape, Hotel Paranoia, succeeding in finding his voice as a young star to watch.
Sunday, 12:15 P.M., Honda
Lizzo’s been on the rise this year, from teaming up with Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz on singles to a spot on the Barbershop 3 soundtrack. The Minneapolis artist blends soul and rap in a commanding manner, standing out as a fresh, assured voice. Songs like “Good As Hell” display her knack for self-confident anthems that should position her as someone to truly break out, while others like “Batches & Cookies” promote her as a maestro on the mic, fierce and enthralling. We recently put together a playlist in advance of her Chicago Red Bull Sound Select show last week, and a listen through presents Lizzo as a versatile talent that you won’t want to miss out on.
Saturday, 1:45 P.M., Tito’s Handmade Vodka (Weekend One Only)
It’s a bit shocking to see Kamaiyah so low on this lineup, as the L.A. rapper is easily one of the most interesting draws of the festival’s first weekend. Her mixtape from this past spring, A Good Night in the Ghetto, is one of the top mixtapes of 2016, full of tough street-rap that’s both harder and catchier than most of the competition. She won’t be this low on lineups for much longer, either, as she’s already moved up to prominent features with YG and Drake. Kendrick and Schoolboy Q may be the west coast rappers at the top of the ACL docket, but Kamaiyah is prominently leading the next wave.
Saturday, 5:15 P.M., Tito’s Handmade Vodka
The British artist impressed many with her standout EP February 15 last year, a record that blended Aaliyah-inspired R&B with lurching electronics. She followed that up with an impressive debut album, For All We Know, this summer, an album that fully cemented her as a talent on par with contemporaries like FKA twigs, Kelela, or Jeremih. Songs like the bombastic “Fool to Love” display her knack for moody grooves imbued by propulsive beats. Soulful and powerful, Nao has an adept command of her song craft, and her output thus far has been wildly promising, making her one to keep an eye out for in the future.
Friday, 4:00 P.M., BMI (Weekend One Only)
Of all the artists who occupy the “small font” portion of the ACL lineup, Nashville’s Maren Morris might draw the biggest crowd at the festival, having emerged as a bona fide country star in the past year. Her single “My Church” tore up country radio earlier this year, a smart pop/country hybrid with elements of gospel. Between Kacey Musgraves, Chris Stapleton, and Margo Price, ACL is really leaning into country with this year’s lineup, and if you’re a fan of any of those artists, you’d do well to check out Morris’ catchy, sweeping pop, especially on pleasant singles like “80s Mercedes”.
Sunday, 2:00 P.M., BMI (Weekend 1 Only)
The Ontario singer-songwriter has had quite a year, with her fourth album, Good Advice, having been shortlisted for this year’s Polaris Music Prize. The folk star has a booming voice, as evidenced from her powerful performance at the Polaris Gala from earlier this month. Basia Bulat’s folk is expressive and theatrical, and she’s both an accomplished songwriter and a commanding performer. Audiences in the US may not have caught on to this Canadian artist quite yet, but it’s not for lack of talent.
Friday, 2:15 P.M., Tito’s Handmade Vodka
This Maryland-based dream pop trio released their debut album earlier this year and along the way made a new fan in Justin Vernon, who recruited them to play this summer’s installment of the Eaux Claires Festival in Wisconsin. Their dramatic pop falls in between the swooning sounds of Yumi Zouma and the expressive grandeur of Zola Jesus. Singles like “Freeze” shimmer with propulsion, revealing a band with a sharp ear for electro-pop coming into their own.
Saturday, 2:45 P.M., Tito’s Handmade Vodka
With many major music festivals in the United States boasting largely similar lineups, it’s refreshing to see ACL bring something truly unique, like the inclusion of Brazilian electronic singer Luisa Maita, who just released album Fio Da Memoria, which blends samba with pulsing electronics to create alluring dance pop. Maita has received awards from prominent Brazilian institutions and sang at the opening ceremonies at the Rio Olympics, and her ACL set is only one of a handful of US tour dates this year. Her take on downtempo Brazilian pop is captivating and makes her rare festival set a must-see.
Saturday, 1:30 P.M., Homeaway
With music more carefree than their literary name might suggest, Tennyson is an impressive Canadian electronic duo with a focus on swirling downtempo. The brother/sister duo make twinkly electronica in the vein of Ryan Hemsworth and have been featured with artists like Skrillex on remixes. Last fall’s Like What EP was a strong continuation of their subdued, inviting sound. Their relaxing beats should be a good fit for the early afternoon as the heat beats down and you just want to lie down for a bit.