A Guide for ACL 2021 – Our Tips From Weekend 1

Lily Thorpe

Since 2002, Austin City Limits Music Festival has marked the beginning of October for many Austinites. The first two weekends of October in Austin may have more traffic, closed roads, and longer restaurant wait times, but it is all for something magical happening just past the skyline in Zilker Park. 

The festival brings out many loyal followers year after year, but it attracts many first-timers among festival returners. In preparation for your first ACL experience, you may receive tips from friends who have attended in the past, or you may do your own research. Regardless, preparing for a festival like ACL is something anyone, first-timer or not, should do. 

This year, I happened to be one of the first-timers stepping foot through the ACL festival gates. The weekend was thrilling and exhausting, but something I hope every Austinite has the chance to experience. Now I have reflected on my experience and have a few tips that will help your weekend two or any future ACL endeavors run smoothly. 

Where are we meeting? 

ACL covers a large area of Zilker Park, and as you can imagine, it is easy to be separated from your friends. If your group decides to split up at any time to go to a different stage, get food, go to the bathroom, or you just get separated in the crowd, having a designated meeting spot and time could be what brings you back together. Luckily, there are plenty of distinct markings that make choosing a location a breeze. 

ACL encourages using other methods of transportation due to limited bus  availability | KEYE

Getting a phone signal while you’re at the festival can be spotty. Typically, the closer you are to the stage, the less signal you have. Pictures also take longer to send, so it is challenging to use images to show your friends where you are located. Communication, before your group decides to split up, is critical. 

Stay Hydrated

The great part about ACL is they allow you to bring in any empty water container and fill it up once inside the gates. This is a game-changer for your wallet and health. Staying hydrated is now easier as you do not have to constantly spend money on water. To anyone going to ACL, my number one recommendation is to take advantage of this perk. 

ACL Music Festival Appreciation Merch Sale | Austin Parks Foundation

Staying hydrated is key to enjoying your weekend. During weekend one, the high on Sunday was 90 degrees. Things get sweaty standing in the sun, walking to different stages, and dancing to all of the live music. While waiting for various shows to start, I witnessed multiple people pass out due to dehydration. Staying hydrated will also help your momentum through the weekend as you will not feel the effects of a lack of water throughout the day. 

It costs how much? 

You just spent $300 to purchase your GA weekend ticket, that is all right? To no one’s surprise, everything costs more once you are inside the festival. From food to beverages to merch, the weekend can add up quickly. Here is what I did to help offset some of the costs for the weekend: 

  1. Eat a large meal before entering the festival, so we were not as hungry right away. 
  2. I brought my own water bottle, so I did not have to buy water for all three days. 
  3. I only chose to purchase only one shirt from the merch store. It was hard to limit myself to just one, but it was a conscious decision I needed to make, so I was not tempted to go crazy buying different shirts. 
  4. Take advantage of the free activities brands are sponsoring. At the Honda tent, they did free airbrush tattoos and handed out snow cones. Honda is one of several companies with different stations set up through the festival for you to enjoy. 

The Music

We couldn’t write this piece without at least mentioning the music. ACL Festival has grown to 2 weekends, 8 stages and over 130 bands. Everyone has their own taste in music, but here is what stood out to us from weekend 1.

  1. Sometimes just going towards what sounds good is the way to go. Surfaces was about half way into their set on Saturday when we arrived at the festival and their blend of jazz, soul, and pop did not disappoint.
  2. Rüfüs Du Sol – Yeah yeah, they are a headliner and this is a safe choice, but how can you not jam to their unique style of alternative dance music. Rüfüs Du Sol proved carves out a unique place in electronic music that is beyond the genre’s usual bombast.
  3. Dayglow – Hometown show! Sloan Struble was a University of Texas student just a few years ago, millions of streams later he is now rocking ACL. The set is fun, high energy, and a can’t miss on our list.
  4. Billie Eilish – We say Billie when she played the Honda Stage back in 2019, that was a great performance, this was next level. Her raw talent paired with adoring fans second to none made it an experience to remember, some leaving happier than ever.

How are we getting home? 

Getting to and from the festival can be one of the most stressful parts. There are many options, from ride-sharing programs, to the ACL shuttles, to parking garages. If you take the time to plan anything before heading to ACL, plan your rides. As a group, decide if you want to stay through the end of the night or if you want to sneak out a few minutes early to beat the rush. 

How to get to the 2021 Austin City Limits Music Festival | KUT Radio,  Austin's NPR Station

Throughout the entire weekend, my group chose to schedule our rides through several ride-sharing programs. This took the stress off of wondering how we would get home at the end of the night and allowed us to pay a cheaper rate. Other friends of mine parked at the Palmer Event Center and found much success getting to and from the festival. Because there are so many options for getting home, it is crucial to discuss as a group what is best for you, so everyone knows where to go at the end of the night. 

I can confidently say my first Austin City Limits experience was memorable beyond words. It brings out the best in Austin, and I love seeing how the whole community pulls together to execute such a fantastic event. Whether you are a first-timer or have been going to the festival for years, I hope these tips help prepare you for the 19th Austin City Limits Music Festival.