For almost twenty years, the Austin City Limits Music Festival has served as a cornerstone of our yearly concert calendar. A sprawling two weekend event during early October, some of the best national and local acts in the world make Austin their temporary home. This year, in spite of the ongoing pandemic, the show will go on in Zilker Park. How do you do ACL Fest 2021 like a local? Read on to find out!
Austin City Limits Music Festival – Staying Safe, Staying Healthy.
Let’s start with the most important – staying safe and COVID free. Like every major festival, ACL Fest 2021 implemented a series of COVID-19 guidelines all attendees must adhere to:
- You must provide a printed copy of your proof of COVID-19 vaccination OR a printed negative COVID-19 test performed within 72 hours of the event. Note the emphasis on PRINTED. Don’t show up with a PDF of your certificate on your phone and expect entry.
- Read, understand, and comply with the ACL Festival Fan Health Pledge found here. It includes basic stuff like don’t come in with a fever, COVID-19 symptoms, and quarantine if you’ve been to a foreign country within 14 days of the event. Standard pandemic stuff!
As for masks and face coverings, as of this article, there’s no official mandate in place, but I suspect there will be something come October. But even if there are no outdoor rules, bring a face covering. Why? Dust!
ACL veterans will remember the dust bowl years of 2005 and 2008 where thanks to searing heat, high winds, and 80,000 people trampling the grass into dirt, dust was a serious problem. You’ll still see stage crew and ACL staff wearing some sort of face covering, pandemic or no pandemic. Just a good idea!
Oh, and HYDRATE! Every year, I see at least one person sent to the medical area due to dehydration. Beer and wine are not suitable replacements for water, especially when there are hydration stations everywhere. Bring an empty bottle and fill up often.
Pack Light. Extra Light
If you’ve been to a Longhorn game or any ATX sporting event recently, you know the drill. Clear bags the size of small purses and opaque bags the size of fanny packs are allowed in. No backpacks, nothing with extra pockets. Water vessels are allowed but they need to be completely empty before walking in for obvious reasons. The days of sneaking adult beverages into Zilker Park are pretty much over.
Other no-no’s include umbrellas, anything that makes shade, pro camera gear, and aerosol containers. And yes, the gate staff checks everything.
But what can you bring? Strollers, frisbees, chairs, blankets, tube sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and ear plugs. All of which I highly recommend for a comfortable festival experience. Except for the frisbee. That’s optional.
I also recommend going cashless for all your food, drink, souvenirs, etc. While a credit card won’t take up much room, syncing your card to your wristband gives you instant access to everything you need to buy. And they work surprisingly well so a physical card isn’t needed.
What to Wear to Austin City Limits Music Festival 2021?
While ACL Style is a popular Instagram hashtag, doing so at the expense of heatstroke or a sprained ankle isn’t worth it. Cool, breezy, and comfortable should be the order of the day. Avoid sandals or anything open toed (those crowds can get packed with foot stompers).
And don’t forget to bring rain protection just in case the skies open up ala 2009 or the day cancelling deluge of 2013. UPDATE: The weather for weekend one is looking to be non-stop damp. Zilker Park is primed to be a mud pit, so be sure to bring waterproof shoes. Leave the flip flops at home!
How to Get to ACL?
First off, forget about parking at Zilker. There’s none to be had. Your best bet to either take a CapMetro bus, ride share, or simply walk. Two years ago, I parked in the South Congress area and took a leisurely Lime scooter to the entrance. There are closer places to park, but you start getting into insane prices.
There’s also the excellent ACL shuttle picking up and dropping off at Republic Square Park. The buses pick up at 5th and San Antonio and drop off at the Barton Springs West entrance. This is my preferred way of getting to the event. Yes, parking will be pricey downtown, but it’s better than going with private lots, some of which can run hundreds of dollars.
And of the three ways in, the Lady Bird entrance is generally the quickest. You’ll miss out on that selfie with the iconic ACL Festival sign, but you should get in faster.
Attending ACL Like a Pro
Gates open an hour before the first act, usually to the blare of the opening music of Star Wars. For Friday, that means gates at noon for the 1:00 performances, Saturday and Sunday 11:00 AM for noon shows. Getting there early, if you can, is highly encouraged. There are three attack plans for checking out the music.
Streak to the Main Stage – If you’re there to check out a headlining artist, it behooves you to get there when the gates open and scream toward one of the two main stages. Prepare to sit there for 12 hours, so going with a group is highly recommended for place holding, food grabbing, beer runs, etc. And the area becomes a no chair zone around 4:00, so prepare to be on the ground.
Camp Out Strategically – If I were to go with friends or family, this is what I would do. Review the schedule, find a spot between a couple of stages with artists you dig and stay put. Performances are staggered at ACL Fest, so find the right spot, and you’ll have non-stop music while you chill in relative comfort.
Wander Like a Nomad – This is me. I’m all about wandering the grounds picking up samples and tastes of music as I go. The thrill of discovery is what I love about big music events and staying in motion helps me stay connected to what’s new and interesting. Plus I rack up some serious steps on the old smart watch.
Other Important Tidbits About Austin City Limits Fest
Austin City Limits – Cancelled: For those who want to bring the little ones, I have bad news. Austin Kiddie Limits will not be a thing this year. Children 10 or younger are still allowed in, but there won’t be an entire section dedicated to their good times.
Eat Well at ACL: ACL Fest offers a surprising amount of food and drink, most of it hyperlocal. Take the opportunity to try a spot you’ve never been to before and always try to dine during off times. My goal is breakfast at 9:30 before I get there, late yet light lunch around 1:30 and then a 5:00 fuel up before the evening’s madness begins. Less time in lines equals more time in the music.
HAVE FUN: Yes, the pandemic is making this year’s event contentious and for some, downright scary. I have two kids and I’m immunocompromised. Despite my vaccination, getting a variant would be a serious situation for me. My goal? Be as responsible as humanly possible, mask up from the chin up, and make my experience worth the risk. So, have fun! Listen to some new music, experience the thrill of discovery, and maybe even meet some new people.