10 Highlights From Austin City Limits Music Festival

Alabama Shakes, Avett Brothers, Lumineers, Civil Wars Deliver Stellar Sets

AUSTIN, Texas -- The Austin City Limits Music Festival might be the most fulfilling three days under the sun for music lovers. The perfect weather and buoyant setting reminded me that this is why I moved here six years ago from Denver. Beautiful people enjoying the festival, held Friday through Sunday (Oct. 12-14), with egos freed and minds awake.

The big news this year: ACL will expand to two consecutive weekends in 2013. Organizers say the bands will be 90 percent the same each weekend and the festival will spotlight more local acts. Imagine the after parties the week between if bands stick around.

In the meantime, here are 10 of my favorite moments from this year's festival, listed in alphabetical order.

1. Alabama Shakes converted me. They put on an absolutely amazing show. I'll seek out another and probably another as soon as possible. Their energy was almost overwhelming. Lead singer Brittany Howard put forth the most commanding vocal performance during the festival. (Read more at CMT Edge.)

2. Few can rival the the Avett Brothers' effortless elegance and energy in the same show. The North Carolina-based quartet captivated a frenzied crowd on ACL's secondary main stage on Sunday afternoon mostly with songs from the new album The Carpenter ("Down With the Shine") and 2009's I and Love and You ("Laundry Room").

3. The Civil Wars are an absolute joy to watch. Everyone should have this much fun making music. Their gratitude in front of thousands was contagious. High points "Barton Hollow" and "Forget Me Not" particularly highlighted their effortless chemistry. (Read more at CMT Edge.)

4. Admittedly, I was only able to catch Gary Clark Jr.'s last few songs on Sunday afternoon, but those I saw practically elevated the stage. The rising local bluesman was on fire. "Third Stone From the Sun," his Hendrix cover, blisters.

5. Steve Earle cleared clouds on Saturday evening. Earle might be our generation's finest songwriter. He's moving and inspiring and unbeatable at his best and delivered both classics ("Guitar Town") and newer material ("City of Immigrants") with a vengeance. (Read more at CMT Edge.)

6. Former Drive-By Truckers leader Patterson Hood performed solo on the tiny BMI stage this year. (The Truckers played the main stage in 2008.) No matter. He provided excellent storytelling in an intimate setting.

7. The Austin Ventures stage was unmanageable during the The Lumineers' set. These folks clearly have developed a fanatical following already. They're fun and enlightening. The band's hit "Ho Hey" had mothers and daughters and fraternity brothers alike shouting along.

8. The Punch Brothers are exciting and innovative and can stir a crowd like few others. Chris Thile's a natural force as a singer, songwriter and performer. His craft is only matched by his enthusiasm, which clearly resonated with the band's equally enthusiastic following.

9. Trampled by Turtles were fierce and furious and delivered bluegrass at its best. They also reach deeper than most. Lead singer Dave Simonett told me three years ago that he draws from Townes Van Zandt as a songwriter. That shows. It's been fun watching these guys grow as they rise.

10. Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Everyone wished for miracles, and they delivered tenfold. The band's headline set on Saturday night was everything you could imagine -- potent, powerful, nearly perfect. Classics like "Cinnamon Girl" and "Powderfinger" endlessly energized the crowd.

View photos from the Austin City Limits Festival.

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