My second visit to the Austin City Limits (ACL) Festival confirmed in my mind that it out-powers and outperforms other music festivals I’ve covered. Its 2021 comeback, Oct. 1-3 and 8-10, saw it overcome even mother nature. The first day was delayed by lighting-evoking thunderstorms leaving big puddles at its grounds in Zilker Park. But by the third day, sunscreen had become the most important liquid (well, after beer, of course).
Besides the music, what makes things special here? ACL Fest is more like a county fair of music and fun than other fests are. But first, the music.
Nine Stages, Countless Stars
Taking up a massive chunk of Austin’s Zilker Park’s 350 acres, the fest is able to spread out the music to multiple stages. Some are as big as you have ever seen, and fireworks-enabled. Others, like in the Tito’s Handmade Vodka tent, are more intimate. All of them provide great views and sound.
New performers and local favorites also find a home here during the six days, spread over two weekends, that the festival operates. One of my personal favorites, Asleep at the Wheel, led off the schedule. Their genre? Country swing. The wide diversity of musical genres exposes attendees to types of music to which they might not otherwise listen. Rap to country – you can’t get much more diverse than that.
More Than Music
The county fair aspect comes in with food, souvenirs, and fun places to play.
Food booths in several locations stretch for what would be a city bock or more. Choices range from Texas BBQ to Asian and everything in between. One day, I had empanadas for breakfast, Belgian chocolate ice cream for lunch, and beer for dinner. (I didn’t say this was good for you, just delicious.)
Attendees can find souvenirs celebrating their favorite artists or ACL Fest itself. T-shirts, hats, koozies and more can be found at multiple locations. Various sponsors also offered lounges, places to take pictures, and special activities. Honda, for instance, had a booth where you could get free temporary tattoos. Austin’s meme-famous El Arroyo sign was there for you to take your picture with. Lockers, phone charging stations and hydration spots were also readily available.
The beer tent is the largest I have ever seen. When I was there on Sunday, one end of it was dedicated to watching football, with two giant screens showing different games.
The staff was amazingly polite and helpful. But, after all, that’s what you’d expect in Texas.
Keeping it Safe
ACL went the distance in keeping the grounds safe. COVID checks were required for entrance and where social distancing was not possible, the festival required conformance to Austin’s masking requirements. If you had not gotten a COVID shot yet, ACL provided a booth where you could get a free shot.
They were highly COVID-responsible, but dancing and silent disco were back for your enjoyment.
If you like music, the beauty of nature, and the occasional adult beverage, you’ll want to add ACL to your bucket list. Or, better yet, next year’s to-do list.
(Featured photo by Keenan Hairston for ACL Fest 2021)