Austin City Limits Festival 2018 Live Photos + Review

Since 2002, ACL Festival has been a staple in the city of Austin, Texas and its music culture, and continues to attract tens of thousands of fans yearly from around the state and country. This year, the festival returns to Austin’s Zilker Park for its 17th year with acts like Brockhampton, Paul McCartney, Nelly, Metallica, Travis Scott and many more.
Every year, the festival packs Zilker Park with live music, games and activations, and so much food. And the only thing considerably on par with Austin’s music scene is its food scene - ACL does a great job at encapsulating both. With over 50 vendors, including Austin staples like Salt Lick BBQ, Mighty Cone, and Austin’s Pizza, options were an abundance.
Texas, historically, is known for country music. And Austinites love Willie Nelson like no other. But that’s not to say that younger Texans haven’t experimented and excelled in other genres. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a handful of Texas natives make their way to main stages around the country. El Paso sweetheart, Khalid, was still doing high school talent shows just over two years ago, and is now well on his way to stardom. San Marcos collective, Brockhampton, has arguably revived the boyband movement with an all-inclusive, skillfully diverse, and musically experimental repertoire.
This year’s lineup at ACL did right by their home-culture and shone light on such acts, while curating one of the festival’s most diverse and tastefully-balanced lineups yet. We spent three days bouncing around sets and stages to catch dozens of acts from the festival’s first weekend - get the lowdown below.
Friday, October 5th
Spirits were high Friday morning as groups of friends, families, and out-of-town visitors alike congregated towards Austin’s Zilker Park. 11 AM marks the opening of front-gates at ACL. In tradition of the festival production team, the Star Wars theme song commences the start of the festival, blaring throughout the empty park as swarms of teenagers bolt towards their sacred front-row spots at respective stages. This happens every day, every year, without question.
Kicking off the day were good friends of ours and Austin-based country group, Asleep at the Wheel. The band opened their set with their latest hit, “Miles and Miles of Texas” - suitably setting the tone for a warm, sunny day in Austin. They packed their 45-minute set with 10 more songs from their discography archives, including Johnny Cash and Guy Clark covers.
Asleep at the Wheel
Next, the 20-year-old self-developed bedroom-star, Cuco, was welcomed at the HomeAway stage by a considerable crowd. As a first-generation child of immigrant parents, Cuco takes a lot of pride in his Latino heritage, often blending English and Spanish in his music. One of his biggest, and primarily Spanish hits, "Lo Que Siento," drew a roaring reaction from the audience.
A later set by independent poet and neo-soul artist, Noname, blessed us with her warm grace and astute social commentary. Bouncing around for the rest of the afternoon, we caught David Byrne, who put on an extravagant production alongside a large group of band-members, dancers, and performers.
The new-school Texas spotlight shone bright as the festival welcomed acts Khalid and Brockhampton. At the Honda stage, Khalid garnered an audience close to the size of a headlining act with a set packed with choreographed dances and soulful ballads. Brockhampton conquered the adjacent Miller Lite stage, draped in matching navy blue jumpsuits. The group has also conquered the Billboard charts with their latest album, Iridescence, sitting at number one. One of their frontmen, Kevin Abstract, put the audience up for a challenge, asking: “You guys know the words to “Bleach”? Can we all sing it a big family?” And they did. Perfectly.
Closing the night, was none other than the most legendary, Sir Paul McCartney. The former Beatle gave us his all for a dashing two hours in what could’ve been a massive open-air karaoke session. McCartney blended fan-favorites like “Blackbird” and “Let It Be” with cuts from his latest project, Egypt Station - which were seamlessly integrated, and sounded great live. About a week prior to his performance, Beatles engineer, Geoff Emerick had passed away, and Paul took a moment to pay tribute to him: “I’d like to dedicate this one to our fallen heroes. Our engineer, a buddy of mine,” proceeding to play “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite.” He also paid tribute to George Harrison with “Something,” and John Lennon with “Here Today.” The night was cooling, but the sweat on Paul’s face was visible from far away. The highlight of the night was undoubtedly its closing moment, when Paul, at the piano, began playing “Hey Jude.” The entire park convened in swaying and singing along in unison. Paul described the moment perfectly, he said:
“It feels like the whole world is singing!”
Check out the full setlist from his performance below:
Paul McCartney - ACL 2018 Setlist
Saturday, October 6th
With scattered rains and a chance of lightning on the festival’s second day, fans and production were both anxious that weather would jeopardize the performances. Early acts like Molly Burch, Alice Merton, and Verite toughed it out through the muggy conditions. Their fans weren’t afraid to get a little slimy either.
The clouds began to clear in the mid-afternoon and people dispersed from the few tent-protected locations in the park. At the Miller Lite stage, Brandi Carlile opened her set with the pensive but upbeat, “Harder To Forgive.” Playing on the theme of forgiveness, she performed a handful of songs off her latest album, By The Way, I Forgive You. She took some moments to speak on family values, and commented on the state of our country in its current political climate. In reference to the Supreme Court news that had broke earlier that day, she said, “today I learned progress is not a one way street.
Brandi Carlile
Gracing the same stage right after was one of the most anticipated acts of the weekend, Blood Orange. Frontman, Dev Hynes, is an all-encapsulating act on his own, and used to release music individually before forming the Blood Orange collective. But alongside his dynamic band members, the group really strikes a special chemistry. Through a sound best described as free-funk and soul-inspired, Dev touches on notions of family, sexual fluidity, and self-expression. The group’s set was filled with hits from their latest project, Negro Swan, and some older fan favorites from their Freetown Sound project.
At this point in the late afternoon, the sky had cleared, and the Texas sun was in full effect. A massive crowd amassed at the Home Away stage to welcome Nelly. The now-considered old-school rapper took the stage in a Texas Longhorns jersey to celebrate UT Austin’s win in their Red-River Rivalry against Oklahoma. The crowd bopped and bounced to reminiscent hits like “Country Grammar”, “Ride Wit Me” and of course, “Hot In Herre,” - and it really was. Though he heavily reps his hometown of St. Louis, Nelly clarified that he was actually born in Austin - a place he admittedly holds dear to his heart.
Saturday’s headlining act was not one to be missed. Of the few remaining legends on par with Paul McCartney’s icon status, Metallica is certainly one. And to book both for the same festival is a dream come true for all the classic rock and metalheads in attendance, and there were certainly many. The metal heroes got the ball rolling quick, opening with hits from their 2016 album, Self-Destruct. They went on to throw it back to the 80’s with classics from Ride The Lightning and Master of Puppets. Check out their performance of "Fade To Black" below:
Metallica Perform "Fade To Black" @ ACL 2018
The band’s James Hetfield took a moment to admire the crowd. Taking a whiff of the Texas air, he exclaimed, “I smell barbecue!” That one really struck a chord with all the Texans in the house. To close the night, the band cued “Enter Sandman," and the crowd erupted. Both Friday and Saturday ended on a bittersweet note, knowing icons like Paul McCartney and Metallica likely won’t be doing many more tours and festivals. Check out the show's full setlist below:
Metallica - ACL 2018 Setlist

Sunday, October 7th

Lines of dedicated fans marched across the now-muddy lawn, gearing up for the festival’s final day. Sunday morning’s Star Wars race was especially heated, with flocks of 16 and 17 year olds racing to the front of the American Express stage where Travis Scott would perform….nine hours later.
Kicking off the day at the BMI stage was The Nude Party, a sixties-inspired band hailing from North Carolina. Their psychedelic surf rock sound and laid-back demeanor helped kick the day off right. We later caught Parquet Courts, Texas-natives who made a homecoming celebration out of their set. They told the crowd how much they love Austin, and spoke some words about the upcoming Senate race, encouraging everyone to register to vote before the upcoming deadline.
Parquet Courts
The sun was shining and the air was breezy as we made our way over to a set we clearly weren’t prepared for. It’s no surprise that Janelle Monae makes great music, but her performance on Sunday afternoon was groundbreaking. She was the talk of the festival for the rest of the night and days following, and arguably put on the best performance all weekend. Monae brought the energy and charisma of a headlining act, crooning and stomping while changing outfits in what seemed to be a matter of seconds in between songs. In her previous work, she discussed issues of pride and self-expression, but those are concepts she really drove home in her latest work, Dirty Computer.
She slipped into a pair of pink fluffy pants to perform “Pynk”, an ode to women, and the power of being sexy without being sexualized. She went on to dedicate “PrimeTime” to her late idol and mentor, Prince. Her demeanor carried the sass of Missy Elliot, yet the grace of Lauryn Hill. “If you came here today with somebody you love, I want you to hold them extra tight,” she told the audience. “And if you didn’t, that’s okay. I want you to look around and know that you’re safe...and know that I love you.” Watch her share some words about the performance below:
Janelle Monae ACL Interview
Janelle Monae
Monae was a tough act to follow, but Camila Cabello was up the challenge. The 21 year old cuban singer and songwriter opened with her hit, “Never Be The Same," coming with a high-energy performance all the way through. Accompanied by a crew of backup dancers, Camila executed every song with a choreographed Latino flare. She performed covers of Elvis Presley and Major Lazer, and gave the mic a rest with a dance interlude to the dancehall-inspired “Hold Yuh” by Gyptian and “Get Busy” by Sean Paul. After ending her set, an encore lured her back to perform “Sangria Wine” and closed with her chart-topping single, “Havana.”
Camila Cabello
At this point in the night, it was the last chance for ragers in attendance to use the bathroom or rehydrate. ACL was about to take off to Astroworld. When Childish Gambino seceded his ACL appearance and postponed the rest of his tour due to an injury, Travis Scott claimed the Sunday-night headlining slot. Retro rollercoaster visuals and eerie lights let the crowd know it was time. The opening track from his monstrous third studio album, “Stargazing,” began playing, prompting a cascade of cell phones and lighters to illuminate the field. “I waited a long time to play on this stage, Austin,” the Texas-native explained without forgetting to whom he owes the honor:
“I wanna send some love to Childish Gambino. From all of Austin, we love you.”
Travis let the raging commence with an older cut, “Mamacita.” We learned quickly that a Travis Scott show is not for the faint of heart. Mosh-pits formed left and right. Some small, some huge, but no one stood still for a moment. He packed his set with hits from his latest album, Astroworld, including songs like the Drake-assisted, “Sicko Mode,” “No Bystanders,” and the melodic, “Skeletons.” In between auto-tuned harmonizing, he sang, “Mac Miller man we miss you,” paying tribute to the late rapper. He still made sure to pack in standout favorites like “Butterfly Effect,” “Dark Knight Dummo,” and “4AM.” Check out the full setlist below:
Travis Scott - ACL 2018 Setlist
Before performing his hit, “Goosebumps,” he pointed to a young fan: “You with the sign. Come up here,” he said while ushering to bring him up, “let him through.” Travis greeted the boy on stage and asked if he was ready. The boy wasn’t just ready. He was born for that moment. Without missing a word or beat, he helped Travis perform the entire song. Mid-way through he tore off his shirt and instructed the crowd to get louder. The boy was a true rager. See for yourself:
Travis Scott Brings Fan On Stage to Perform "Goosebumps"
Travis’ set fell shorter than expected, but the output in the performance made up for it. The crowd reminded us that while Rock may be king, Hip-Hop is here to takeover. We thought we wouldn’t see another crowd as big as Paul McCartney’s or Metallica’s, but there it was for Travis Scott.
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