In our continuing effort to bring you the finest music coverage, we attend a lot of festivals (it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it). In our travels, we can’t help but notice that many music festivals are rather similar – many of the line-ups are much the same, the food and drink offerings are similar, and most festivals have the same general format of short sets, multiple stages and rapid act changes.
However, in its eleven years the Austin City Limits Festival has distinguished itself in multiple ways.
1. The Festival is in Austin – The ACL Fest’s Austin location gives you all the advantages of the city that calls itself the Live Music Capital. The musical advantages gave festival goers the choice of a diverse set of aftershows that this year included Melissa Etheridge, Thievery Corporation, Civil Wars. Austin is also a beautiful city and the festival grounds are in its premier park with a huge grassy lawn (planted by the Festival) and massive oak and pecan trees. It’s even possible to catch a quick swim between sets in Barton Springs Pool, just across the road.
2. Audiences – Austin crowds are the stuff of legend and while the ones that attend this festival include a healthy mix of outsiders, ACL audiences are very active. While active audiences can be rapt at times and rowdy at others, the people you meet at this festival are almost always friendly. Besides where else can you meet a group of mustachioed people and then take a ride in Wonder Woman’s pedicab.
3. Flags – ACL fans love to send something up on a pole for all to see and to mark their spot. Flags of almost every nation fly above Zilker Park as well as balloons, blow-up dolls and other personalized objects.
4. Public Art – The Fest includes a changing mix of art pieces. ACL’s replica of Texas’ pink Capitol with female guitar goddess is a perennial favorite, and past festivals have included works in the Knitta Please project by Magda Sayeg, New to the 2012 festival is a giant frame strategically placed to allow fans to stage the perfect photo op.
5. Food – ACL blissfully ignores the carnival-quality food found at many festivals, offering a wide choice of quality foods (although ACL must take second-place in this regard as nothing tops the food found at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival).
6. Unpredictable Weather – There is a reason why Stevie Ray Vaughan’s breakthrough recordings were titled, “Texas Flood” and “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” – Austin weather is always confounding citizens and weathermen alike. In the past, the ACL Festival has dealt with severe droughts that caused dust bowls and monsoon-like storms that created mud pits, as well as a fair share of fair sunny days. This year’s fest had a mix of beautiful weather along with some rain and mud.
7. Asleep at the Wheel play every year.