A couple days ago, Tuesday, May 5th, the lineup for the 2015 Austin City Limits Festival was officially announced! Artists such as Foo Fighters, Drake, The Strokes, Florence and the Machine, Bassnectar, Alt-J, Hozier, Alabama Shakes, Of Monsters and Men, Modest Mouse, A$AP Rocky, Billy Idol, Whiskey Myers, DeadMau5, and Shakey Graves are on the 2015 lineup, just to name a few!!
I’m super excited about ACL this year, which will be taking place over two weekends in October, (the 2nd-4th and the 9th-11th). So, in honor of this year’s ACL Fest lineup release, I thought I would share my experience from ACL 2014 to give you an idea of what to expect, how to prepare, and basically sway you into pure awesomeness.
Echoes from various music stages rang through the cloudy sky over the soaked park. The overcast above had blessed the typically hot, Austin, Texas atmosphere with much-needed, deliciously cool weather. I fumbled through my tattered hydration pack looking for my set list schedule to guide us to the right direction. As we approached a stage, the traffic of bodies became denser and people began to follow each other in single-file lines through the crowd. I felt like a drop of water catching the stream downhill to go the path of least resistance through the thousands of music-lovers and festival-goers.
I followed behind a man wearing American flag designed pants holding up a pole with a large plush unicorn at the top wearing a head-strapped camera with a rolled cigar hanging out of its mouth. We stopped at an open pocket to enjoy the music. The wave from the bass-drop hits my ears, and my hips react immediately. To my left, a man with long black hair wearing bright blue sparkly spandex tights and a woman with glasses and curly brown hair began to break it down to the beat, hard. A dance circle formed around them. I couldn’t help but laugh, not at them but with them, they didn’t care what people thought, they were there to dance their heart out, be goofy, and have a great time no matter how muddy they were! And that’s what ACL is all about.
Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL) is an annual music festival spread across two weekends at Zilker Park in downtown Austin, Texas. This internationally acclaimed festival attracts hundreds of thousands of people and musicians from around the world every year. Although the 13th annual ACL Fest sold out for both weekends for 2014, I was lucky enough to score a pair of three-day passes for weekend two that lasted from October 10th, to the 12th. Here are some highlights of my ACL 2014 experience, so you can gear up and be ready to hit up ACL 2015 for yourself.
Friday – We rode the Capital Metro Bus downtown. It’s a great option for commuters, especially for those of us who plan on drinking at the festival. Valerie Rivera with Capital Metro said, “We have seen it all.” With the high volume of people attending the festival, Metro Services teamed up with ACL to provide a shuttle service to and from the park all weekend. It was a lot cheaper and easier to catch than a cab! Also, bikes are totally encouraged!
We arrived at the park, went through security, and looked at our itinerary to pick which show we wanted to catch first. When there are more than 40 bands playing per day on eight different stages, you have to make some decisions.
Childish Gambino brought high-volume energy to his set Friday, and not just from his dynamic raps and dramatic body language, but literally with fully equipped pyrotechnics with shooting flames and a bright spark wall. (Here’s a great press photo from this show from the ACL website).
By the way, here’s a little tip about stage views: you have three choices, 1. Wait at the stage way before the artist comes on to get a good spot, 2. Push through people jammed together trying to get a good view themselves and make a total ass of yourself (I don’t recommend doing this at night when others are more likely to be drunk and/or tired), or 3. Stand back and find a nice incline on higher-ground and let the kitties fight for claustrophobia. At music festivals, I always go for number 3, I enjoy shows better when I can breathe and do a little dancing, plus after many years of experience, pushing through people means you’re going to get stuck eventually when you can’t push through anymore, and you could get stuck behind that huge 6-foot-5″ stinky guy, who seems to be everywhere at concerts.
Indecisive people, watch out. As if choosing which band to watch wasn’t hard enough, you may also have a hard time choosing which food truck to hit up at the Austin Eats Food Court in the park. We bought a few slices of perfectly greasy, hot, cheesy pizza slices at Austin’s Pizza and munched them down while we watched southern-rock band Blackberry Smoke rock the amps of the Austin Ventures stage.
Then we went to watch the famed rap duo, OutKast. The duo performed all of their biggest hits like, “Hey Ya!” and, “Ms. Jackson,” which were definite crowd pleasers. But when OutKast began to sing the beloved song “Deep in the Heart of Texas” and shifted the mic to the audience, Austin answered back with a loud and proud sing-a-long roar that couldn’t help but shock the band. The passion was clear and it made me proud to be a Texan! (Here’s another great press photo from the OutKast show from the ACL website).
Saturday: A refreshing cold front rolled into Austin Saturday, along with some rain that turned much of the park into muddy pits. But no one let that stop them from having a good time! Some people sheltered in rain boots and many people just went barefoot. Maintenance was good about spreading mulch over super muddy areas. Although I kept my shoes on, you can bet they were soaked in mud by the time we left the park that night. It made the journey more triumphant!
A clear downside of the notorious weather was that ACL had to open their doors late, which meant canceling six bands. One of these bands was The Nightowls, a funky 10-piece soul band from Austin. I had the opportunity to catch up with them later on at the festival and was proud to see that the rain couldn’t bring down this hometown band. Cracking jokes and making the best out of the situation, The Nightowls still took care of business and their fans at the Waterloo Autograph Booth. “We’re just happy to be a part of this, and here with all of these great musicians,” said lead-singer Ryan Harkrider. “It’s like summer camp… and we’re all sharing the experience together,” he said with a smile as the band agreed.
All of the bands seemed more than happy to be a part of the action. I talked with Zach Chance from Jamestown Revival who was at KGSR’s Live ACL Broadcast at Threadgill’s during Weekend One who said, “We’re lucky just to be playing one weekend.”
But some local musicians say that ACL doesn’t push local talent anymore like they use to. “ACL started with local talent… That’s what helped Stevie Ray Vaughn get big,” says Tom Holden, a local Austinite since the 60’s, and drummer for the decorated, classic rock band, Too Smooth. Some longtime Austinites argue that, now, ACL has become part of “the machine,” and that it’s too over commercialized and money-focused. Thoughts?
I walked to get a closer view of The Head and the Heart, who injected an upbeat stream of passion and soul into admirable listeners. The purity and spirit of their performance made it one of my favorite shows on Saturday.
Iggy Azalea also put on an attractive show with bright lights, backup dancers, a bright pink outfit and her sexy yet crunchy voice as she raped into the mic.
Though, the crowd was so tight that I had to climb a chain-link fence just to get a good snapshot of her.
But when we saw Eminem, there was no chain-link fence for me to climb on. People flooded to see him perform. He was on top of his game.
Sunday – Even when bombarded with needy customers, the servers at the bars in ACL were always polite to me, which does not always come with the territory! This was a big year in sales for ACL says Lisa Ostler, a server at one of the bar tents. “Last weekend we broke records… We made 1.6 million Saturday, and 2.2 million on Sunday… And no citations.”
ACL was also good at making sure everyone stayed hydrated. They had a CamelBak water refill station which made saving money on water bottles easy. And for the waste that got left behind, ACL had a great method of getting people to pick up trash for prizes! Fill up one bag of trash, and you get all sorts of goodies! It’s a win win.
We were able to watch Fitz & the Tantrums, Chromeo, Spoon, Lorde, and Pearl Jam Sunday evening, and we were not let down by any of them. But what stood out to me was the love that we were getting from the musicians, especially on this particular day. It warmed my heart to hear these musicians be honestly grateful of their audience.
Austin City Limits is not for the faint of heart. It takes planning, money, time, recovery time afterwards, and definitely courage to face it all. Get ready, because ACL promises to bring this action to you October 2015. Visit, www.aclfestival.com to get your tickets and to find out more info. If you love music and don’t mind a crowd, get your tickets now before they’re all gone.
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Have you ever been to ACL? Are you planning to go this year? Who are you most excited to see? What do you love about music festivals?
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