After a two-year, pandemic-induced hiatus, Austin City Limits Music Festival returned Friday for the first of two weekends, marking the return of the annual music fest, which is usually held the first and second weekend of October at Austin's Zilker Park.
This year's comeback remained in question even weeks until the festival's official start, as many local residents and media wondered if the city would ultimately grant the festival a permit, as other smaller events over the summer had been scrapped in the wake of an increase in local Covid-19 cases.
Even after scrapping last year and dealing with lingering doubts about this year, ACL's big return got off to a messy start, thanks to rainstorms overnight on Thursday, which affected the grounds at Zilker Park and forced the fest to delay opening gates by three hours, chopping many of the earlier sets and upsetting many fans, who took to the festival's social media pages, frustrated over the confusion.
Fortunately, the weather wasn't severe enough to do much more than making the grounds a little muddy. Shortly after 3 p.m., it was Skip Marley and Emotional Oranges, opening the Miller Lite and T-Mobile stages, respectively, delivering electric performances to pump plenty of energy into the park, regardless of the impeded start.
Later in the afternoon, it was Machine Gun Kelly who took the stage, giving a much-needed shot of adrenaline as he performed for a sea of raging fans, many hardcore devotees and some just coming for the fireworks. And MGK had plenty to offer both groups, as he gave an intense, high-energy performance along with plenty of humor and chatting.
Over at the Vrbo stage across the park, it was FINNEAS who gave a heartfelt and delightful set as he proved to be a ray of sunshine in the middle of a murky day. Meanwhile, Moses Sumney absolutely owned the Miller Lite stage, with a simply glorious, riveting set, supported by a full band while giving a soaring, truly astonishing performance, satisfying longtime fans and quickly converting apathetic bystanders into supporters.
Then came one of the weekend's most anticipated performers, Texas' own Megan Thee Stallion, who made her grand entrance to a massive crowd of roaring fans. The Houston rapper, who is now a massive star, was all smiles as she danced and delivered rapid-fire verses one after another, keeping fans wrapped around her finger. "It feels so good to be back home," she said between songs.
After Meg's set, Chet Faker took over on the Miller Stage, and perhaps unexpectedly, he seemed to have a significant crowd made up of true fans, many of them singing along with him, familiar with his songs and eagerly awaiting his performance. It was the perfect way to spend the hour just after sundown, as the heat faded and the party was really getting started.
And then the party got started, as Miley Cyrus came out to headline the Honda stage, closing out the first day with a triumphant, pulsating set, full of all her biggest hits, incredible covers and plenty of words of encouragement, as the singer acknowledged her privileged status during the pandemic while being reminded about the importance of connection and the intense energy of actually performing live surrounded by thousands of fans, something for which she said she had new appreciation.
Overall, it was a solid first day, especially given the circumstances with the weather—and the events of the past 18 months.