On the same day Washington was swirling in turmoil over the battle to elevate Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Austin City Limits Music Festival on Friday kicked off the first day of its two-weekend fest, with performances from the likes of Khalid, The National and, of course, Paul McCartney.
While much of the nation was rightfully focused on the important but stupidly chaotic confirmation process, tens of thousands were gathered at Austin's Zilker Park in the heart of the Texas capitol, with the mission of enjoying incredible music from across the globe.
As rising tensions continue to divide the country, fueled with pleasure by the current White House occupant, the scene at ACL on Friday was a welcome reminder of why we still love this great Republic. The music, the sense of community, the sense of unity. The young, diverse crowds representing the future, as well as older generations filling in the park just as eager to enjoy the festival goodness.
The fest also comes a mere four weeks ahead of Election Day, which happens to be a rather important one in Texas this year, with Democratic congressman Beto O'Rourke suddenly giving incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz a hefty challenge in his reelection race. So it wasn't a surprise to see some Beto shirts floating amongst the crowd.
Considering Austin's standing as a liberal haven in the middle of one of America's traditionally most ruby red states, it was predictable to find support for the rising Democratic star. But we didn't anticipate to see as much gear as we did, perhaps another indication of the excitement and energy among younger voters, who have largely been resistant of the current administration and its policies. (We didn't see any Ted Cruz shirts. Sad.)
Beyond the Beto-Ted battle, the positivity was palpable throughout the day, as "End Racism" and "Believe Her" shirts also surfaced with plenty of rainbow-colored clothing and inspirational signs and hats to accompany them. And despite the likely fierce battles ahead—at the polls next month, in D.C. this weekend and for months to come—it's worth noting, at least for this weekend, no one seemed to care who was Republican or Democrat or whether they subscribe to the MAGA fanaticism.
That was especially clear when Paul McCartney took the stage to close out the night with a two-hour set of Beatles hits and his solo catalog, spanning what he called "some old, some new and some in-between," which included two songs from his recently released new album Egypt Station.
While the likes of Greta Van Fleet, BROCKHAMPTON, Khalid, Hozier, Sir Sly and ODESZA delivered massive performances for equally impressive crowds, it was certainly McCartney who owned the night, with the largest crowd, stretching into the center of the park as fans, young and old, gathered to watch the music legend take the stage. And as a sure sign of his generational appeal and legacy, there were plenty of strollers camped out and children sitting on shoulders overlooking the sea of fans, as parents brought their little ones to experience one of our most iconic living performers deliver a fantastic show.
The political nastiness will surely continue and Melania's husband will definitely do and say some more awful things (he's probably saying and doing terrible things as this story is written), but this gathering of music fans offered a glimpse into an American future that is still very much within reach, where #MeToo survivors are embraced and supported, not mocked, where queer folks and Second Amendment supporters can coexist.
Music can't solve our problems. One senator can't fix Washington. But 100,000 people unified under a similar vision is a powerful thing. And in these times of extreme vitriol and hyper-tribal politics, we'll take it.