When it comes to music festivals, it’s often easy to tell from the location what kind of experience you’re going to have. When organizers are totally disassociated from the local scene, it’s easy to spot. Some random field that just happened to be near some center of population? Happily, the ACL Music Festival is particularly NOT of this kind.
Isn’t it nice when a festival pays homage to the culture of the place hosting it? Don’t we all love a festival that locals actually want to go to?
Enter: ACL Music Festival. Austin City Limits is upfront with you, and it gets better from there. It’s a love letter to indie folk music that’s taken place in the heart of Austin since the early 2000s, and it’s showing no signs of stopping. Let’s talk a little more about the history of this awesome festival, its location, and some of the great lineups they’ve had in the past.
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Austin City Limits Music Festival History
Even though ACL Festival is a product of the 2000s, the inspiration behind the festival started much earlier with a little help from PBS. Okay, a lot of help.
The Austin City Limits Music Festival began as a single weekend in 2002 by C3 presents, and it received support from the city to expand to two weekends in 2013. It was inspired by the Austin City Limits PBS program, which highlighted the talents of independent musicians by broadcasting live performances.
The Austin City Limits TV show won both a National Medal of the Arts and a Peabody Award for their efforts to showcase local, independent artists and preserve American music in all its eclectic forms. They’re so dedicated to providing a space for indie talent, they had a no-name country singer on their pilot episode, a man named Willie Nelson.
Okay, okay, but Willie wasn’t as big in ‘74 as he is now! He was only mid-charting when he lived in Nashville, but classically, when he got fed up with their scene, he moved to Austin.
ACL Festival brings the same energy to festivals that the TV show brought to the network. You’ll see that when we start digging into the lineups over the years, but next we want to talk a little more about the location itself: Austin, Texas.
Where is the ACL Festival?
You get two points if you can correctly guess where the Austin City Limits Music Festival takes place: yep, Austin!
Alright, that was an easy one, but trust us, there’s a bit more to it than that. Where in Austin is the ACL Festival held?
The Austin City Limits festival is held in Zilker Park, a 351-acre metropolitan park on the bank of the Colorado River in the heart of Austin, Texas. The city received Zilker Park in 1918, and since then has built botanical gardens, picnic sites, volleyball courts, a pool, and more for residents to enjoy.
It’s far from the largest park in the United States, but greenspace is incredibly important to cities like Austin. Hot climates plus urban environments equal a total disaster if there aren’t enough green spaces to absorb all that heat. Austin maintains roughly 20,000 acres of green space according to their Parks and Rec Dept.
Even so, there are plenty of cooling stations, water tents, and shade booths at the ACL Music Festival. When you’re planning on attending an outdoor music festival in Texas, you have to keep stuff like that in mind. We have a great article about what to wear to a music festival, but let’s get specific about what to wear to ACL.
What to wear to the ACL Music Festival
If you’re one of the lucky 450,000 with a ticket to the ACL Music Festival, planning your outfits and gear is essential. Festival veterans will know what I’m talking about here. If you throw a bag together at the last minute, you’ll probably regret it in the end.
Here are a few key things to keep in mind when putting together an awesome festival outfit.
1. Cover your chest, shoulders, and neck
I don’t mean to sound like your mom, I really don’t! Covering up places that will get a lot of sun is so much easier than remembering to apply sunscreen. You probably won’t even want to apply sunscreen if you get all sweaty.
2. Pick breathable fabrics
Natural fibers are going to breathe better – and look better! Go for cotton or linen as much as you can. Bonus points if your clothing choice has a lot of secure pockets.
3. Avoid clothing that chafes
The last thing you want is to be distracted during your favorite band’s set, and nothing can take you out of the moment more like uncomfortable clothing. Because it’ll be hot, you’re going to be dealing with some sweaty situations. Pick clothing that fits well or pack some Gold Bond to reduce friction, and you’ll be all set to enjoy, well, the set!
Check out this news article from Austin American-Statesman for a deeper dive into the conditions you’ll be working with at ACL, and plan accordingly.
Alright, you’ve sat through the lecture for long enough. It’s time to dig into the really fun part: checking out some of the best lineups from the ACL Music Festival’s past.
ACL Music Festival 2023 Lineup and Dates
The Austin City Limits Music Fest 2023 will be held over two weekends in October this year!
- Weekend one is October 6 – 8th
- Weekend two is October 13 – 15th
Prices range widely depending on how many days you attend and what level of experience you’re looking for.
Here are a few of the acts you’ll see over the course of the festival:
- Kendrick Lamar
- The Lumineers
- Kali Uchis
- Maggie Rogers
- The Mars Volta (Weekend 1)
- Portugal. The Man
- TONS more
- Foo Fighters
- Shania Twain (Weekend 1)
- The 1975 (Weekend 2)
- Alanis Morissette
- Thirty Seconds to Mars
- Tegan and Sara (Weekend 2)
- Ben Kweller
- LOADS more
- Mumford & Sons
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs
- M83 (Weekend 2)
- The Breeders
- The Walkmen (Weekend 1)
- SO many more
To see everyone performing, here’s a link to the ACL Fest 2023 lineup.
Best Austin City Limits Music Festival Lineups
One of the best things about Austin City Limits is how many insane lineups they’ve put together in the past. We’re going to list some highlights here, but sound off in a comment if we snubbed any of your favorites. But be nice, and remember it’s all subjective. We’re all music lovers here.
2010 was a banner year, and it’s one that our editor (in his infinite wisdom) specifically requested I include here. With a lineup including powerhouse indie bands like Gorillaz, Vulfpeck, and M.I.A., it’s definitely one of the best years for the ACL Music Fest.
Our highlights from the 2010 lineup for ACL Fest are:
- Glass Animals
- The Killers
- Tank and the Bangas
- Beach House
Another standout year for Austin City Limits was 2013, which brought Neko Case, Haim, and many more awesome bands to the great state of Texas. She burned hot and bright on Friday and Saturday only, though, as extreme rain conditions washed the entire thing out for the final day, which is just heartbreaking when I tell you Franz Ferdinand was slated for Sunday.
Our picks for best acts at 2013 ACL Fest:
- Depeche Mode
- Kings of Leon
- Arctic Monkeys
- Neko Case
- Walk the Moon
With The Killers closing, you know this was a good show. It was, in many ways, a culturally important show, too. ACL Fest 2017 kicked off the week after a mass shooting happened at a country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. When tragedies like that break their way into the music world, the artists’ responses are often powerfully moving, especially The Killers, who are from Vegas.
Take a look at some of the bands that performed at ACL Fest 2017:
- Red Hot Chili Peppers
- Crystal Castles
- Tove Lo
- Foster the People
- The Head and The Heart
- Rufus Du Sol
- First Aid Kit
ACL Music Festival: Final thoughts
Have you ever been to ACL Fest? We would love to read about some personal experiences down in the comments. Every YouTube video on the Austin City Limits Music Festival channel is flooded with heartfelt testimonials and anecdotes from devoted ACL Fest fans who can’t say enough about the amazing experiences they had.
If you haven’t been to the ACL Music Festival, but you can totally relate, let us know in a comment what music festivals changed your life. If we haven’t written about it already, maybe we will someday!