Swag's Austin City Limits Music Festival FAQ

This is a fan site for the Austin City Limits Music Festival.   Like the Festival itself, I expect it will grow over time.  I'll post Festival information, reviews, photos, and advice for festgoers.

I'm a big fan of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and maintain a popular website on that Fest.  After going to the ACL Fest, I decided that this festival was worthy of its own page too.


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113-1365_IMG.JPG (64915 bytes)

Your host, Swag, on the first day
of the first ACL Fest

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Austin City Limits Music Festival?

The Austin City Limits Fest is a festival put on by the producers of the PBS TV show Austin City Limits, to showcase the music of Austin as well as other regional and national acts.

When is the Festival?

The first ACL Festival was first held as a two-day weekend festival in September 2002.  Since 2003, it has been extended it to three days, Friday thru Sunday. Dates for 2007 are Sept. 14-16.

Where is the Festival?

The festival is held in Zilker Park, in Austin, TX.  Click here for a map - the red star marks the Festival grounds.  

Where is the official Festival website?


The Music

Who plays?

The artist list is announced in June, with the stage schedule released in August.   For a partial, early list, before the June announcement, check Pollstar for Austin for the Fest dates.

The emphasis is Austin artists; performers who have been on Austin City Limits; or play in that style.  I'd put the breakdown was something like this:

Past years' schedules are here.

How many stages are there?

There are seven stages - six outside and one in a tent - plus a kids tent. The tents have folding chairs inside and bleachers around the perimeter, and no wall flaps so it didn't get too hot. The outside stages had no seating at all, so bring a chair or blanket for the lawn.

The schedule is set so that the two largest stages played at once, and the other four stages mostly played when the two biggest were on break.  This minimizes sound bleed across stages.  Most sets are an hour long, or perhaps a little less on the small stages, with an hour break between acts.

At the Festival

How many people attend?

Daily crowds have grown from about 35,000 the first year, to 70,000 in 2004. For 2005, daily attendance was capped at 55,000.  You can see daily crowd estimates here.

What are the Fest Grounds like?

Zilker Park is alongside the river just across and west of downtown. It looks on the map like there would be some neat river views from the fest grounds, but between trees and topography, there are not. There is a nice view of the Austin skyline behind one of the main stages.

The lawn here is mostly well maintained with thick grass. Look out for the "crop circles" of dirt about 5 feet across: there are some Texas-sized ants inhabiting these spots.

Trees are few and far between, except around the edges, so shade is at a premium.

How's the Vibe?

Excellent. It was better in the first year, when the crowds were light, but still now people are pretty easygoing. Though almost everyone seems to have either lawn chairs or blankets, you don't see many turf battles or chair walls; or anyone complaining about folks coming thru "their" space; or pushing to get up front; or complaining that folks in front of them were standing and blocking their view.

You don't see many uniformed cops inside the Fest the whole weekend, and they usually report that there were no arrests. Nor are there any visible security folks, except at the entrances to the backstage areas, photo pits, etc.

Some folks did light up the wacky tobacky, though perhaps a smaller percentage than at some other Fests. I've never seen anyone hassled.

What should I wear?

Expect it to be hot.  Shorts and a t-shirt are the way to go.  Don't forget the sunscreen.

How hot?

Damn hot. Average high for Austin in late September is 88F.  That's measured in the shade, and there's not much shade at the Fest.  Add 10 degrees for the sun, and it'll likely feel about 100.  You can see the detailed averages and records here.

What should I bring?

Bring a foldable lawn chair or blanket to sit on.  Extra sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.  A camera. 

You're allowed 2 bottles of water (factory sealed, though they don't really check too closely).   No other food or beverage is allowed.  Soft sided coolers are okay, but aren't really needed, in my opinion, since drink lines stay reasonable.

If you have small kids, then strollers are okay.

Audio taping is allowed.  Equipment must be "non-professional", and commercial use is prohibited. 

One other idea to consider - bring a swimsuit and towel:  Barton Springs Pool is a public, spring-fed swimming hole located in Zilker Park, just a few hundred yards from the Fest gates.   Since free re-entry to the Fest is allowed if you have the weekend pass, you could go over for a cooling dip in the late afternnoon heat, then return to the fest refreshed for the evening's music.  Pool admission is under $3. 

How's the food?

So so.  Better than typical festival fare, but considering that it's supposed to showcase some of Austin's best and most famous restaurants, the quality is surprisingly variable.   Lots of barbecue and mexican, plus assorted miscellany (asian, burgers, cajun, sandwiches, ice cream).  Most booths charge about $5-6 for a sandwich or small plate.

What beverages are sold?

Beer choices are Heineken, Amstel Light, Michelob Light and Lone Star for $4.   Water is $2 for 20 ounces.  Soda was $2 for a can.  They also had various flavors of Sweet Leaf brand ice tea for $3.  (2004 prices). Lemonade is available in the food area.


How much are tickets?

3-day passes have a brief and competitive pre-sale in February for $35. The regular sale starts a couple of months later, with gradual price increases as the Fest gets closer. (In the past, price increases for tickets were scheduled in June, August, and September, $5 each time). 2005 prices began at $85, and goes up to $105.

Single day tickets go on sale about a month before the Fest for (2005 prices) $50/day.

Service charges are additional and hefty:  $12 per ticket plus $7 per order (US delivery).  I don't know any way to avoid those fees.

Where are tickets sold?

Advance tickets are now sold thru Front Gate Tickets, initially available online only, and in person at Waterloo Records in Austin as the Fest nears.  There's also a box office at the Fest, open the beginning of the Fest week (open 11am- 7pm daily).

Will it sell out?

Capacity (as of 2004) was 75,000. Saturday of 2004 was the first sellout day, with the last 2,000 tickets sold that morning.

Is re-entry allowed?

When you buy a multi-day pass, you exchange it at the Fest for a wristband that allows unlimited re-entry.  Re-entry is not allowed only for single day ticket holders.  If you're in the Austin area, you can redeem your tickets for wristbands at several locations beginning a week prior to show.  That may save waiting in one line.   Check the official web site for details as showtime approaches.

I can't afford tickets.  Any ideas?

You could try to win tickets:

You could volunteer.  You get one day's admission for each 3-4 hour shift that you work for the festival.  With 10-12 hours of music daily, that still leaves you plenty of free time.  Click here for info. I've heard that they may get 3-4 folks wanting to volunteer for each available spot, so no guarantees here.

What do you know about VIP tickets?

For 2003, the basic VIP package got you 4 3-day passes with access to the VIP area, 1 parking pass, and a few souvenirs for $1500, which is $375/person, or about $100/day more than regular tickets.  The VIP area (I'm told) has beer, food, tables, chairs and shade.


Any Hotel Sugegstions?

My suggestion would be somewhere in the downtown area, so you can walk to the shuttle pickup spot (see below), and also to nightlife, if you have any energy left.  If you stay downtown, you probably don't need a car.  If you stay anywhere else, get a car.

As the Fest grows, hotel availability is getting tighter.  For 2004, pretty much everything in downtown was sold out by mid-summer. Figure $100-250 downtown. If you have a car, there are a ton of places along I-35, an easy 5-10 minute drive north or south of downtown, with decent availability even at the last minute. Figure $50-100 for the major chains, and even less at the deep discount motel chains.

How do I get to the Fest?

There is no on site parking.  Street parking in nearby neighborhoods is also not allowed.   The best bet is the park and ride system set up for the Festival.  The shuttle pickup for 2006 location is at Republic Square, 4th and Guadalupe (changed from earlier years Waterloo Park at Trinity and 14th Street).  Once on the bus, it's about a 10-15 minute ride. 

If you do want to try to park near the Fest, there are some private lots on the south side of the lake. Try looking along Barton Springs Rd east of Lamar. Expect to pay about $20 for spots a half mile from the Fest, less for spots farther away.

Capital Metro also operates a free bus called the Starlight Dillo that services a loop downtown including the Waterloo Park shuttle location.  For the fest, it usually runs extended hours (from 10am-3am Friday and Saturday, and 10am-10pm on Sunday).  For info, see http://www.capmetro.austin.tx.us/ as the date of Fest approaches.


Taxis were a suggested method for 2002, but the cab companies were completely overwhelmed, and waits were very long.  I'd steer clear of relying on cabs, until they prove they can handle the crush.

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