AUSTIN, Texas – Alabama Shakes singer Brittany Howard’s broad grin mirrors the glorious Friday afternoon (Oct. 12) at Austin City Limits Music Festival: Perfectly blue skies, gentle breeze, mostly room to move around. Sun shines for miles. “I know it’s hot, but otherwise how are you doing?” the youthful musician asks midway through the day. “Aren’t you gonna ask how I’m doing? I’m always all right.”
“God, send us a thunderstorm!” a young lady down front immediately yells. She dramatically extends her palms skyward. Mocks tears.
Not necessary. Weather today bests the best at any Austin City Limits Music Festival for the past 11 years. Music complied accordingly. Even for those late to the program. (Sorry. Guilty.) Yeah, I get it. I know everyone’s been saying that Alabama Shakes is the greatest thing since sourdough bread, the second coming, a rejuvenating force in soulful rock and roll. Honestly, nothing I’ve heard through home stereo speakers has done much. Blah was the feeling.
Holy Toledo. Stand a dozen feet from Howard. Put the camera down. Witness. This woman, an absolutely commanding and singular singer, rocks and rolls and takes total control like a cyclone all on her own. She’s simply an unstoppable natural force.
Master storyteller Patterson Hood captivated on the BMI stage later that day, and the endlessly energetic bluegrass outfit Trampled by Turtles effortlessly elevated the Austin Ventures area, but Alabama Shakes truly owned Friday at ACL festival on the Barton Springs stage. Breathtaking. Inspiring.
One friend arriving late said the centrally located stage was so crowded during their set he could barely see the video screen broadcasting the show. “It was packed,” echoed Austin’s own singer-songwriter Hayes Carll. “The sound was a little light where I was standing, but I love the band.”
I’m particularly looking forward to Steve Earle, Punch Brothers and Neil Young and Crazy Horse on Saturday. Crazy Horse lead guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro told CMT Edge that he expects to play the band’s forthcoming Psychedelic Pill (due Oct. 30) in its entirety “except two songs. I think the only ones we won’t play are ‘Driftin’ Back’ and ‘She’s Always Dancing.’ If we play (the 26-minute long) ‘Driftin’ Back’ and extended that, I think the show would be over.”