ACL: 20 Years at Zilker Park
Story: Madisyn Siebert
Photos: Cory Weaver
Austin City Limits rolled into Austin for its 20th consecutive year, connecting artists and fans once again over a two-weekend long experience. Each October, festival goers get to interact with hundreds of artists spanning multiple genres (not to mention some bending genres), local food purveyors, unique vendors and more. This festival is proud to represent Texas, and even prouder to represent its capital city, Austin.
This year, the ACL team pulled together a stellar lineup, and for once I would argue the Weekend 2 lineup was the stronger option with artists like Phoenix, Death Cab for Cutie, Wet Leg, Vacations and more that were exclusive to the schedule. There were steady musicians who played both weekends though that help make ACL the world renowned festival that it is, with artists like P!nk, The Chicks, Lil Nas X, Diplo, Marcus Mumford, Red Hot Chili Peppers and more. This festival brings together new, old classics and everything in between so that there is something for everybody.
Starting the weekend off strong, Day 1’s afternoon rivaled the headliners that evening. Musicians like Noah Cyrus, Wet Leg, Sarah Kinsley, L’Imperatrice, Benee and Vacations took the stage from early afternoon to early evening, making everyone rush from one of the six stages as to not miss the excitement and unique twist each artist brought to the stage. The evening matched the powerful lineup by bringing indie rock faves Phoenix, country icons The Chicks, Bluegrass Grammy-award winner Billy Strings, popstar Conan Gray and St. Louis native SZA. The stages felt fuller, the crowds seemed bigger than compared to years past, and the energy that was brought by all the crowds was beyond unmatched.
Catching your favorite artists at a music festival differs from a concert in your hometown in many ways, such as more emphasis on the music, and the ability to determine how good your spot is based on how early you get to the stage. One of the bad things about a festival set is that the time is much more limited than at a typical concert. Thomas Mars, lead vocalist of Phoenix, summarized this perfectly on Day 1, “I want to bond with you, but we don’t have time. Let’s communicate with music.” That is exactly what the crowd gave him and what I carried with myself for the whole weekend.
“Are we feeling saucy, ACL?” Spill Tab yelled to kickstart the second day of the festival. Some amazing bands carried us through the blaze of the sun and into evening, some of my favorites being Habibi, The Brummies, Neil Frances, Good Looks and Samia. Each artist's individuality showing up on stage, especially Habibi who used their time for more than just music to explain the revolution that was happening for women in Iran. This was far from the only political stance that happened this weekend, but that is something we have seen ACL embrace at their festival for years, allowing artists to use their platforms for the greater good.
L’Imperatrice,, Spoon, Sofi Tukker and Wet Leg
As the sun set though, we got to hear more of our favorite artists, like The Front Bottoms, Boy George and the Culture Club, The War on Drugs, Wallows and Death Cab for Cutie. Someone who absolutely slayed his performance was Lil Nas X, from bringing up members of the crowd to twerk on stage, numerous outfit changes, intense choreography and t-shirt cannons, he immersed you into his world effortlessly. Diplo and Flume drew in the EDM crowd for the evening, and P!nk brought her classic hits, jokes and acrobatic skills. No matter how much fun it may be to dance in a crowd watching an artist on stage, it is a new experience getting to see them fly over your head just out of reach, twirling and singing as they do, especially when they can still make it look easy at 43.
Day 3 brought the variety with two of our favorite new artists: Glove and Jake Wesley Rogers. Glove brought back post-punk from the late ‘70s and the outfits that came with it, while Jake Wesley Rogers, a Missouri boy, brought every color of the rainbow, Elton John pop and his platform heels. The hottest day of the weekend did not stop people from showing up and catching the sets of Faye Webster, PinkPantherness, Yungblud and more, everyone wanting to rock out before ACL closed its doors ’til next year.
Oliver Tree went on tangents and tried to trick the crowd multiple times into believing Paramore was canceling their set, while Spoon at the same time brought their classic indie rock to their fans with very little discussion in between. Paramore stole the day, everyone rushing to their set, it being one of the most crowded stages I have ever experienced at ACL since 2018. Paramore riffed off Olivia Rodrigo and even brought up PinkPantherness to sing with them.
But the day was not complete without the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kacey Musgraves. Red Hot Chili Peppers brought California to Austin and even celebrated Flea’s 60th birthday. But, at Kacey’s stage, I was left with a beautiful statement, and it wasn’t “which side of the crowd is gayer?” or her asking for a beer and Beto O'Rourke bringing it to her. It was simply, “This present moment can never be replicated again.”
This was a great reminder of how not only to live in the moment and stop recording every song on your phone—you know who you are—but it was also a reminder that every year people look forward to this weekend, so take advantage of Austin City Limits and bask in the music, food and the people around you. It was the best way to end ACL, along with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ firework display.
Throughout all of this craziness and the hecticness of trying to catch your favorite bands, we couldn’t pass up ACL Eats, the general food court of the festival. Food offerings included festival staples like pizza, nachos and fries, to only things you could get in Austin, like elote tater tots, tortilla cones with spicy avocado and chicken, and even smoothie bowls to keep cool in the heat. ACL Eats is always an area that is hard to walk by and not treat yourself to at least one bite of something; the willpower you need to not divulge into the local Austin cuisine is unmatched, and ACL continues to bring great food that locals love and out-of-towners drool over. Plus, good food is always accompanied by good drinks. With the Barton Springs Beer Hall nearby it was easy to try local brews or classic brews you can find across the country.
It also wouldn’t be a festival if there wasn’t plenty of sponsorships either. ACL brought in top names like American Express, Titos, Honda, Snapchat and my personal favorite new collaborator, Hulu. Hulu stepped up strong into the sponsorship realm offering not only a Hulu Motel, but also streaming the first weekend of ACL to all of its users. This new strategy is what even helped some people determine what artists they wanted to go see if they could watch both of their sets the previous weekend, just like one fan I spoke to at the P!nk show who explained how they caught Flume’s set and P!nk’s via Hulu’s stream and decided P!nk would be the better option for them. Other sponsors brought in similar tactics the previous year, like American Express creating a VIP experience for Amex holders and allowing them to go cardless at the festival by linking their Amex to their wristband for an easy transaction.
Overall, ACL brought together new and old in every category, from beloved artists to locals on the scene, to classic Austin food and beer to new specialties to try, same old Zilker Park, and a whole new crowd. The ACL team can continue to build stellar lineups in every category, but what will make the festival unique and special every year is the people you meet. So, be a friendly face, show some southern hospitality and enjoy the music.
(Top-Bottom, L-R) Marcus Mumford, Japanese Breakfast, Spill Tab, SZA, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Neal Francis