Austin, Texas: as somebody at the festival described to me, it’s a a blueberry amongst a sea of tomato soup. I’m still not entirely positive that this was the best analogy to use, but I’ll go with it – it’s a burst of sweet among a sea of mediocre, a pop of blue in a sea of red, a cool and collected ball of flavor amongst a whole lot of warm sweaty redness. Okay maybe the last one was a little weird, but moving along… this city sure does know how to put on a festival. Hell, they know how to put on a party in general! They know how to put on a show, a bona-fide live show, anywhere from behind a rickety food truck to rigged up the the most massive stage and sound system in the country. I am not kidding you when I say I got off my plane in Austin and there was a live band playing IN THE AIRPORT. It’s called the ‘Live Music Capital of the World” for a reason, and I felt privileged to attend their benchmark festival just outside the city, appropriately named “Austin City Limits” music festival.
ACL Festival Venue
ACL is held in Zilker park, you guessed it, right on the limits of the city. Zilker is pretty much a massive grass area with a small road going through one side and about 8 stages lining the entire thing. There are a few hilly bits and shaded tree/market areas but its essentially all exposed to the (often very hot) sun.
Austin City Limits Crowd
The crowd here was pretty varied; you could tell that a lot of people came a long way for it. There were a lot of Texans but a lot of Americans from other states as well, and even some internationals. I would say that the majority were American, though.
This festival brought in a crowd of all different ages. In that the genres were so broad, ACL brought in a crowd from older attendees who came in with blankets and chairs to sit and watch their favorite stage all day, to younger adults dressed up and ready to party. Many groups coexist peacefully here: children, partiers, and grandparents alike.
The extremely broad range of genres and ages brought in a pretty inclusive vibe. Each person at ACL was doing their thing – watching a football game in the beer hall, sitting and picnicking at country music shows all day, moshing at all the rap shows, swaying gently at calmer bands, or jumping up and down at upbeat electronic shows. I would say most people did a nice even combination of all of these things – happiness and ease were in the air, the sun was shining, and there were smiles all around.
ACL isn’t as immersive in it’s decor; it is more minimalistic and it works this way. There are logos, flags, and colors all around and a uniform signage all over the stalls, but that’s all it is here.
ACL always pulls in a stacked lineup among the hip hop, country, rock, and indie/alternative genres – with a few live acts within the electronic genre thrown in as well. As the ‘live music capital of the world’ it wouldn’t quite be Austin if each show wasn’t put on completely and creatively live. Certain stages tended towards certain genres, and all was organized in a neat fashion.
Headliners in the past few years included Jay Z, the XX, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Zhu, Radiohead, Major Lazer, Mumford & Sons, Kendrick Lamar, The Gorillas, The Killers, Alt-J, Florence + the Machine, The Weeknd, Tame Impala, and Disclosure.
ACL Festival Amenities – Other Stuff to Do
This is not the kind of festival to have much else going on besides music. ACL is ALL about the music, which makes it what it is – an incredible gathering celebrating all kinds of amazing live shows. That being said, don’t expect to go to a yoga class or art seminar. ACL is more like a field concert like the ones I used to go to as a kid with a cooler and blanket, except far more grandiose and with massive names instead of cover bands 😛 .
Other Things to Do in Austin
While you are in Austin for the festival, you should definitely check out some sights as well! It’s an amazing city with lots to do – from seeing downtown, eating amazing food, swimming in beautiful springs, kayaking on the river, or even doing a citywide smartphone scavenger hunt to discover the city in a fun way.
Transportation/Hotels/Parking at Austin City Limits
We took ubers to the festival each day, which is definitely the optimal way to get around. There were parking areas in other parts of Zilker, and shuttles from town, but ubers/lyfts were definitely easier to take from anywhere in the city. As I mentioned, Austin is a huge city with plenty of hotel options (and airbnb’s too!) so it should be pretty easy to find something in your price range.
Food/Drink at ACL
If there’s one thing Austin is best known for besides its music, it is FOOD. ACL may as well by called a food festival as well as a music festival, because the food options were absolutely incredible. Well-known food trucks, vendors, and restaurants from around Austin and even Texas as a whole had their own booths at ACL that drew crowds as much as some artists. Think – a stand for Austin’s well-known chocolate banana truck (Bananarchy – pictured below), a stand for the city’s most famous Mexican food, a fully vegetarian stand, and many more that are well known by locals and intriguing to visitors.
Austin City Limits Ticket Price
For a three day festival with al lineup this good, I think ACL was very fairly priced. A three-day ticket at the last minute cost about $250, but the price was graduated to increase over time as many tickets are. If you get an early bird ticket you could pay even less!
There are multiple entry points for ACL, and the security slightly differs at each. It’s basically what you would expect from a festival security line – brief pat-down and bag check on a table, scan wristbands, then in.
Weather at ACL
Although it’s in October, it’s still generally very hot in Austin during ACL. Hydration is key! There isn’t too much shade, but try to wear a hat and take some breaks in the shade of some trees or flags. During the night it returns to a very comfortable temperature, but the daytime heat has to happen to reach such a lovely temp at night!
Austin City Limits Fashion
People at ACL ranged from families in their chairs in sweats to festival fashion extraordinaries complete with glitter, florals, and carefully crafted outfits and hair. That’s part of the beauty in ACL I think- anything goes! It’s always fun to dress up for a festival if you ask me, but you don’t have to feel pressure to do anything in particular here. For boys, party shirts (fun patterns and hawaiian prints) ran rampant, and anything to keep cool. As you can see below, party shirts could also work for girls (AKA me :P)
ACL ran from just before noon until 10pm each night. So yes, a lot of the day is spent in the heat, but luckily a lot of tents were shaded and there are also other places to find shade when you need it. This also works wonderfully if you would like to go out and experience some of Austin’s great nightlife after the festival ends each night – 6th street is the place to be!
Money works normally here – bring cash or a card to fulfill all your food, drink, and march needs.
Tips for ACL
- It will be HOT during the day! Wear hats, get regular shade, and stay hydrated.
- Check out the town! Austin is an AMAZING city so be sure to explore a bit before/after the festival and maybe even check out the nightlife scene afterwards. You can check out the city, swim in some amazing springs, and kayak on the river!