For the last 10 years I have either been attending or reporting on the Austin City Limits Music Festival. I think most would agree that makes me a quasi-expert on the topic, so this year I’m giving you all my tips and tricks to take the festival on like a complete pro.
Before The Festival
The number one thing to do before you go to ACL is to download the ACL app or screenshot the schedule. The app has an interactive schedule that allows you to create your own list of acts you want to see and is going to keep you on track. It also links to the artist pages so you can do some research on the type of music the acts play, especially if you haven’t heard of them before. I enjoy having the app and the schedule screenshot on my phone for easy access throughout the weekend.
Register your wristband. This will ensure that you are the only person connected to the band and will also allow you to attach your credit card so you can just tap your band at any vendor instead of worrying about cash.
The next step is making a game plan. That includes creating your schedule for shows and adding in some rest time, bathroom time, and travel time between the stages. You may be the type of person who just likes to go with the flow, and that’s great, but I like to see all I can see at ACL and take advantage of the expensive ticket I’ve already paid for. Remember that ACL isn’t just about the music. There’s plenty of amazing food to try, interactive sponsor booths, art installations, retail vendors, and of course, this year there will be cocktails being sold to GA attendees.
Check the weather. This might seem like something that a 30-something like me would do, but everyone needs to do this. Texas weather can be all over the place in October and the last thing you need is to be stuck in the middle of a field without access to something you need. Getting an idea of what the weather will be like will allow you to bring any specific items that you might need with you, and will also help you plan what you want to wear.
Decide who you’re going with and how you will meet up. ACL is not a house party where you’re bound to find your friends one way or another. There will be tens of thousands of people there and odds are that you will have terrible phone service. I recommend going with a group of 4 people or less that all want to see the same acts. That way you can stay together and don’t end up using all your battery life trying to find each other.
I would also recommend coming up with a meeting spot before the headliners start around 7, so you can all meet up if you split up. Bringing your own flag is also a great way to find your people, but carrying the flag all day long can get tiring.
Transportation is a big one. Getting to ACL can be a pain but plans should be made ahead of time so you can weigh out your options. Taking a rideshare to the festival is often easy because people are coming in from all over town, so there will be plenty of drivers. Getting out of ACL through a rideshare can be a real nightmare.
Everyone wants to get picked up at the same time and that means that roads around the festival get a massive influx of traffic. Rates for rideshares will go through the roof so I suggest making an alternate plan like taking the bus, taking scooters, riding your bike or even walking.
Now, let me say that if you are under the influence of anything, please don’t ride your bike or scooter. You don’t want to get in an accident and hurt yourself or others. I suggest walking away from the festival down Lamar, into West Austin or East Riverside to try to get rideshare.
Parking is not allowed in the Zilker neighborhood or surrounding ones, so avoid getting towed by not parking in the residential areas. My go-to is getting there to find early parking somewhere close to West 6th and Mopac and walking over the bridge to the back of Zilker Park. That way you pay for street parking but can also walk to the least crowded entrance.
Day of the festival
Pack the essentials. ACL has some strict bag rules but there are some clear bags you can get on Amazon that will allow you to bring all the things you absolutely need. The bullet points below are a good starting point for all the goodies I typically bring with me:
Extra toilet paper
Refillable water bottle
Battery pack and charger
Bandana (For dust that gets kicked up or for sweat)
I’m a person who likes to be prepared. Hand sanitizer will save your life when you’re making time to eat or need to get away from the port-a-potties quickly.
Secure all your belongings. It’s no surprise that there are tons of pickpockets at the festival. It seems like every year we hear stories about a group of people that steal hundreds of phones from concertgoers. That’s where the see-through bags, backpacks, and small fanny packs all come in handy.
Don’t ever put your phone in your pack pocket or even front pocket. Bring your ID and a credit card but don’t bring cash since the festival is cashless anyway.
Create a phone wallpaper image with your friend’s number. Someone gave me this tip a long time ago and I do this every year. I go on my Instagram story and just type up, “If you find my phone, it would be really amazing if you could text XX at (xxx) xxx-xxxx. I’ll buy you a drink for all the trouble”. Save the image and make it your wallpaper for your phone. That way if a good Samaritan finds your phone and it has a passcode, they can text your friend to tell you they found it.
Have lunch beforehand. Unless you are planning to get to ACL right when it opens, I suggest having lunch before you head to the show. This will allow you to get to your first stage right away and will save you some cash on food.
I would also suggest looking at the ACL Eats page before going to the festival in case you have any food allergies. They have some great local vendors every year so just make some time to get some dinner and snacks in between shows. The food lines can get long so I usually just go for whatever is moving fastest.
At the festival
Get a good lay of the land. I typically like to show up around 1 pm to make sure that I have time to take a stroll of the festival grounds before everyone shows up. This lets me know exactly where all the stages are and gives me a better point of reference before the masses arrive. You can also identify where all the best places for shade are and where the best restrooms will be.
Stop by Tito’s Vodka claw machine by the T-Mobile stage so you can try to win a wristband for lounge access. This is by far one of the most fun activities at ACL. Tito’s Vodka adds free goodies and special wristbands to the machine but make sure to get there early or the line can get long. If you are lucky enough to win a wristband, you’ll be greeted by free Tito’s cocktails, air-conditioned restrooms, and lots of shade. It’s the best deal at the fest if you’re skilled enough to win.
Drink lots of water. This seems like a no-brainer, but with all the excitement you will likely forget to drink water instead of beer or wine. It’s Texas, so it’s likely going to be very hot out there and the last thing you want is to get heatstroke or pass out from exhaustion. I’ve seen plenty of people being carted off because they get dehydrated and that’s not how you want to have your day end at the festival.
Live in the moment. There will be plenty of time to post about the festival after your day at the park. I always try to record some videos of my favorite songs but then also try to put my phone down to enjoy the experience. Watch the stage with your own eyes, instead of through your phone.
Let me know what your favorite ACL tips are by messaging me on Instagram at @thetaniaortega .
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