ACL Music Festival: Past, Present, and Future

Photo by Bryan C. Parker

Photo by Bryan C. Parker

With the past two weekends in the books, we can now reflect on the 13th annual Austin City Limits Music Festival and see what all us thousands experienced. There were reunions and first-timers, Chvrches and Temples, all the way from the Avetts to Zedd. What was once a two-day festival that $25 could get you into for a day and featured some of the most popular roots-based artists, C3’s festival now displays a diverse array of artists that represent an eclectic mix of roots, indie, rap, country, and perhaps most inverse, EDM, as seen in the likes of Skrillex and Zedd. One can see how these DJs are massively supported by looking around at the hordes of teenagers who flock to the huge stages with hopes of finding the heaviest drop. Bass frequencies shook the grounds as these artists continued through their sets, their fans likely lost in the sea of headbands, tanktops, and flip-flops.

ACL_2014_Day_1-7This is the second year that ACL has turned into a two-weekend, six-day festival that offers something a unique experience each weekend. For example, Lorde was the biggest name to only play the fest’s second weekend. She bounced around the large stage almost all alone, putting on a fantastic performance. In fact, I was at times skeptical of how well she sang while throwing her curly hair into the air. Another little treat was slightly different sets by artists who played both weekends. Pearl Jam, while refraining from playing “Jeremy” the first weekend, played their massive hit this second weekend. The Replacements also decided to change their game and play the unvisited “Unsatisfied” to the (largely satisfied) crowd. While OutKast stuck to the same set almost exactly, it was pure pleasure to watch as Andre and Big Boi shared the stage like the old friends they are, vibing and working the audience with loads of energy injected into all their hits.

Photo by Bryan C. Parker

Photo by Bryan C. Parker

But what Pop Press International is interested in today is the effect this festival and others like it have on the city. It’s no secret that the numerous festivals in the city are able to attract thousands of people within the city and from afar, raking in massive amounts of money (especially when those ACL wristband scanners get automatically attached to your bank account…) from ticket sales, transportation, lodging, and spillover dollars on non-festival related purchases. But what becomes a bit more obfuscated is the environmental and infrastructure-related effects. In a report by KUT this Monday, we learn the traffic, crowds, and park closures are very much a nuisance to nearby residents. If anyone got within a mile of the festival, the traffic was obvious. Yes, maybe us attendees naturally assumed everyone was trying to get to the same place, but that is not the reality. Some may have just been trying to get to the grocery store, or home from a long day at work. And who wants to finally get home from work and listen to 75,000 people make their way from point A to points B through Z? The controversy even prompted reports by KUT that C3 has threatened to take ACL out of Austin, a prospect difficult to validate considering the festival’s history and fan base.

Photo by Bryan C. Parker

Photo by Bryan C. Parker

Ok, the festival is over and now we can finally relax and get some tosses of the Frisbee in over at Zilker, right? Well… The park will remain closed as work begins for the next month replacing sod, removing stages, and finishing other post-festival maintenance. Why is this a big deal? Because our tax dollars pay for Zilker Park and when it is closed for an event that is not open to the general public, that is an issue. Ok, but then we’re good, right? Well… Starting in late November, the park will be closed again for preparations for the Trail of Lights. This is a free event open to the public but still prevents regular use. KUT also reports that the park will be closed again January 7-11 for the Cyclocross National Championships.

Photo by Bryan C. Parker

Photo by Bryan C. Parker

These events still represent the minority of days, and the park is open for the great remainder of the year, but these events still raise questions about how ACL and similar events will work with the community to stimulate the economy, develop our city-wide identity, accommodate residents in the immediate vicinity, and minimize inconvenience for incoming tourists. It’s not an easy task, especially as Austin continues to grow with each passing day. The city and its parks incur large amounts of stress during festival times and may not be able to reconcile this with economic positives. But as KUT reports, the festival will be returning to Zilker next year, seeing as C3 has already announced dates: October 2-4 and 9-11.  Early-bird tickets go on sale October 21–that’s next week, if you’re marking your calendar.

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