Austin City Limits: A Survival Guide
September 30, 2019
September 30, 2019
For those of you unfamiliar with Austin’s music scene, Austin City Limits (ACL) is an annual music festival held at Zilker Park in downtown. Founded in 2002, the festival spans two consecutive weekends, one of which usually coincides with the weekend of Southwestern’s fall break. On average, about 150 bands play, and in 2018, approximately 450,000 people were in attendance, making it both crowded and difficult to find parking for. To help you navigate the chaos, I’ve created a list of pointers that will help you navigate the festival like a seasoned pro.
In 2018, a three-day general admission (GA) ticket was priced at $255, whereas a single-day GA ticket cost $100. You can also purchase single-day VIP tickets ($450) or three-day VIP tickets ($1,100). For the 2019 festival, “platinum” tickets are being sold (prices unavailable) that grant access to more amenities and luxuries than a VIP ticket.
If you’re a student, your university may offer discounted GA tickets. Southwestern students, if you’re looking to save a little money, the University sends out an email with links to discounted tickets about three weeks before the festival. However, these tickets almost always sell out within the first 10 minutes, so keep an eye out for the email.
If you have mobility impairments or are deaf or hard of hearing, you can request a specially colored wristband at the festival’s Access Center. This wristband gives you (plus one companion) access to enter the accessible viewing platform as well as the deaf and hard-of-hearing areas.
The traffic in downtown Austin is unpleasant on a typical day—and miserable during ACL weekend. If you’re commuting from campus or somewhere outside of Austin, plan for the excess of cars on the road, and leave yourself plenty of transit time. Parking will be expensive as you get closer to Zilker, so try to park near a free ACL shuttle pick-up point and ride the bus to the park’s entrance. I wouldn’t recommend using ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft because the number of riders during ACL weekend cause a surge in prices. If you don’t have the option of taking the shuttle, Austin does have pay-to-use electric scooters that can get you to Zilker Park. For a full list of transportation options, check out ACL’s “Getting Here” page.
While packing for the festival, it’s easy to forget some of the essentials. Here’s a list of items to double check for before heading out for the day:
- ACL wristband
- Refillable water bottle or hydration pack
- Portable charger
- Hand sanitizer
- Blanket to sit on
- Sunscreen (non aerosol)
For a detailed list of what is and isn’t allowed inside the festival, check the official ACL website.
Finding what’s free
One of my favorite things about the festival is the free-merch tents, where you can get complimentary buttons, hats, sunglasses, bandanas, stickers, etc. from local businesses. These tents are located at the “ACL Cares” stop on the festival map. Usually, all you have to do is provide your email and sign up for a mailing list in order to get the merch.
While the festival changes each year, there are always tents sponsored by popular brands of credit cards, cell phones, etc. that allow you to hang out, charge your phone, and enjoy free drinks in the shade. In 2018, the festival had an “American Express Experience” tent, where if you registered your American Express credit card with your wristband, you were given $5 off a cashless purchase, access to merch, and their exclusive viewing platform. Check the festival map ahead of time to see if you qualify for any of these perks.
Food and drink
The food vendors at ACL are always local delicacies, such as Juiceland, Mighty Cone, and Chi’lantro. Though tasty, the food and beverages sold at ACL Eats are always overpriced, so prepare to spend more than you want on a piece or pizza or scoop of ice cream.
Luckily, there are free water refill stations scattered around the festival, so bring a reusable water bottle or hydration backpack to keep you hydrated.
What to wear
Depending on the weather, make sure to wear something that will protect you from the elements. Closed-toe shoes are recommended, but more supportive sandals (e.g., Tevas or Chacos) are also fine. I usually pack a lightweight button-down shirt or rain poncho in case it rains or gets cold at night. People dress in many different (interesting and strange) styles, and the people-watching at the festival is some of the best I’ve experienced. If you look long enough, you might be lucky enough to spy Waldo Hacky-sacking, among other oddities.
If you find yourself tired and in need of a nap, I would recommend snuggling up next to Austin Kiddie Limits, the festival’s designated area for children and their parents. You might think that it would be loud because of all the kids running around, but there’s plenty of shade and less noise pollution than at other parts of the festival.
Since cell service is practically nonexistent, establish a meeting point ahead of time in case you get separated from your group.
If you want to buy merch, do so the first day, before the stores run out of what you want in your size.
We can all admit that ACL is the perfect photo opportunity. You’ll spend a decent amount of your time in lines waiting for food and drinks, entry to the festival, and the bathrooms, so spending even more time in line waiting to take a photo isn’t worth it. Instead, to get quality pictures at the photo stations located around the festival, I recommend that you take them early in the day when you first get there, or wait until it’s dark out and the lines have died down.
ACL only gets more crowded every year, so be prepared to forfeit your right to personal space and expect some of the finer points of human decency to be thrown out the window. That being said, here is a list of appropriate concert behaviors that won’t disrespect the other members of the crowd: Don’t push. If there isn’t room, then don’t fight to get to the front of the crowd. When dancing, be mindful of your surroundings. Crowd surfing can be dangerous, so do not attempt it unless you’re fine with being dropped on your head.
Plan your concert schedule ahead of time. The ACL app has a feature that allows you to schedule your personal lineup; that way, you don’t miss out on any of the artists you want to see.
ACL is an incredible experience full of local flair, phenomenal music, and carefree vibes. Make sure you go into the weekend properly packed and with a game plan so that you can enjoy the festival to the fullest.