Austin City Limits presented a perfect music festival experience for genre-agnostic music lovers whose tastes don't discriminate. The ACL headliners ranged from the man who needs no introduction: Sir Paul McCartney, to Kylie Jenner’s baby daddy — rapper Travis Scott, who played SNL with John Mayer and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker the night before his Sunday night, festival-closing performance. This year’s lineup featured artists of all shapes, sizes and shades, but the 16th iteration of the Texan celebration was lacking something — estrogen.
Arctic Monkeys, The National, Metallica and ODESZA could be found as eyes gazed down the ACL poster. The musically diverse set of headliners gave fans an incentive to check the fest out, but not one single woman plays in those aforementioned bands or even danced in the background during any of those ensembles’ sets.
Still, not-so leading ladies took the female deficiency in stride whether they noticed a shortage of their sex or not. The women invited to play Zilker Park during the weekend one of ACL included indie-pop bands ALVVAYS — led by tiny-but-mighty singer Kari MacLellan — and Japanese Breakfast, which is fronted by space-bun-and-hot-pink-eyeshadow-wearing Michelle Zauner; both sang and played their guitars to flocks of people that came to support ACL’s “middle-tiered groups.” Both women led their band members (men) with pride and made some of the artists — like the ones who didn’t show up — look undeserving of their spots.
Other female standouts were also found in the indie-pop household. LGBTQ+ advocate Janelle Monaé won Rolling Stone’s “Should Of Been A Headliner at ACL.” Monae sang, danced and rapped as she was surrounded by female backup dancers while spreading a strong message of female empowerment. She brought songs like “Q.U.E.E.N,” and “Screwed,” which came off more like war chants than pop songs due to their poetic lyrics. She also changed not once, not twice, but so many times I can’t even count. One ‘fit was also the same pair of vagina pants she rocked at St. Petersburg’s Jannus Live in July.
Not backed by an entourage was 23-year-old DJ Rezz who gave a 5 p.m. performance that left her stage set up (built for darkness) a little vulnerable. With EDM shows seeing is usually believing, but Rezz’s mixes had everyone dancing so much no one cared about the digital screen show. “I seriously love you Austin,” she gushed before finishing strong by going over her set time.
Another lady-led EDM artist, Scottish synth-pop outfit CHVRCHES, led by Lauren Mayberry who — a day before her 31st birthday — was fiercely dressed for combat; she didn’t want to just stick to music that day. “I don’t know if you guys have phone service or have read the news, but it’s a pretty bad day for humanity today. I’m not surprised, but I’m super fucking bummed,” she mentioned, presumably referencing the Kavanaugh confirmation happening at the same time festival-goers frolicked in the field.
“And we’re not judging,” Mayberry added. “We’re doing Brexit, so we’re stupid in our own special way.”
Femininity did not only beautifully present itself in bands fronted by women, however. An ethereal R&B performance took place when Devonté Hynes — AKA Blood Orange — took the stage with his two female backup singers during an appropriately pink and yellow Saturday sunset. Not only was Hynes backed by extremely talented women, he has worked alongside female artists people know and love from every corner of the music world. His live performance gushed around his bias toward the female perspective when the “backup singers” received more solos than Hynes himself. The only downside to Blood Orange’s performance was that you couldn’t find the names of the backup turned lead vocalists anywhere when searching.
On Sunday, Canadian folk bunch Bahamas began its set just as a drizzle halted and the sun peeked through the beginning of a seemingly cloudy closing afternoon. Not only did lead singer Afie Jurvanen make the rain go away, but his fresh perspective in CL’s post-set interview shed light on the lack of women from an insider’s standpoint.
“I think that there is definitely not as much representation of women [in the music world]… I can say that most of the musicians I know are men,” he told us. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t great female guitar players out there. I just don’t know them.”
Jurvanen later mentioned he rarely thinks of the issue because he picks the best of the best, regardless of gender — including longtime bandmates, guitarist Christine Bougie and vocalist Felicity Williams.
“Like my lighting person is a woman, I work with tons of women — I just work with the best people. So in my case I think that Christine is the best guitar player in the world so I’m just going to try to hang on to her as long as I can until Janelle Monae sees her and will offer her a better job,” he said.
“Same with Felicity, she’s the best singer, and I think she’s also capable of incredible things. I think they would probably say the same thing, we just don’t think about it. If someone is cool then that’s much more important than what their gender is. My band is the people I hang out with all day, playing a show is only an hour of our day.”
With an all-male cast of headliners, women are the backbone of ACL and work alongside men to create an enjoyable experience for all. The women of ACL are the ones setting up stages and tearing them down, running the food booths, leading medic tents, planning the festival years in advance and driving your Ubers to the park — but most notably entertaining you once you get there. The artists are the main show. Despite women not being front-and-center at this year’s ACL, they definitely got the job done in 2018.