Austin, TX — the live music capital of the world, according to its own slogan — is home to more music venues per capita than any other city in the United States and this year the vibrant city was once again home to the Austin City Limits festival. ACL was the close to my festival season this year and prior to my attendance I had heard many things from friends about the festival and was curious to see why ACL was creating so much hype over the past few years. Going to a festival hundreds of miles and half way across the country from where you live is a commitment and a big risk, but luckily for myself that risk had a huge reward. Austin City Limits turned out to be one of my favorite festivals of all time. I could probably talk about ACL until the start of next festival season, so with that being said, I decided it’s best to narrow it down to the top ten reasons why you should attend ACL next year!
1.) Getting to the festival was a walk in the park (literally):
Anyone who has ever been to a music festival knows that half the battle is actually GETTING to the festival. The journey always contains a labyrinth of trains, buses or uber rides; and if it is easy to navigate to one of those it will usually cost you anywhere from 50-100 dollars. Not ACL though, which provided a few different options for getting to and from the festival. The first option was the cheapest and easiest, walking to the festival. I stayed in downtown Austin and door to door it took me about 30-40 minutes walking at a leisurely pace. For the price of zero dollars as a nice stroll through the park and past the bars, this was for sure the way to go. Another option was also free, but this option included waiting for the free shuttle service from downtown Austin to the gate at ACL. Nonetheless, the fact that a festival provided a free shuttle service to guests simply blew my mind. The third option was an abundance of pedicabs. Although not free these rides were reasonably priced (10-50 bucks depending on distance) and provided a fun alternative to getting home. Most played music and had all sorts of tricked out benches. The fourth and final option was by bike. With bikes available to rent all over the city, it made it very easy for one to grab a bike and ride over. There was even a designated area where one could lock up their bike with other bikes and have it in a safe, well lit area.
2.) This cannot be the entrance, there is no line… where is the line?:
I don't know how, nor do I know why, but to get into ACL it took all of ten minutes. At first I thought, “OK I must be lucky, how could there be no aggressively long line?” However, each day I went to the festival at totally different times and each day I still made it inside within ten minutes of arrival. Security here was efficient and to the point. There was no excessive groping, no triple ID check and no ticket verification with ID. Nope, not like other events, it was simple; you walk up, they pat you down, you scan your ticket and you walk through. They even allowed sealed water (and some other sealed beverages) to be brought inside.
3.) The layout that must have been designed by god himself:
In the last few years I have been to numerous festivals all over this wonderful country. From a festival that was in the middle of a city (Made in America, Philly) to a festival that transformed a raceway (EDC, Las Vegas) to a festival that blended itself into beautiful green space with the backdrop of Manhattan, (Governors Ball, Randall’s Island), but nothing compares to Austin City Limits. The festival is held just outside center city over the river in Zilker Park and one key aspect that festivals rarely have on their side is space, but ACL used Zilker Park to its advantage, spreading out each stage, food stand, and beer hall. In 2014 ticket sales recorded that 450,000 people attended the event in its entirety. However, you would never notice that actually walking around the event. Not once was their a pinch point or people pushing to get where they wanted to go. I walked freely from point A to point B with ease.
4.) A stage set up with time slots that finally made sense:
Every single festival should sit down with the creators of ACL and take some serious notes when it comes to stage setup and time slots. Every single stage was set up in a way so that no two stages close to each other played at the same time. This provided festival goers with two great things. The first being the amazing acoustics with only one stage on each side of the festival playing at once (meaning two stages next to each other played at the same time), meaning fans at one stage NEVER heard another stage. The second meant that the overlap in favorite artists was almost non existent. The schedule was created in a way so that no two artists who would be close in fan base or genres really played at the same time. No more deciding which artist you will have to sacrifice to the gods of scheduling at this festival!
5.) Do you get tired? Take a seat in the lawn chair section… no, seriously it’s right there:
Maybe I'm getting old, or maybe it’s just not my thing, but I am sick and tired of standing in enormous crowds with everyone screaming in your ears and rubbing their sweaty bodies all over you, not to mention chains of 25+ teenagers holding hands saying excuse me to get to the front (like really, you think no one had the bright idea to go to the front). This was truly a first for me; at ACL there was designated sections where festival goers could bring their own chairs from home and set up lawn chairs and blankets to relax with friends. And at some of the larger stages they even had speakers set up towards the middle and back so the artists set could be heard from no matter where the viewer was standing.
6.) There was more food at ACL than at the Whole Foods downtown:
If you ever get a chance to attend ACL do yourself a favor and COME HUNGRY. This festival had the most variety of food I have seen to date at a festival. Some of the highlights include Amy's Ice Cream, Juiceland, Stubb's BBQ, Tamale Addiction, Austin Pizza, Maine Root Beverages, The Mighty Cone, The Salt Lick BBQ, East Side King, Children of the Kettle Corn, Tino's Greek Cafe, Hat Creek burger Co, Snowie, and the list can keep going so keep in mind that was about half of all the food options provided at ACL. There was something for every type of eater out there. Also, day two was extremely hot, so my personal favorite was a large snow cone in some shade.
7.) The basic essentials were provided everywhere you looked:
I don’t think it is too much to ask for a festival to provide certain things to people in order to make their experience a little more comfortable. Nothing crazy, just free water refills and decent bathroom facilities. Which the people at Austin City Limits really took it to the next level. There were free water refill stations, that had actual lines where people were patient and respectful. They also had staff handing out free cans (yes, I know canned water is weird) of water to anyone and everyone who could take one. One of the biggest focuses of staff the entire weekend was making sure every single person had enough water. They didn’t just put a station in like some festivals, they helped make sure those who couldn't get to the water station were always hydrated too.
However, the biggest win for festival goers and convenience was the porta potty set up. Everywhere you went at ACL there was a porta potty. Left of the stages, right of the stages, by the food tents, by the beer garden, literally you could not go anywhere without having access to a toilet. Plus, since there was so many of them there was never a line. That's correct, not once all weekend did I wait to use the bathroom. It was like the festival dream. Lastly, another nice amenity ACL supplied that I haven't seen at another festival yet was mister stations. There were three or four of these stations set up throughout the festival and they were there for nothing more than that, to mist. Although an easy and small resource to provide, it really worked wonders for attendees feeling the heat under the Texas sun.
8.) Supporting local artists has never been so much fun:
Every once and awhile walking through a festival you will see the occasional artist on the side, setting up a mural or doing an interview, but nine times out of ten it is some famous artist just there as a publicity stunt. ACL decided to change this up a bit, and instead of shining the spotlight on one or two major artists, they decided to create an “art village” with 100 percent local artists. Each artist was unique with their own styles, mediums, and experience level. The market also included clothing and jewelry vendors! This year’s art market included work from Drive By Press, Futurgarb, Austin Art Garage, Leap of Joy, Moniker Guitars, Parts and Labour, SoLa, Soldier, Teysha, TOMS, and Vintage Ware.
9.) Have a break in between sets, go to the Beer Garden and relax:
Beer gardens at festivals are almost always exclusive for VIP use only, merely having a few beers with some cheap furniture. ACL is raising the bar for a good time that isn’t in front of a stage. Going through the festival I had some time to kill between some sets so I strolled on into the Beer Garden to explore. This place was a game changer. First thing anyone should know is the Beer Garden was under an ENORMOUS tent. This made it a great place to cool off. Second, they had close to ten different craft beers on tap which provided a great variety to the masses. Lastly, they had two huge tv screens at least ten feet by ten feet playing football all weekend. Sure, the point of a festival is to see the music, but to be able to enjoy a nice brew and football while waiting for the next set really made everyone forget about the heat!
10.) The variety of musical acts was almost perfect:
Every music festival, no matter where the location, what the genre focus, or even the age group, all have a common goal. That goal is to provide the best combination of artists that it can possibly provide for the fans. In the last year I have been to close to ten different music festivals, and I can honestly say that Austin City Limits was in the top three when it comes to variety. From Friday to Sunday I saw the following artists; Billy Idol, Brand New, Flosstradamus, Misterwives, Twenty One Pilots, A$AP Rocky, Bassnectar, Drake, The Decemberists, Chance the Rapper, Of Monsters and Men, NERO, and The Weeknd. Taking all of these big name acts into account, that is still only a little over half of the artists that played.
Taking into account all ten of these reasons, each and every music fan, should all be convinced that Austin City Limits is one festival that needs to be checked out in 2016. For myself it was three days of exploring a city and festival I never thought I would go to. 72 hours of great memories, amazing music, delicious food, and memories of a time I will never forget. Click on the galleries below to see pictures from all three days!
All photos by Joseph D'Oria Photography