Austin City Limits Music Festival has forged itself into a favorite stalwart of recurring musical gatherings. The event draws an eclectic mix from premier chart-toppers to favored local honky-tonk heroes and has transformed careers for many. The events of the prior weekend, however, unfolding after the attack of gunman Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas, put everyone under the shadow and the specter of unimaginable fear.

Music possesses an ethereal and eternal ability to heal, and those gifted with the ability to create it have a calling. Festival organizers offered refunds to any ticketholders too traumatized by the previous weekend’s concert nightmare, but none were claimed in mass numbers.

Artists took the stage, and fans drove and flew from all points to celebrate the power of a song and standing together as one. The message was loud and clear—the music will not be stifled.

Time to carry on

There was an eerie and undeniably wobbly sense hung over this year's 2017 Austin City Limits as it unwittingly became the first major festival since the Route 91 Harvest festival, but still, performers were en route. Valerie June was in Australia when news came of the 58 killed from above at those Mandalay Bay windows, and the R&B singer-songwriter had 19 hours to stew in a mix of several emotions while in flight to arrive for her first-day performance at Austin City Limits. The Memphis-based singer confesses that she felt “anxious” and cannot pinpoint precisely the feelings she was experiencing before the horrific revelations, but calls being “snappy and sassy and a little short-tempered.”

Traveling between multiple time zones gave the “Astral Plane” singer time to center herself again.

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“I'm called. This is what I came here to do,” June reflected, professing the artists’ mantle “to create and share something beautiful in the world.” She counters contemporaries who say that screaming against the situation at hand and brandishing protest signs yields more lasting results. She stands her ground and her place at Austin City Limits, reiterating that it is “enough” to create something beautiful and give people “space to come together.”

Of all artists in the lineup, Killer Mike was most apprehensive about any chance to kill it on stage. “Of course I'm scared, I'm nervous, but I'm gonna power through,” and he did, with a lot of strong and sensitive support. Lukas Nelson is descendent of a fruitful line of musical and personal legend and independence, and he declares that the distorted events in Las Vegas “made me want to go out and play even more.” The songwriter and bandleader of Promise of the Real insists that nobody with a gun can “dictate our sense of freedom, our playing music and spreading love and celebrating life.”

The crowd came through

Gordy Quist, a member of the Austin ensemble, Band of Heathens, has played Austin City Limits Festival many times through the years but concedes to being “a wreck all week” this year.

Seeing that there seemed to be “more in the crowd than ever” and that the anticipated 75,000 per day seemed “super grateful” for the presence and the efforts of every performer on stage, brought Quist back to what music is all about. He realized that his greatest fear would be if nobody came, and fear was allowed to rob the unifying spirit.

Austin dealt with its own “tower shooter” at the University of Texas in 1966. That shooting took a toll of 16 lives and an unborn child. The city was “first” to have a “mass casualty” even from an elevated shooter, and the police were determined to keep the crowd elevated in safety, music, and enjoyment over these days.

Fans traveled from Ohio, Minnesota, and nations abroad, and many who had initially purchased only one-day tickets expressed their appreciation and determination by upgrading to three-day access. Police made their presence known without impeding on pleasure, as families with strollers were sprinkled on the grounds. Signs and applause echoed the sentiment of Cassidy, who was warned by her mother about attending the festival. After a second of consideration, the daughter came to the conclusion that “we can't let these guys win”

Fans and artists won in another memorable celebration of music at Austin City Limits Festival.