One of the things I was excited about when we found out we were moving to Austin was being exposed to new music. After all, Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World! Whether you’re looking for an intimate show at a dive, seeing a popular artist at a stadium, or spending the weekend at a festival, Austin’s got it.
Austin is home to festivals of all kinds, one of the most known being Austin City Limits. This fest spans over two weekends, starting at noon and ending at 10pm each day, and is held at Zilker Park — which is, you guessed it — just outside of the city. If you’re not super familiar with the festival scene, ACL offers a much more chill environment compared to other festivals I’ve been to, with a diverse lineup of artists, Austin must-try restaurants, and elements like a wine garden and Insta-worthy backdrop setups. Even the crowd was diverse, ranging from families with young kids, to older adults.
Depending on your commitment to the artists (and the Texas heat), you can buy 3-day or 1-day passes. One interesting thing about this festival is that there are no camping options – so be sure to secure an AirBnB or hotel. You’ll be glad to be able to clean up after spending all day outside! Since the fest is generally held the first two weekends in October, you can pretty much expect it to be toasty. (We got lucky, and got an amazing 80 degree and overcast day on the second weekend!) The park is essentially a giant grass field, with trees here and there, and some covered areas like the beer tent, but otherwise, you’ll be exposed to the sun all day. Thankfully, the festival is all about sustainability and encourages you to BYO water bottle, and refill it at one of the several hydration stations.
Coming from the eyes of an event planner, I thought the festival was extremely well organized in terms of layout, getting to and from the park, and the convenience of loading money onto your wristband (which is also your ticket) so you don’t have to carry around cash or cards. They also offer a free shuttle from Republic Square Park in downtown Austin, which we took, allowing us to avoid parking and major traffic.
We went on Sunday of weekend two, and got in the gates around 1pm. The busiest entry time each day is between 2-4pm, and we wanted a full day’s experience. Once you’re in the park, it’s basically a huge circle of stages, restaurant booths, drinking spots, and areas to shop for merchandise or souvenirs.
There was an artist painting a mural that caught our eye, and we watched him for a few minutes until a volunteer from one of the booths approached us about becoming donors for people with blood cancer. All we had to do was swab our cheek, fill out some paperwork, and then they call you if you’re a match. It felt like such a random thing to do at a festival, but we figured why not do something good?
Afterwards, we headed over to one of the stages to watch Mallrat, a newer Australian singer who was actually pretty rad. One of the best parts about festivals is being able to wander around and see artists that you’ve never heard of, and at the end of the fest, having found so much new music that you love.
Throughout the day, we saw Rebelution, Banks, Lizzo, and Mumford & Sons. I’d been wanting to see Mumford live for years, and we were able to get really close to the stage, which was so cool, and their performance was amazing. One of the things I loved the most about this festival were the different genres — it wasn’t just EDM, or rap, or rock, but a little bit of everything for everyone.
In between bands, we got to try out some of the different restaurants. Unlike a lot of festivals, the food options at ACL are super yummy. People come from all over the world for this festival — we met people from New Zealand and Europe — so Austin does what it does second-best to music, and shows off its epic food scene.
Some of the vendors included regular favorites of mine, such as Torchy’s Tacos and Juiceland, which you definitely can’t go wrong with, but I opted to skip because I already eat at those places a ton.
For lunch, I had the Long Tall Texan grilled cheese from Burro Cheese Kitchen, which was delicious. I’m all about cheese, all the time, ha! For dinner, we got tacos and shared a cookie dough bowl from Skull and Cake Bones which was basically a giant bowl of cookie dough – aka everything I’ve ever dreamed of.
The only part of the day that was not so chill, was for Lizzo. Basically, no one could’ve predicted she would blow up like she did, so she wasn’t performing on the main stage. This caused an insane crowd at her stage, which was definitely not physically placed in an area of the park to accommodate that many people.
If you watch the video below, you can see how far back we were. Notice that you can barely hear her (even though after the first weekend, they realized this was going to be an issue, and used the speakers and screens from another stage to project her performance, in addition to her stage). The only crowd this size that I could compare this to, is Times Square on New Year’s Eve! Despite the craziness, it was so cool to see this many people coming together to see one artist, and out of all of the ones there, I’m so glad it was for her.
Between artists, we explored the Beer Hall, where they had craft beers both on tap and in cans.
We also strolled through the Wine Lounge, where you could find shade, a live radio broadcast doing artist interviews, and obviously, wine.
All in all, my first ACL experience was awesome, and I’m already excited for next year! Do you have any other festivals you’d recommend? Any questions about ACL? Leave them here!