Brace yourselves: the flower crowns, CamelBaks and flash tats are coming. Austin City Limits Music Festival is taking up residence in Zilker Park for the next two weeks, and if you haven’t heard dozens of people raving about Drake bestowing his blessings upon the crowd or foaming at the mouth at the mere thought of a Strokes reunion, we’d love to know what rock you’ve been living under for the past several months. But ACL is far more than the sum of its headliners, and you’ll need something to keep you occupied as you brave the brutal sun and work on your Chaco tan. These are some of the weekend’s best non-headlining acts.
Amy — BØRNS
BØRNS may have just released his debut single, “10,000 Emerald Pools,” less than a year ago, but he’s already made a name for himself by touring with indie-pop bands such as Bleachers and Misterwives. He also owes this reputation to a killer live show. Most artists who hit high notes on their records totally disregard them when playing live, but BØRNS’ vocals never falter. Check out his YouTube Space LA performance of “Past Lives” for proof, and then go see him perform “Electric Love” on Sunday afternoon before it inevitably blows up. That’s right — you can be the “hip” person who discovers BØRNS before all of your friends. As the girl who decided not to see the Lumineers at ACL three years ago, I urge you to take my advice.
Bryan — Run the Jewels
Forget cloud rap. Forget meme rap. Please, for the love of God, forget sad boy rap. Forget every absurd subgenre and bastardization of hip-hop circa 2015, because Run the Jewels have stripped it back to its bare essentials: fiery verses over punishing beats. Killer Mike and El-P are as relentless as they are dexterous, trading bars and weaving in and out of songs with a tenacity that would leave MCs half their age breathless. Meanwhile, El-P continues to stake a claim for best producer alive, with deceptively complex beats and melodies that are tailor-made to work a crowd into a frenzy. It’s almost easy to overlook a duo like Run the Jewels in a genre so saturated by gimmicks and pop tendencies. But by sheer virtuosity, they make themselves damn near impossible to ignore for long.
Father John Misty
I sung Father John Misty’s praises in ORANGE when he visited Stubb’s in April, but being self-referential is lazy and vain, so I’ll give you the highlights here. Misty (real name: Josh Tillman) is one of the few artists who still believes in the power of performance in rock and roll, stopping at nothing to get his point across to the audience. He gyrates, hurls the microphone stand, hits the floor and leaps into the crowd, much to the rapture of both male and female fans. But despite this blood-sweat-and-tears approach, Misty never breaks character onstage, maintaining his sardonic wit and keeping at an emotional arm’s length from the audience. His between-song banter is dripping with cynicism, and his overwhelming physicality is offset by his perennial blank stare, suggesting a detachment from the here and now even as he gives the illusion of baring his soul. Is it honest? Is it all for show? Is it outright fraud? I still don’t know, but it sure as hell is compelling.
Belicia — Halsey
I’ve never seen Halsey, but her music provides a gorgeous soundtrack to my daily commute to class. The blue-haired goddess writes wistful tracks with lyrics so clever and deep, you’d never guess she just turned 21 this week. Fans of Lorde will find plenty to love here, as these young women both write hauntingly beautiful songs that still have dance-worthy beats. Halsey’s newest album, Badlands, is more than a collection of love songs — they deal with empowerment, coming of age and commentary on the present state of the world. Halsey’s fan base seems to be exclusively tumblr users, so I advise seeing her now before she inevitably explodes and you’ll have to fight with the rest of the world to catch her shows.
Jackie — Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Don’t let the name fool you — Unknown Mortal Orchestra is no string symphony by any means. These New Zealand natives combine psych-rock and lo-fi indie pop, reminiscent of Tame Impala and Best Coast. With their funky beats, distorted vocals and fuzzy sound, UMO put their own spin on genre fusion. For proof, look no further than the disco-inspired "Can't Keep Checking My Phone," which will undoubtedly keep the crowd dancing if the band plays it this Saturday.
Armando — Kurt Vile and the Violators
I’d hate to recommend another singer-songwriter to see at ACL, but Pennsylvania’s Kurt Vile is one of the most talented artists at this festival. Vile first established himself as a member of The War On Drugs, but his solo material is both traditional and refreshing — he’s basically a modern Bob Dylan for the Pitchfork crowd. His new album, b’lieve i’m goin down, is a delightful combination of old-school country and folk, and Vile is hypnotic live. His backup band, the Violators, lend energy to his hazy vocals and acoustic guitar strums, offering a perfect way to beat the brutal heat on Sunday evening.
Jim — Vince Staples
The best rapper at ACL isn’t headlining. Apologies to Drake and Future (and G-Eazy, apparently), but Vince Staples’ Summertime ‘06 is the best debut album of 2015 so far, and a true contender for best hip-hop album of the year. The Long Beach native’s newest release is a dark, heavy record, but still manages to be light enough on its feet to make listeners dance. By striking that perfect balance, Staples creates a live show with enough charismatic energy, thoughtful songcraft and restless, youthful passion to appeal to any festival crowd. Look out for surefire set highlights like “Señorita,” “Norf Norf” and “Blue Suede” during his 2:30 p.m. set on both Saturdays.
Devonshire — Daughter
I can picture Daughter better in a dimly lit London dive than before the bubbly, sun-kissed festival crowd. Perhaps Elena Tonra’s delicate vocals and melancholy lyrics of are too lulling for the majority of the loud, upbeat ACL-goers. But those fans who have spread the band’s dark demos around since 2010 are aching to hear their debut album, 2013’s If You Leave, outside their bedrooms. The result will be an emotional yet graceful combination: drummer Remi Aguilella providing the heartbeat, and Tonra the heartache. The midday sun will be searing during Daughter’s 1:30 p.m. Sunday set, but hold out for their gut-wrenching song, “Youth.” You’ll have chills for the rest of the day.