UPDATE: This article has been updated twice to include new video footage
America has a few landmark music festivals left. With new regional and national festivals popping up each week it seems, the market is saturated. While there are many great festivals across the country, only a few carry an ethos that is immediately recognized. Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and of course Austin City Limits.
Taking place in America's most exciting city for live music, ACL is known for its bohemian spirit and world-class lineup selection. When the first line up dropped this year, my jaw dropped. It was truly unbelievable. ACL had managed to merge every genre imaginable and secure the most world-renowned artists in each. Past the headliners, ACL really demonstrated what separates it's from the competition: it's ability to curate an undercard which includes the most exciting up and coming acts possible.
I attended the first weekend of ACL this year and it was nothing short of immaculate. The festival not only had to deal with the Las Vegas massacre quite close in the rear view mirror, but also the largest crowd it had ever hosted. ACL not only handled these issues perfectly but improved upon its 2016 edition in spades. Let's break things down a bit further.
Austin City Limits takes place at the picturesque Zilker Park in downtown Austin. This park is absolutely massive. That being said in 2016, specifically on days two and three of weekend one, the festival was so packed it felt unsafe. In 2017 this issue was remedied by expanding the grounds of the festival considerably. This not only opened up the stages more but further reduced sound bleed.
It was an absolutely excellent step for the festival that will help it continue to expand in forthcoming years. ACL was also faced with a major issue. The Las Vegas massacre at Route 91 festival occurred after many tickets to ACL had been sold. While ACL is not surrounded by buildings like the Vegas festival was, it was still the first mass gathering the country was seeing since the attack. Tensions were high.
Austin City Limits approached this problem in a few different ways. All of which I applaud for professionalism and understanding. The festival offered anyone who did not feel comfortable attending free refunds. This was a move I did not see coming but was thoroughly impressed by. Having empathy and understanding around something as serious as this is impressive in my opinion. For those that decided to attend, they were met with an increased security presence that was quite subtle.
While there were more individuals working security, and pat downs were more intense, ACL did not feel like a police state – it just felt safe. There were almost no moments when I felt uncomfortable. In fact, the amount of time I spent entirely worry-free was what stuck out the most. I just enjoyed my time at the festival, and never thought about what had happened only a few days prior.
The 2017 ACL lineup was one of the most impressive ones I have ever seen. Martin Garrix, The Killers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chance the Rapper, Gorillaz. I mean are you kidding me?! The festival also did an excellent Job scheduling the acts out across different stages. While scheduling conflicts existed in a big way a few times, it was the price we had to pay to make sure no single stage was overloaded to the point of insanity.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers stood out to me as one of the best acts of the weekend. I have listened to the group since I could first understand music, and to see them on stage – playing hits from all eras – was nothing short of perfection. Having to run back and forth between Damon Albarn's live Gorillaz show and The Killers helped me burn off all the calories I took in at the delicious food stands. That being said, this was the only major scheduling conflict, and there was a sweet spot on the hill that could be used to listen to both sets at once.
One of the most notable points of the weekend occurred just before Tove Lo's set. In between sets, the festival began playing footage of an airplane on every stage. It quickly was announced that there would be a tribute to Tom Petty taking place shortly. As footage from Tom's last performance at ACL played on the big screen played out, skydivers jumped with colored smoke tailings to ‘Free Fallin'. It was a once in a lifetime type of tribute, that quite literally had much of the crowd welling up in tears. It was a beautiful way to honor a musical icon who was taken before his time.
Austin City Limits 2017 was unbelievable in almost every way. I want to find things to nitpick but the festival improved upon its previous installment so much so I really cannot find anything of substance. Austin City Limits does not have the “star power” of Coachella, nor the camping experience of Bonnaroo but it has a spirit all its own.
ACL isn't to celebrate Instagram pics, or late night parties – it exists to celebrate the most important piece of all of this: the music. If you have not take the pilgrimage down to Austin to understand what makes this festival so special, I suggest you do so immediately. ACL 2017 was nothing short of perfection, and I cannot wait to revisit this one of a kind gathering again next year.