Austin City Limits Music Festival: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Austin City Limits Music Festival can be a place for interesting experiences, whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned festival goer. Yet, regardless of your level of expertise, sometimes things don’t always go as planned. From Outkast to tumultuous ticket sales, here are a few ACL experiences from the ATX staff.

Illustrations by Jesus Acosta

Gentry — Show-hopping Queen

From the openers of Friday afternoon to the headliners of Sunday night, I spent the high moments of my ACL endeavors eagerly skipping and running from stage-to-stage, making sure to catch parts of sets from every single artist at Zilker Park. It sounds rather ambitious, but it was truly exhilarating. With a friend or two at my side, we ran with childlike grins on our faces. We weaved through the eclectic crowds and took in the sights, smells and vibes that ACL brings. We met free-spirited vagabonds and networking movers and shakers that we wouldn't have met otherwise, and danced like crazy in the back of each show. The freedom was worth the price of our aching legs each day. When dusk began to fall on Sunday, and all of the park but the two headlining stages shut down, the real excitement buzzed. On one end, you had Skrillex, surely ready to put on a killer show. On the other end, you had Eminem, the rap legend of the last two decades. We took on the challenge and dodged through the gathering crowds to catch not only the Skrillex bass-drop blowout opening, but also Eminem's other-worldly finale.

The lights dimmed. Thousands of world-rocked people poured out of the gates, and we knew we had done ACL right.

Cierra — Last Minute Ticket Schemes

Like many college students tend to do, I procrastinated. After working all summer and idly spending money, I had neglected to budget enough to buy tickets in time for the first weekend of ACL before they sold out. I heard about the student sale that ACL was having on Saturday, where students could get passes for early bird prices. The only catch? You have to get in line before they sell out. Running out of options, I decided to brave this experience.

The sale technically starts at 10 a.m., but people get there as early as 10 p.m. the night before, and camp out near the box office. I didn’t realize I could camp out overnight, so I showed up at 5 a.m. instead. To my surprise, there was already a huge crowd of people in line.

People in the crowd started standing up around 7 a.m., and everyone decided to push forward to get as close to the front as possible, which meant people would be squeezed up against each other for three hours until the sale started. There was no room for sitting, which meant I’d have to be on my feet that entire time. To make matters worse, the sun was now up, and it was hot as hell. I realized I hadn’t brought any water, and proceeded to get a nice sunburn on the side of my face that was facing the sun. I shared my misery with a group of people around me, while a guy near me puked into his lunchbox.

After it was time for the sale to start, there was another surge of people. Each shove pushed the crowd up against the gates that were supposed to separate the line. Many, including me, started hopping over the gates since it was almost impossible to get around them. The gates were leaning backward from the pressure of people going over them, creating a hazard (and according to the news after the event, some people had to get stitches after falling). There was also no loudspeaker, so the box office couldn’t give us any instructions or information. We were forced to navigate this maze of death on our own.

Once I got near the front, people around me started saying that the first weekend was sold out, but I hoped that it was just a rumor started to thin out the line. But once I got near the box office, everyone was dispersing.

I spent six hours waiting in line, dehydrated, sunburnt, tired and worst of all, ticketless. To add to the trauma, I also lost the chair I brought in the crowd. I don’t know whether I’ll shell out for last minute prices now, but I do know that I’ll never subject myself to that experience again. I think I’ll save up in time to get early bird tickets. My attendance, and my sanity, depend on it.

Jacky — Jimmy Cliff and Outkast

Although I’ve lived in Austin since 2004, I didn’t have my first ACL experience until last year. My best friend was lucky enough to score free wristbands from reggae artist Jimmy Cliff when he visited the store where they work. They struck up a conversation, and he ended up giving her five free wristbands to ACL. That night I attended one of the biggest music festivals in Austin with four of my closest friends. Since everything happened so last minute, we only got to see Outkast perform, but we didn’t mind at all since it was the first time the group had performed together on stage since 2006. We managed to weave ourselves through the huge crowd and ended up only a few feet away from the barricade. They put on one of the best performances I have seen in my life. The crowd got wild with “Hey Ya” and “B.O.B.” but they also gave us songs like “Roses.” Big Boi even performed his 2006 hit “Kryptonite.” What seemed like it was going to be a normal day ended up being one of the most incredible I’ve ever had.

Michael — Transportation and Planning is Key

Last year, I decided to go to ACL last minute for the chance to share the experience with some old high school friends from out of town who had never been. It was too late by the time I realized I made the mistake of letting first timers plan the weekend. As Eminem closed his set, the rush to get out was a war zone. People pushed and shoved through the muddy field as others used each other as leverage to gain favorable positions in the bus lines. We would have been with them if we didn’t have to find a few friends we lost among the masses. Once we found the rest of our troop, I lost all hope since my group of friends didn’t have a definite exit strategy. After dismissing the many maybe’s and what if’s, I headed straight for the shuttles, knowing we would be waiting for a long time. Wrapping around the dividers, the lines were slow due to the stormy weather conditions.

I called my roommate, who was also at the festival, to see how he was getting back to West Campus. A mutual friend was picking them up at Magnolia Cafe off of Lamar Street. When I called our buddy, he told me my roommate had more people than I assumed and wasn’t going to be able to fit all of us unless we wanted to wait for him to drop off the first group and come back for us. It was starting to sound more appealing since the lines for the bus were hardly moving, and the dried mud was becoming more irritating. We decided to hop out of the shuttle line and go for the ride. We started running, and cheered as we passed under the Lamar bridge. Seeing your ride home after a hefty trek is a special kind of joy. Communication and transportation are important when going to ACL. You’ll end up running in caked Sperry’s and festival attire for mile if you don’t plan ahead — and you’ll look ridiculous.

Kassidy — Are Free Tickets Worth the Back Sweat?

When I went to ACL in 2013, I had some experiences, both good and bad, that I wouldn’t take back. I got my tickets for free from my cousin, who got two tickets in exchange for dog sitting. I saw my favorite at the time, Shakey Graves, discovered Thao and the Get Down Stay Down and rediscovered my middle school love for the Arctic Monkeys. Those things were sadly overshadowed by the rest of my experience at ACL.

I recall the lack of shade in Zilker, having to refill my water bottle every hour and the soaking sweat on my back. At the front of the Arctic Monkeys stage, two guys were shouting in my ear about how crappy their new music is and trying to yell at Alex Turner to play some of their old stuff. The worst part was wandering around aimlessly for a band to watch while my friends saw Fun. Sure Fun isn’t terrible, but if I’m going to be standing in a tightly packed crowd for an hour, I’d rather it be for a band that I really like. At this point, my sense of adventure was all dried up from the heat and the crowds, and I ended up lying in the grass while Pinback played. The last day of the festival had the lineup of bands I wanted to see the most, but it was cancelled last minute because Zilker was flooded. Though it sucked, I got my tickets for free so it wasn’t a huge loss. In fact, I was kind of relieved. ACL is probably a really fun experience if you like big crowds and wandering around all day in the heat — I guess I don’t.