In the past few years, handcrafted totem poles have become a mainstay of the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Whether festival attendees are trying to pinpoint friends or just simply express creativity, festival flags are embedded in ACL culture.
By Savannah Olson
The everlasting dry heat of Austin transformed into a sub-tropical environment on Sunday afternoon, with the air sticking to the thousands of bodies surrounding an empty stage. On the last day of ACL Festival, in the pulsating crowd, it can be hard to describe your location to a friend. Saying you’re on the left side of the stage isn’t very helpful when that side of the pit holds hundreds of people. The answer is a few feet above people’s heads, in the clear blue sky: festival totem poles.
Crafted as a form of individuality in a festival full of the same flash tattoos and basketball jerseys, these festival totem poles are used to unite groups of friends known and unknown among the hoard of the crowds. From DIY pool noodles with babydoll arms and googly eyes, to an assortment of flags representing home countries, states and memes, these totem poles come in all shapes and sizes. Some of these flags even share a history prior to their appearance at ACL. “For four years running, we’ve had a really big totem that came from the Hundred Acre Woods,” said ACL festival-goer and totem pole enthusiast Haley Hensley.
For the last two years of ACL, Hensley describes that a Winnie the Pooh theme developed among her friend group’s annual totem pole. For this year’s ACL, the next character chosen was Eeyore, with a hanging sign beneath his image saying, “Hang in there” to all festival attendees who might have needed a little encouragement throughout the three days of foot-aching and back-breaking.
For many totem-pole owners, the overarching reason for their crafted symbols was for their large friend groups to spot them among the congestion of the festival. “It’s great, because you stand here and it’s way of finding all your friends,” said ACL attendee Colton as he held up his friend group’s pineapple-central totem flag.
Totem poles also provide festival-goers a way of finding their own clan. As an eye-catching and steady landmark among a sea of people, they stand high. From bringing together old buds to igniting a friendship with someone new, festival totem poles encompass the main reason behind music festivals: fostering human connection, whether new or old.