The Austin City Limits Festival attracts around 150,000 people over two weekends. That’s good for the third-largest music festival in the U.S., behind Coachella and Lollapalooza, which means that ACL is important to more than just Texans. But for a giant music festival that attracts fans from around the country, the lineups at ACL haven’t always done a great job of representing the diversity found in popular music. Or, to put it bluntly, the festival has a tendency to book a whole lot of white people, especially at the top of the bill.
But when the 2015 Austin City Limits Festival lineup was released this morning, it was downright diverse, at least compared to previous years. Of the forty top-listed acts on the 2014 bill, only 10 percent—Outkast, Childish Gambino, Jimmy Cliff, and Icona Pop—were helmed by a black artist (the same numbers held in 2012 and 2013). That’s a pretty big difference from both the listening habits of Americans and from the lineups of comparable festivals like Lollapalooza and Coachella, and given the “exclusively for white people” labels Austin has been forced to confront this year, it’s been one worth considering in the context of the music festival too.
This year, however, if ACL is interested in shedding that criticism, it’s off to a good start. The top of the bill is stacked with black artists, with headliners Drake and the Weeknd and acts including Alabama Shakes, A$AP Rocky, Gary Clark Jr., TV On the Radio, Chance the Rapper, Flosstradamus, Run the Jewels, and Leon Bridges all among the first forty names on the list.
This is important: American music (indeed, all popular music) is, at its core, African-American music, and the lineup for one of the country’s largest music festivals should reflect that. ACL doesn’t lean particularly heavy on hip-hop this year—of the ten artists listed above, only Drake, A$AP Rocky, Chance the Rapper, and Run the Jewels are rappers—but it’s a break from the festival’s focus on white men with guitars (and the occasional laptop).
Men are still heavily represented this year though; while Florence and the Machine, Alabama Shakes, and Of Monsters and Men are all at the top of the bill and all feature female singers, much of the rest of the lineup relies heavily on dudes—indeed, in the top-billed forty acts, only Nero and Sylvan Esso join the above-mentioned trio with prominent female members.
In other words, the 2015 Austin City Limits Festival lineup might feature some increased diversity in some areas, but not all. Still, the festival has an identity that it has worked to maintain over the years, and it’s an identity that has leaned heavily on rootsy, guitar-based music, with a smattering of electronic acts at the top of the bill to attract younger audiences and a handful of rappers scattered in. This is a festival that launched with Ryan Adams and Wilco as its headliners in 2002, and while it’s broadened its horizons since then, it still relies on a formula that gives prominent billing to acts like Dwight Yoakam and Sturgill Simpson who wouldn’t get much traction at Lollapalooza or Coachella. Finding ways to increase diversity within that context is a valuable cause, and ACL 2015 is off to a good start.
(Photo by Zach Cordner/Invision/AP)