Photo: C Flanigan (Getty Images)
Maybe I haven’t digested all that brisket or maybe the Texas humidity got to me or just maybe ACL is the best music festival in the USA. Now, in its 15th year, Weekend One at Austin City Limits proved that at the very least it’s “all growns up.” What started as a showcase of folk rock and alt-country (Ryan Adams was the headliner at the inaugural ACL in in 2002) is now a big boy music festival on par with Coachella and Lollapalooza. Not only is ACL is attracting major headliners such as Radiohead (who made their first appearance), but across the dial acts like Kendrick Lamar, Chris Stapleton and the Chainsmokers, while still holding onto its Americana roots with the likes of Lucy Dacus, Marlon Williams and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats (best band name ever BTW).
Before you strangle me with your bedazzled bandana hear me out. First of all, ACL is held smack dab in the middle of one of the coolest cities in the USA (and definitely in Texas). Sure, Coachella’s Polo Grounds are an oasis, but the surrounding area is a Mad Max wasteland filled with Walgreen’s. Now, you could argue that Chicago, home of Lollapalooza, is a better town than Austin, but I will take a tall can of icy cold Lone Star, Texas barbecue and Southern hospitality (read: girls in denim short shorts) over all that Chicago has to offer.
As for music, ACL 2016 scored fan favorites (LCD Sounsystem) that we’ve all seen on the circuit, but the way they curated their line-up stood out. Organizers smartly grouped a majority of the electronic/EDM acts (Flume, M83, Flying Lotus, Die Anterwoord, Major Lazer) on Friday, hip-hop acts on Saturday (Kendrick Lamar, LL Cool J, DJ Mustard, ScHoolboy Q) and country acts (Mumford & Sons, Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves) on Sunday. Unlike other festivals where it seems like they’re just picking band names out of a hat, ACL Weekend One felt like careful thought was put into it to make the festival user-friendly.
Tanked-topped fist-pumpers, lawn chair picnickers and bearded hipsters had different tastes, but shared the same green grass of Zilker Park. As a result, you could get up close to see your favorite acts, especially second-tier ones like Bob Moses, Gallant, Jack Garratt. It’s how I envision a perfect world would be, but with a little less Dallas Cowboys fans.
Although the food served at the ACL Eats Food Court was amazing (I want to start eating all my meals out of a cone from now on), there was only ONE location to buy food and it was at the far-end of the festival away from either of the main stages. Also, take note. Texans like their beer so no hard stuff unless you get into the VIP sections. They also like their water in a can, which I guess looks cooler than holding a plastic bottle, but didn’t allow you to fill up at a water station.
Overall, whether you agree with my argument or not, ACL is a blast, Austin is a great city and undoubtedly lives up to its nickname as “The Live Music Capitol of the World.”