Lisa A. Walker, a producer with National Geographic Books, is just back from a jam-packed musical weekend at the Austin City Limits Festival. She offers some tips on navigating the weekend-long festival and preparing for your next all-out music event. Check out other travels from National Geographic staffers at our Out of Office series.
After a great deal of dodging and weaving through the massive crowd, we stopped for a moment to check our bearings, the map, and our supplies. The relentless Texas sun was toasting every exposed piece of flesh I had, my back was drenched in sweat from my pack, and I felt yet another blister forming on my right foot. Our water was getting low, and there was talk of needing food but more importantly… there were only 15 minutes left until the Black Keys were going on and there was absolutely no time to waste. We needed to make our way to other side of Zilker Park fast. With heart-pumping rhythms from stages all around us and people scurrying in every direction, we quickly forged ahead in eager anticipation of the music. Oh the things we choose to endure in order to attend the Austin City Limits Music Festival (aka, the ACL Festival) each year.
The ACL Festival is held annually in Austin, TX, which is also known by many as the “Live Music Capital of the World.” (This is not to be confused with the Austin City Limits PBS special, which is filmed in a live studio, and is incidentally now the longest running music series in American television.) The ACL Festival is nine years old and every ticket purchased directly benefits Austin Parks Foundation, which helps to improve parks throughout the city. The festival, which runs three days, has eight stages and 130 bands, so proper planning is critical for the music fanatic. As a veteran music festival attendee, I have managed to come up with a checklist, through much trial and error over the years, in preparation for a festival of this magnitude.
When attending any music festival, it’s always a good idea to check their website well ahead of time, not just for the dates, tickets, location, etc. but also for your transportation to the festival location (there’s no public parking around ACL, but they do offer free shuttle busses and bike stands.) You should also check what is “prohibited” and “allowed” into the festival. For example, cameras with a “detachable lens of any kind” are not allowed into the ACL festival, which was a real problem for me one year, especially when it took three kinds of transportation just to get to the front gate. On that same note of caution, definitely remember to bring your ticket!
WHAT TO BRING
The critical items: A really good pair of shoes (the kind you could walk for miles in and they still feel pretty good); a pack of tissues (for when the portable toilets inevitably run out — hand sanitizer also a good idea); a reusable water bottle (ACL was aggressive this year with their green initiatives and had multiple free water stations); your camera; sunscreen or a wide brim hat if sunny and a raincoat or weatherproof footwear for rain; cash to help avoid those nasty ATM fees.
MAP OUT THE MUSIC
In a large park with eight stages, the chances of catching two big headliner bands on opposite sides of the park are nearly impossible. The bigger the band the bigger the crowd so pick your artists and plan enough time to get there.
Most importantly, be ready to have a most excellent time. Some of this year’s festival highlights were: Sonic Youth, Phish, Vampire Weekend, Muse, Blind Pilot, Band of Horses, Richard Thompson, and the Eagles.
The Austin City Limits Festival will be held on September 16-18, in 2011. Register online now to sign up for info on early bird three-day passes.
Have your own music festival tips? Share them in the comments below.