Date: October 3rd-5th and 10th-12th
Location: Austin, Texas (my favorite city)
Size: Approximately 80,000 for 2 weekends
Years Running: 11
Austin City Limits is not like any other festival I have been to. What makes it so different? The answer is going to sound kind of funny, but it actually changes the entire experience.
That’s right, Austin City Limits allows its patrons to bring in chairs into the festival. This simple difference makes ACL a much more family oriented festival than its other mega festival brethren (Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, etc.). Family oriented normally means lots of children, but in this case it actually means parents and grandparents. By offering an older crowd a comfy place to sit, ACL has created an annual gathering for families to enjoy live music together. Tapping into this crowd allows ACL to sell out both weekends when they might not have been able to otherwise if selling only to the 18 to 30 crowd.
Crowd: As mentioned above, the crowd at ACL is on average older than other mega festivals. A large portion of them are there to spend time with their families, and many have no idea which artist they are watching at any one time. This sadly takes some of the magic out of the big festival experience because this was one of the only festivals I have been to where you actually feel weird dancing (not that it stopped me). What this was good for is having a great excuse to go running up to other people and starting your own little dance parties.
Stages: The stages at ACL were absolutely awesome! They all featured perfect sound, and the largest stages had speaker towers and huge video screens so the entire crowd could easily hear and see artists no matter how far you were. The crowds at the smaller stages allowed you to get close enough so you were still able to have a perfect viewing experience.
Art: ACL was completely void of art. The closest thing to art was a giant picture frame that people could take their picture with. They didn’t even do that right; the line could take over an hour to get through since they left people to take pictures for themselves instead of stationing a couple volunteers to help move the line along. The lack of art was very disappointing considering that they had the opportunity to impress people over the course of two weekends. Festivals of this size have an opportunity to inspire thousands of people to put their ideas into action through interesting art, but ACL didn’t seem to see that as an important aspect of the experience.
Greening: My favorite part about ACL was how clean it was. Attendees were encouraged to grab a bag and roam the fairgrounds looking for trash; once the bag was full they would turn it in in exchange for an official ACL tshirt. It worked! Throughout the days you would see dozens of people working for their tshirt, thus making ACL the cleanest mega festival I have ever been to.
Food: The food at ACL was top notch. Dozens of Austin’s marquee restaurants were on site vending, which gave attendees a large selection of delicious food to choose form. The beer experience was even better. ACL had a huge craft beer tent with 40 plus bartenders waiting to serve you your favorite brew from a wide selection of local craft breweries.
Organization: The overall organization at ACL was pretty good. There was one area where you would have to wait in line for bathrooms, but it was avoidable if you planned accordingly. The music was on time, the crowd size was acceptable thanks to it being spread over two weekends, and the program was easy to read.
Overall: ACL was a pretty good time. The combination of the crowd not being all that into the music and the complete lack of art were definitely negatives. The music viewing experience, the awesome food, and the cleanliness of the festival were all positives. I give it 3 stars out of five and would encourage them to dedicate some resources towards turning ACL into a full experience instead of such a cookie cutter music festival. If you are considering going to ACL next year, I would do it with a big group of friends or with your family. There are better festivals to attend if you are looking for the full festival experience (Coachella, Electric Forest, Firefly, Snowball, Lollapalooza).