Things to Do

10 Things You MUST Do at Austin City Limits Musical Festival

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Tony Maples Photography


ACL lands in Austin for the weekends of September 30th and October 7th. Yes, THIS weekend and next! Whether you are a seasoned festival-goer or this is your first time,  there are some important things to do that can greatly enhance your festival experience. We’ve compiled a list based on many years of fastidious festival-going research. Below are our Must Do’s for Austin City Limits.

1. Attend Austin City Limits Musical Festival.

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Photo: Flickr/Ralph Arvesen

Seriously, it is fantastic. Admittedly, ACL has developed quite a reputation and as a result, the crowd has multiplied over the years. To address the overcrowding, festival goers now have the option of attending one of two weekends. Each has perks — weekend one goers see it first. Weekend two goers sometimes enjoy slightly cooler temperatures. Most of the acts are the same both weekends, although check the line-up closely as a few acts will only play one weekend.

2. Find Your Crowd.

My crowd hangs out toward the back of the audience — in the chair section. Chairs with shade and footrests, preferably. Most of us have bog floppy hats, wine, water, and misting fans. Many of us have brought our children, which means we also come prepared with lots of snacks and sunscreen. I have graduated from the crowd that fights to get up close and personal with the band or within touching range of the stage. If this is your crowd get there early and be prepared to stake your claim. You might also consider bringing a pole with a flag on top so others in your crowd can find you. Be creative, we all enjoy the vibrant and often witty symbols that don each flag blowing in the breeze that quickly becomes part of the skyline.

3. Locate Your Favorite Act in the Schedule.

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Photo: Flickr/Nan Palmero

Once you’ve decided on your top picks for each day, make plans to get there early, and be prepared to miss an act appearing just before or just after. For example, if you are a stage across the park for a 5 p.m. show that ends at 6 p.m., you will miss the opening few songs if you wait until the end of the 5 p.m. show and head over after. If you really want to see a full show for a band you love, it is worth it to get there early, even if that means waiting and relaxing until it starts. Similarly, most bands will open and close with a big hit-their subtle way of hooking the audience-be prepared to miss a big hit if you leave early.

4. Pick a Band You Haven’t Heard Before.

Some of my favorites bands were previously unknown to me, or barely known until I saw them live and was blown away. ACL is a perfect opportunity to explore new acts. You’ve paid for the full festival — make the most of it and explore! Heads up: you can also plan ahead and listen to select tracks from most of the artists in the line-up so that you can get a sense of their sound and plan accordingly.

5. Explore Kiddie Limits.

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Kid or no kid, Kiddie Limits is pretty sweet and pretty inspiring. My own kiddo stayed for no less than one hour last year at the kiddie drum circle. It was awe-inspiring to watch a circle of tiny tots discover sound together and follow their musical instincts. There are also great opportunities for exploring mohawks and face paint and art projects. If you do intend to bring a child it is most recommended to do so prior to sunset, when the party gets kicked up a notch. ACL is very kid-friendly but avoid it at night with kids and stay out of the big crowds. There is a specific stage that will play all kid music throughout the weekend. My personal preference is to take my son on Friday when the crowd is not quite as intense.

6. Collect ALL Available Swag.

Vendors are eager to have you try their samples, and they are generous. In fact, bring a bag because the snacks and swag you collect can help out a lot if you feel an urge to snack but don’t want to buy anything. Kiddie Limits has a number of vendors giving out freebies but other places will too. This includes vendors lined up all along the streets before you enter Zilker Park, where the festival takes place.

7. Try a New Food Vendor.

While it is nice to avoid buying many snacks, it is nice to splurge on the food truck selection that comes to the festival. Do your homework beforehand so that you are aware of all the great choices and challenge yourself to try something new!

8. Find Some Shade and Lay on a Blanket.

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Photo: Flickr/Matt

You could fill up every hour of the weekend with bands, but in recent years I have found that slowing down and allowing time to just sit and enjoy the environment is worth it. ACL offers a unique cultural experience and an epic opportunity to people-watch!

9. Take a Picture under the Iconic “ART” Sign.

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Photo: Facebook/Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL)

Be sure you get the cityscape in the background. It makes for a lovely backdrop. While you’re at it, be sure to take lots of pictures. You will want to remember this weekend and have photographic evidence of all the fun you will have!

10. Take Off the Following Monday.

Did I say 10? I’d be remiss if I left out this last pro tip. ACL is revitalizing but also exhausting. Sunday night’s last concert ends late and Monday morning comes very early. If you are able to plan ahead and take a day off, Monday is an ideal day to do it. ACL has already made history and is an important part of the hill country’s rich culture. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

ACL starts tomorrow and you can bet I’ll be there, working my way down this list of MUST Dos! What Must Dos items would YOU add to this list?