In a summer that signified to many that large music festivals have truly come back, the first Friday of this year’s Austin City Limits festival marked the end of a successful summer across the board in live entertainment. The overcast in Austin that day could not put a damper on the crowd’s spirits as thousands upon thousands rushed in early to celebrate the first weekend of the most monumental musical occasion of the year in the Lone Star State.
Waking the city of Austin up early at the Tito’s stage, Thebrosfresh gave a set that embodied that of the Southern soul. Fronted by identical brothers Torrence and Thurman Thomas, and proudly claiming their hometown of Batton Rouge Lousiana, the group’s sound radiated a spirit of the deep south triumphantly through the grounds of Zilker Park. The group flowed through their set with grace and poise, their passion for their music emanating from them seeming to part the clouds themselves.
One of the first true Country artists to grace the American Express stage was Oklahoma’s own Navy veteran turned recording artist Zach Bryan. Walking out hilariously enough to the Home Depot theme song, Bryan and his accompanying band took the stage, setting the tone that they were there to get their work done. Bryan began his set with “Open the Gate,” a song he had released earlier this Summer. The dramatics were palpable from the first strums of his acoustic guitar echoing throughout the grounds. The fans conveyed their connection to the artist throughout the whole set, singing along passionately to every song. Bryant eventually leaned into this while performing “Heading South” leaning into the audience to say “it’s on y’all” as he stopped singing to let the audience sing the chorus for a few bars. From the start to the end, he retained his demeanor as a hometown boy, only taking breaks from his music to thank the audience or take sips from the Budweiser resting by his feet.
Taking the mainstage right as the sun began to set was Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats to send the audience off into the night with their own brand of American folk. As the band took the stage, Rateliff approached humbly dressed with an acoustic guitar and started the show with a song with a deep message about connection “I’m On Your Side.” Rateliff’s powerful vocals anchored the set, punctuating the horns section with every projection, while his gentlemanly demeanor displayed his reverence, constantly thanking the audience throughout the set for their dedication to his music throughout the years. The group ended with some classics and modern hits, playing “I Need Never Get Old” which lead into “S.O.B” before finally finishing their show with their recent percussion-driven anthem “Love Don’t.”
To end the night on a smoother note, R&B sensation SZA closed out the evening on the Honda stage. With arguably the most elaborate stage setup of the weekend, she began her performance atop a sunflower-encrusted lighthouse under violet lights of a deep tone to match the breadth of her vocal pallet. She started with her 2018 collaborative ballad with Kendrick Lamar, “All the Stars.” During her second song “Supermodel” she climbed down from her platform to the MainStage and joined her team of dancers for a truly spiritual performance. The rest of her set immaculately followed suit with a leveling set including “Broken Clocks,” “Drew Barrymore,” and a cover of Doja Cat’s “Kiss Me More.” Throwing everything to the wind, she left the crowd satisfied and ready for the rest of the weekend, closing the show with her provocative 2017 single “The Weekend.” The optimistic tone sending the house out eagre for more come the next day.