AUSTIN, Texas – Steve Earle singlehandedly turned the Austin City Limits Music Festival into a songwriting workshop Saturday evening (Oct. 13).
The legendary Outlaw country singer, a fierce and focused prowling tiger for an hour straight, easily offered the day’s most memorable set. (Yeah, splitting hairs, that includes Neil Young and Crazy Horse.) He’s simply at his game’s absolute peak.
“We’ve had some bugs up here, so I haven’t talked as much as usual,” Earle announced as the sun set. The festival benefited: I’ve seen the guy nearly 30 times and fewer shows were tighter than this one. Earle scratched (“Someday”) and scorched (“Hardcore Troubadour”) like never before. Classics such as “Guitar Town” and “Copperhead Road” sounded fresh. Relatively newer highlights like “Galway Girl” positively ignited the crowd. Everything worked.
He even had fun. Smiled every now and then.
Earle’s heart (“My Old Friend the Blues”) and hunger (“City of Immigrants”) elevated the Austin Ventures stage, exponentially growing his crowd into a frenzy until Young and Crazy Horse threatened to take the main stage. New fans down front gleefully celebrated their discovery. Established enthusiasts grinned openly. Then everyone migrated north and south for headline sets as Earle closed with the pointed “The Revolution Starts…Now.”
I chose Neil.
Good pick. Young and Crazy Horse, performing together for the first time since 1996, combusted the Bud Light stage with material old (“Cinnamon Girl”) and new (“Walk Like a Giant”). “I think that ‘Powderfinger’ is being reborn,” guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro told CMT Edge. “We haven’t played it in so long and we’re still finding it again.” They did for sure Saturday night.
Sunday promises equally compelling highlights: the Civil Wars, Avett Brothers and the Lumineers among them. As I type at 7 o’clock this morning, thunderclouds continue rolling across downtown. Cross fingers for their speedy exit. We were soaked enough yesterday.