ACL 2012: Florence + The Machine Steal The Show Opening Night, Plus Esperanza Spalding, Tegan And Sara, The Black Keys

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Tens of thousand of people set-up blankets or folding chairs on the grass throughout Zilker Park in Austin, Texas for the first day of Austin City Limits Music Festival. For the music lovers without either, they stood surrounding one of the eight stages for that one of a kind feeling of a live performance by their favorite artist. The sweltering heat was an obvious topic of conversation among attendees and performers. Sara from Tegan and Sara worried she may pass out. However, a beaming sun didn’t deter the determined legion of fans from bouncing cheerfully from one end of the park to the other, stage to stage, with water in hand.

Our first stop of the afternoon was a front row spot to see the bass-playing, guitar-playing vocalist–Esperanza Spalding. To warm up the crowd, her band showed off their instrumentation skills before a beautiful, big-haired Esperanza emerged on stage with a black and white guitar. The way her fingers strung the bass or the guitar strings help you understand why the fairly unknown jazz musician at the time won 2011′s Grammy for Best New Artist. During “I Can’t Help It,”  she turned to her bandmates for a little one-on-one conversation. “Hold On Me” sparked a loud reaction from adoring fans. Before “Crowned and Kissed” she told the crowd, “This song is for the kings. Do we have any kings here?” which was met with a thunderous growl from the men. Spalding closed the set with “Endangered Species.” Esperanza made me a believer in a genre that I’d otherwise appreciated, but didn’t love. She is just that great.

We plowed through thousands of people to make a quick dash from Esperanza’s set to Tegan and Sara’s. The two stages were the closest to one another, but walking through people scattering in all directions takes some time. This twin duo poured their soul into their records as songwriters and performers. Naturally, the emotion of songs like “So Jealous,” “The Con” and “I Was A Fool” translates on stage. It wasn’t all emotional, though. The pair are talkers and enjoy engaging with the audience. Sara joking about the heat gave Austin her early goodbyes in case she passed out from dehydration. “I hope I don’t go down, but if I do, peace out Austin,” she said. Both sisters on the guitars transitioned from their more sentimental songs to their dance songs like “Alligator” or their bouncy new single, “Closer.” One of my personal favorites, “Back In Your Head,” a song that results in loud cheers just from the instrumentation playing, includes the infamous line, “I’m not unfaithful, but I’ll stray when I get a little scared.” How can you not love the raw honesty in the songwriting of these two?

The highlight of the night, and that by no means takes away from the other acts, was without a doubt Florence + The Machine. There wasn’t a speck of green grass showing as people stood shoulder to shoulder to see the British band. Florence commanded the concert-goers’ attention with her stage presence. Her ankle length green and black dress didn’t keep her from jumping up and down or twirling from one end of the stage to the other. “Cosmic Love,” “Dog Days Are Over” and “Shake It Out” gets the people going. In an instance everyone’s jumping around dancing with one another. Not to mention Florence jumped in the crowd with fans and invited one lucky fan on stage whom she kissed on the cheek. “It’s not a festival until you’ve stroked sweat from a stranger’s face and put it on your own face.” All hail queen Florence.

The Black Keys closed out the opening night with a brightly lit set. The bass was so loud we’re certain someone’s ears are still ringing. “Everlasting Light” and “She’s The One” were huge songs for the band whose die hard fans had camped out for hours for their show. Tomorrow we do it all again. Be sure to check back in for live coverage and interviews of this year’s ACL Music Festival.

[Photo: Getty Images]

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