With nearly the same lineup playing through two weekends this year (Oct. 4-6 and Oct. 11-13), the Austin City Limits Music Festival offers a rare chance to offer some first-hand recommendations for what to do at an event that's usually a one-time-only experience. While I didn't get to see all (or even most) of the 130-plus acts on the festival's eight stages last weekend, there are a lot of things I'd do or see again – and maybe a few things I'd do differently.
Among the headliners, Depeche Mode (Friday) and The Cure (Saturday) both stand out as long-running acts that are holding up to the test of time. The same can be said for Lionel Richie, although I skipped most of his Sunday night spot in favor of seeing Atoms for Peace, which delivered a two-hour blast of high-energy rock that kept the crowd moving. If '80s music isn’t your thing, British rockers Muse can put on a great arena-rock show (which I saw when they played ACL Fest in 2011), and Wilco fans will want to see their Saturday night performance, which might be the last one the band plays together for a while before frontman Jeff Tweedy embarks on a solo tour.
Navigating the festival seemed slightly easier than in years past, despite the sellout crowd estimated to peak at 70,000 people. Arriving by bike, I was able to skip the lines for shuttle buses to and from downtown, lock up my ride right across the street from the main gates and get right to enjoying the event.
I grubbed in the Austin Eats food area all three days and rarely had to stand in a line, coming away with some delicious dishes I’d be happy to eat even if I wasn’t a captive audience – bahn mi pork belly tacos from The Peached Tortilla, brisket tacos from Stubbs, cookies from Tiff’s Treats, savory street corn from La Condesa and curry chicken from Lambas Royal Indian Foods were all tasty and all local. Perhaps best of all, I could cruise the menus (and prices) of all 35 food vendors without wandering the food stalls using the official ACL Fest phone app.
The addition of a craft beer tent – featuring a selection of 15 I.P.A.s, ciders, wheat beers and more on tap – opens up the options for folks who want to relax and have a ($8) drink in a shady spot. The tent also has a large television screen, so if you want to keep up with the Texas-OU game this weekend, you can do it there.
As long as you plan to eat and visit the bathrooms sometime before 6 p.m., you should be able to make it through the headliner performances without too much hassle. The free water refill stations are generally easy to access, except when a show on a nearby stage has just ended. Around 7 p.m., the lines for everything get longer (30+ minutes for a bathroom), so plan (and drink!) accordingly. And invest in some hand sanitizer.
Music picks for Weekend Two
My other musical favorites from Weekend One include HAIM and MS MR (both of whom rock a live show harder than their ‘80s-pop-flavored albums), Local Natives, Neko Case, Passion Pit and Tame Impala (though they would have benefitted from more volume and a bigger stage considering the crowd they attracted). Austin bands that got their time to shine on the festival stages included White Denim, The Bright Light Social Hour and Shinyribs (who was only playing the first weekend). I had to miss Asleep at the Wheel, Dawes, Wild Feathers, The Shouting Matches, Arctic Monkeys, Phoenix and a few others that would have been worth checking out. If you’re planning what to see on Weekend Two, my picks include:
Friday: Sons of Fathers, Court Yard Hounds, Shovels & Rope, Electric Six, Local Natives, The Black Angels, Arctic Monkeys, Depeche Mode
Saturday: Whiskey Shivers, HAIM, Silversun Pickups, Shakey Graves, Grimes, The Bright Light Social Hour, The Shouting Matches, Passion Pit, The Cure
Sunday: The Band of Heathens, MS MR, The McCrary Sisters, Wild Feathers, Franz Ferdinand, Divine Fits, White Denim, Tame Impala, Phoenix, Neko Case, Atoms for Peace
If you go...
If you’re heading to the festival this weekend, be sure to check out Jane Wu's tips on what to bring – the poncho may be especially important this Saturday and Sunday, according to weather forecasts. Sunscreen also is a must, but make sure it's the squeeze-bottle kind– aerosol sunscreen spray was being confiscated at the gate. I’d also add that you should turn off your cell phone’s data connection if you’re not using it or expecting a call/text. Being in a small area with so many people means poor reception, and your phone will be draining its batteries by constantly trying to get a signal (and there are no cell charging stations at the festival this year).
And of course, let us know what you see and hear! Comment below or share on our Facebook page.