Photo by Roger Ho for ACL 2021

The first day of ACL was my first time going at all, so I took longer than anticipated parking/getting in/etc. However, when I walked in around 2:30 I was pleasantly surprised by the low hum of energy already coursing through the park. I walked past the Honda stage where jxdn was welcoming a girl from the crowd onstage with him. 

jxdn by Greg Noire for ACL 2021

I made my way to the press lounge to cool off and get a water (I’d forgotten my bottle at home, sadly), then sat down to start writing. Skip Marley played “Three Little Birds (Everything’s Gonna Be Alright)” outside the press lounge–a welcome reminder to me, because at that point I felt way out of my depth.

An hour later, a photographer told me that Machine Gun Kelly had decided to climb 40 feet up a truss during his performance (and then hung there upside-down for a bit). A reporter from another outlet interviewed Claud a few feet away from me, a few hours after their performance. And the weekend was just getting started.

Machine Gun Kelly by Greg Noire for ACL 2021

At 6:00, Megan Thee Stallion was set to perform right after Moses Sumney finished on the Miller Lite stage nearby. This was the first performance I had planned to see that day, as I spent the majority of my time walking around the park or planning in the press lounge. Even before her set, it felt like Megan Thee Stallion had complete control over the crowd. For the most part, people patiently waited, making room for those who needed to walk by to meet friends or leave the packed horde of fans. 

Her performance began with a minute-long black and white video, flashing seconds-long videos of Megan one after the other–getting into a private jet, walking backstage, smiling for the camera, etc. The crowd anxiously watched the cameramen onstage for a cue that Megan was about to walk out. She finally entered, in a phenomenal black velvet outfit, studded with rhinestones and a long-fringed sleeve.

Megan Thee Stallion by Greg Noire for ACL 2021

Megan The Stallion began her set with some of her lesser-known work, gearing the crowd up for songs like “WAP,” “Savage,” “Cash Shit,” and other more mainstream work. Despite some of the crowd’s unfamiliarity with the earlier songs, they obeyed her every command–when she told everyone to raise their hands, or asked, “Where my hot girls at?”, the mob of festival-goers responded instantly.

Some of that crowd left after Megan’s performance, but most stayed in anticipation of Miley Cyrus‘ set at 8:00. I’d heard great things from friends who saw her on Weekend 1, so I hoped her performance would live up to the hype.

Miley Cyrus by Roger Ho for ACL 2021

Miley’s performance was everything I expected and then some. Her energy was palpable but controlled, exploding during the most impactful moments of the set. She opened with the well-known “We Can’t Stop,” then transitioned into a more personalized setlist, rich with powerful covers (Janis Joplin‘s “Maybe” and Blondie‘s “Heart of Glass“, among others) and the best of her own music.

She continued her act with songs from Plastic Hearts (2020), Younger Now (2017), Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz (2015), and Bangerz (2013), as well as throwbacks from Breakout (2008).

Miley Cyrus by Ashley Osborn for ACL 2021

Of course, she finished her set with the forever iconic “Party in the U.S.A.” On another stage, George Strait (another headliner for the night) finished up the night for all the country fans at ACL. And that concludes Day 1 of ACL.

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