If you’ve never been to the Austin City Limits festival, you’re missing out.
With famous homegrown artists such as Janis Joplin, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Willie Nelson, The Chicks (formerly known as The Dixie Chicks), W.C. Clark, Lucinda Williams, and so many more, Austin is a city built on legendary music. In other words, whatever your genre of preference, the Austin City Limits lineup will not disappoint.
If you’re thinking about attending the festival this year or next, we’ve got you covered in our ultimate guide to the ultimate music festival. Keep reading to learn more!
Your Austin City Limits Festival Guide
Originally a PBS TV show born in 1975, the Austin City Limits (ACL) began as a blues and country program. In 2002 it became a full-blown mixed-bag-of-music festival. Now, for two consecutive weekends in October, Zilker Park comes to life as an eclectic arrangement of musicians, and their equally eclectic following of music lovers come together under the Texas sun.
The festival has grown each year, providing the visitors with more than just a wild buffet of live tunes. The festival grounds also offer up a 46-acre world of different cuisines, beverages, activities, artistic installations, shopping, and of course, the good old Willie Nelson statue.
Overall, the festival hosts somewhere around 150 bands attracting over 450,000 people from around the globe. That’s quite a crowd and a whole lot of music to get lost in. To ensure you do up the Austin City Limits right, pay close attention to what we’re telling you:
Getting Your Tickets
The ACL festival runs during the first two weekends of October (specific dates vary). Tickets usually go on sale near the end of October—a year in advance—which should tell you to get a serious jump on securing yours.
There are a handful of ticket options, from single-day admissions to three-day platinum passes. Your choice will ultimately come down to which bands you want to see, how many days you want to worship the music, what type of extras you want, and what you can afford. For example, a three-day general admissions pass for $260 allows you music and food. There’s also a $1200 VIP pass that provides catered meals, shaded seating, private bars, and so on.
So, check out the line-up and check your bank account and buy your tickets ASAP!
Transportation is also something you’ll want to plan ahead. You can expect traffic in Austin to be in full force during the festival, and you can expect some wild surcharges for Ubers and Lyfts. Luckily, there’s a free festival shuttle that runs from 10 am to 11 pm, and it’ll pick you up from Republic Square Park in downtown Austin.
There are also pay-to-use electric scooters that’ll get you from downtown to Zilker Park. Or you can rent bikes, flag down a pedicab, or take the Metrorail. The Metrorail will take you as far as two miles outside of the venue. The free shuttle makes a stop there, but it’s good to be prepared with a secondary transportation option because the shuttle gets packed quickly.
Driving is also an option, just not a very good one. You’ll also have to pay a pretty penny for parking. Regardless of how you choose to arrive, give yourself plenty of transit time. If you plan to hail a rideshare, your best bet is to walk a few miles from the park, where there will be better cell reception, more civilization, and fewer surcharges.
Where to Stay
First thing’s first—if you’re coming from out of town, book your accommodations IMMEDIATELY! You have half a million people to compete with, and the longer you wait, the further from the venue you’ll have to stay—and the more you’ll have to pay. There are plenty of hotel and Air BnB options, but we suggest you stay as close to the southwest side of Zilker Park as possible.
The lineup for the ACL festival changes each year. You can expect a beautiful mix of genres, famous artists, and underground artists spread across eight stages.
Safety and Security
You can expect the city of Austin to beef up its security at the ACL venue to ensure everyone’s safety. However, it’s important to do your part by using the buddy system, scoping out the emergency exits, hydration stations, first-aid tents (which are scattered all over the festival grounds), and being aware of your surroundings.
Should you get separated from your friends, don’t worry—there’s a tent for that too, and you can dial 311 for non-emergency help. Also, try not to drink too much. You’ll be under a hot sun all day. Therefore hydration is the key to your survival.
Dressing for the Weather
It’s Texas in October—be prepared for super hot days and chilly nights. Wear breathable, comfortable clothing, but pack a rain poncho and a light sweatshirt just in case. Close-toed shoes are recommended, although you can get away with a decent pair of hiking sandals.
Also, don’t forget the sunscreen!
What to Bring
When packing for the festival, stick to the essentials. That includes:
- Your ACL wristband
- A refillable water bottle or hydration pack
- Your wallet
- A backpack or fanny pack
- A portable charger
- Non-aerosol sunscreen
- A hat
- Hand sanitizer
- Deodorant (trust us)
- Festival map
Optional: A blanket and handheld fan.
Anything not on this list is most likely unnecessary—or not permitted. It’s also a good idea to have a flag or some sort of insignia that your squad can spot easily should you get separated. Don’t worry, if you forget something there’s a tent for that!
Lastly, we would like to leave you with a few gems:
- If you find yourself in need of a nap, check out the Austin Kiddie Limits area. It’s a designated spot for parents and their children, but you’ll be able to find a nice shady and quiet area to rest for a bit. You’ll probably also find parents willing to spare a juice box or two
- The “ACL Cares” section on your map is where you can go to get free merch and perks, which is convenient if you forgot a hat or sunglasses
- Save some energy for the after-parties! The festival ends at 10 pm, which gives you plenty of time to check out the bars along with the famous Dirty 6th, Rainey St, or West 6th. If you only have time for one, check out the Dirty 6th!
If you plan on buying any ACL merch while you’re there, do so on the first day. Items tend to sell out fast.
Get Lost in the Music
The Austin City Limits music festival is truly a unique experience for music lovers everywhere. Add it to your bucket list, and thank us later.
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