Festivals and Events: Austin City Limits Music Festival

OK you live music fans…it may seem a little early to be talking about the Austin City Limits Music Festival, but 3 day passes sell out fast so I wanted to give you the scoop before they go on sale (individual day passes are also available).  We already tried to get in on the early bird sale and despite all of our efforts, still didn’t get tix.  (Be sure to keep reading below and check out my “festival survival kit” which is invaluable for any sort of outdoor festival in Texas).

Zilker Park

If you’re a fan of public television, you’ve probably caught one of the ACL live shows.  Austin is in the top list of live music meccas in the country, and Austin City Limits is the first authority.  The ACL Music Festival is celebrating its tenth anniversary and although the line up is not yet out, like seasons before it is sure to be a doozy.

The festival is held each year in Austin’s Zilker park.  This year the dates are September 16-18.  Bummer that they aren’t keeping the October dates of last year which helped to assure slightly cooler weather, but even 100° weather isn’t enough to keep folks away.  Over the course of three days, over 100 bands share seven stages.  (My husband also wants to mention there is a plethora of veritable hotties in attendance…I’m sure he’s including me in the bunch.)  There is always a big closeout show on Sunday evening.  Past final acts have included Bob Dylan, The Eagles, Pearl Jam, Tom Petty (made even more dramatic by the rolling in of a spectacular Texas thunderstorm), and Foo Fighters just to name a few.  Plus, there are a bunch of great lesser-known acts.  I always come home with a few additions to my music library.  Other bands over the years have included Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, Lucinda Williams, Dave Matthews, G Love and Special Sauce, Gnarls Barkley, Norah Jones, Van Morrison, The Black Keys, Kings of Leon and the list goes on and on and on.  Check out the Wikipedia entry for a pretty comprehensive list of past line ups.

Regular attendees The Flaming Lips always have an awesome stage show!

After having personally attended ACL for the past 7 years, here are some valuable tips:

Plan, plan, plan!  Daily line ups and stages will be posted several weeks prior to the festival.  It’s not just about who you want to see, but because the stages are pretty spread out you’ll be ahead of the game if you know where you’re going throughout the day.  This is especially important if you’re taking your festival survival kit (see below).

Weather runs the gamut.  I’ve been in cloudless, breezeless 110 temps, and I’ve been in torrential rains.  Thankfully for most of my experiences the weather has been fairly temperate but even still, having the basics will assure you will stay festival-comfy.

Here’s the 411 on a great festival survival kit:

(Even for you mashers who like to be in the fray, it’s nice to have a decent base camp, so don’t disregard the sage advice)

  • A lightweight festival chair
  • Small parasol or umbrella (depending on who is checking you in upon entry, umbrellas or other large items could be refused, but chances are if it’s of reasonable size you will be allowed to bring it in)
  • Blanket or towel (don’t bring fleece blankets…they get HOT!)
  • A mister filled with ice water (REALLY a great luxury item that’s easy to carry in and a great way to meet chicks since you can’t bring a dog in)
  • A foldable pole and totem (flags, boas, mylar balloons or large inflatable all work well…get a few light sticks to attach after dark).  These work great to find your base camp or help friends find you.
  • Small bungies or zip ties to attach your umbrella or totem to your chair.
  • Glow sticks are great to find your peeps in a crowd or light up your totem.
  • Rain poncho (don’t get the cheapest ones…they don’t last 5 minutes in a down pour)
  • In the event rain is likely, I recommend you wear rain boots.  The muck can get quite deep and is likely to suck a flip flop irretrievably into the mire.  Check out some cool cowboy rain boots for sale at Amazon.com.
  • Ice chest-can be more trouble than they are worth since you are limited to 2 bottles of water per person on entering and cannot (knowingly) bring food or beer in.  (Hint:  freeze your water bottles the night before so they stay chilled).  However, an ice chest can still come in handy to bring in ice (keep your drinks and mister chilled and use ice to rub on wrists for a quick cool down).
  • Wet wipes, tissues, hand sanitizer.  The port-o-pottys are kept impressively clean and stocked for the most part and include hand sanitizing stations, but it’s still a good idea to have these items on hand just in case.

OK, I know …it sounds like a lot.  You can go light, but if you do so I would suggest you know someone else who’s going and setting up camp.  Three days can be forever without any creature comforts, especially when temperatures can exceed 100°.

Beer, water, and lots of great food are available at the festival (must try the chicken cone).  There is also a market with all kinds of cool clothing, jewelry, hats, and more.  Hit the food lines during big name shows to minimize your time in line.

Kids are welcome and have their own special section:  Austin Kiddie Limits including kid-shows and activities.

The Black Keys

Although the crowds are massive, there is still room to be comfy for those who don’t relish shoulder to shoulder contact, so don’t let the masses scare you off!

Parking can be challenging and becomes more restrictive each year as surrounding neighborhoods close off more streets.  Prepare to walk a ways to get to the festival.  If you’re taking a full “festival kit” it helps to have some sort of system with wheels to lug it more easily.  Shuttles are available, although you must be patient as lines can be long.  One of the easiest ways to get to and from is on a bicycle.  A huge bike parking area is right next to the entrance. Check out the ACL festival site for parking and transportation details.

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