Why Austin City Limits Gets Better Every Year

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it — I think going to ACL both weekends is the best way to approach this festival and totally worth it because you can have completely different experiences, even with mostly the same lineups! Hitting Weekend 1 and Weekend 2 this year felt super nostalgic seeing Shania Twain, Alanis Morissette, Tegan and Sara, Ben Kweller, and so many other artists that I grew up listening to from childhood to high school and college. My best friends from high school, Andie and Cece, even drove up to join me during the first weekend which really added to the nostalgia and sweetness! 

Even more exciting were the new food and liquor drink features at the fest this year, including the desserts at ACL Sweets and mocktails at Bar None, but my favorite part is always seeing all my people in the park flaunting around out and about in the sun. I believe and feel that ACL is for the people, and it’s a blast to see everyone out and about. We were so lucky to have such great weather this year with so many new things to discover in Zilker.

Weekend 1

For the first weekend, I really only hung out with gals to see all our girls perform! Cece and Andie drove in on Saturday morning, and we immediately sauntered from my house to Elementary where we started telling childhood stories and giggled in the corner with Fruity Pebble Clarified Punches. After the cocktails, we skipped by Barton Springs and then headed into the park, where you can now order cocktail drinks in orange plastic cups instead of previously only being able to order beer and wine. They had Tito’s Lemonades, Don Juilo Ranch Waters, Hendricks Gin Cucumber Mint Cocktails, Aguasol Margs and more, so really, you can drink whatever you want in the park! Somehow, we ended up shooting basketball hoops in the Miller Lite tent which felt just like high school. Everything felt like we were kids the whole day. 

We first watched Mt. Joy, a band I’ve been listening to for the past year, and they were very fun with their laidback energy and really good instrumentals. I loved that piano player and the fact that she was the only girl in the band. The drummer was really fun too, and they all just seemed to be having a blast with each other, which translated to the crowd’s energy. Next, we saw Poolside, who I had seen perform as a DJ at Superstition earlier this year. I’ve also been listening to him for years and seeing him on stage with a full band was even better! Their music is the type you want to listen to outside, relaxing while you cook, or at a cocktail party with all your friends. It’is hard to fit in ALL those categories, but they do. I appreciated seeing him perform a second time in a different setting.

I, of course, parted ways with my friends to go see Chromeo, an Arab/Jewish duo I’ve probably seen five times in New York. Austin Monthly describes them as a “Canadian electro-funk duo” with “catchy Hall & Oates–inspired iridescent dance hits,” and they’re fun to dance and sing to since I know all the words! After Chromeo, I magically found my friends at Alanis Morissette, which was easy to do because I actually had cell service in the park this year!

As for food and drink, the park had a bar dedicated to mocktails, called Bar None, which served Kin Euphorics and other spiritless drinks, and I loved seeing that there was a line of people there! We stopped at El Patio’s mobile truck which had a full nacho menu, and we dunked our  chips in some tasty salsa and queso before going to Shania Twain, where I ran into my friend Kathleen from middle school and her 10-year-old daughter Lucy. More girls!

Shania’s bright red wig, paired with her bedazzled jean shorts and diamond tights, made her performance an even bigger hit. Listening to her lyrics now vs. when I was in elementary  school made me realize how much of a feminist she is and how powerful her words are in encouraging women to own their individual strength. After dancing to Shania, we luckily caught a ride home from my friend William, who we saw outside the park gates, and once we were home, we submerged in my Cowboy Pool, which I had originally purchased  so I could use it as a hot tub (it’s done with propane). Sitting in my little makeshift hot tub with my Houston pals was a perfect way to wrap up the day. 

On Sunday, I once again walked to Zilker from my house and met up with my friend Mike on the trek there. It’s about 2 miles from my house in case you wanted to know. We went straight to ACL Eats, where I had a BBQ Chicken Taco from Taco Bronco. It’s funny because I always eat food I love at ACL, but I never go to their brick-and-mortars throughout the year as if I’m saving them for my time at Zilker. Wholly Cow and Lambas Indian are my usual favorites every year, and I always can’t wait to have them at ACL.

After we ate, we walked past a drag show happening at Bonus Tracks  — I thought that was so fun  — and went to see The Walkmen, which reminded me of The Killers and The War on Drugs. I’m not a music aficionado but they made me feel how those other bands made me feel! Then, we watched Tash Sultana become an incredible one-person band on stage. They sang and played multiple instruments, including the saxophone, which was my favorite part. 

We strolled across the street to the newly-renamed IHG Hotels and Resorts Stage in order to see The Breeders, a really cool rock band made up of mostly women, including twin sisters. It was basically an old women rock band that started their band in 1989, but felt so youthful, and it was powerful to see them continue to succeed. The bass player in particular was amazing! When we were across the street, we realized there was so much food on this side. New this year was the Barton Beach Club Tiki Bar, and behind the Bonus Tracks stage was ACL Sweets, dedicated to desserts from Bananarchy, Tiff’s and a bunch more.

Then we saw the Yeah Yeah Yeahs before my friend left and I stayed to listen to ODESZA. I really like seeing bands that give you an experience, and ODESZA is an electronic band that was perfect for nighttime with fire and lights. My chest was beating from the bass, and it was a lot to the body after such a long weekend, so I decided to walk over to see Mumford & Sons before walking back home to close out the night! Walking through the park in the breeze felt amazing, and since I was alone, I was able to walk right to the front of the crowd to see them close-up. 

Weekend 2

This weekend actually kicked off in a non-ACL way on Thursday night with the imogene + willie and Sabah Anniversary Party, which felt just like being back at Trans-Pecos because I saw all of my same favorite people and bands, like Sir Woman and Ben Kweller. Austin is a joy and maze in the fall because everyone comes out from every industry and there are so many events to attend. This night reminded me of how you can go out in Austin by yourself during festival season and run into everyone you know and make new friends! 

When weekend two of ACL came around, I realized maybe all of the guys had been watching the TX-OU game during the first weekend since I spent basically all my time running into guy friends this second time! Justin gave me Tito’s wristbands with access to their tent and free drinks all day, and I met my friend from college, Clark, in there, where we ran into more freinds who are out and about in Austin and every city. We first saw Lil Yachty, who wasn’t that exciting for me personally, but the whole audience knew all of the songs. We stopped by The Teskey Brothers show for a minute before heading to see Maggie Rogers, who belted her heart out. As the night got closer to an end, we hung out on the grass while Portugal. The Man played their set. 

The Lumineers’ music is really comforting, and I love all the instruments they use and alternate between. The funny thing was so many people at the Lumineers were turned around taking videos and photos of the drone at the Amex stage, where Kendrick Lamar was performing. After catching their set, we braved Kendrick Lamar, who was on time — or technically five minutes late — and it was a great show that explained why Kendrick Lamrar is a headliner. When the night wrapped up, we realized that we hadn’t eaten dinner yet, and I luckily remembered that Super Thai is open until midnight Thursday through Saturday. I’ve always wondered who eats there that late, and the answer is, now we do! I recommend the Ahi Scoops and their spicy Pad Thai.

On Saturday, I walked to Gibson Street Bar to say hello to a few friends before jauntering to the fest around 6, when I got my Tito’s Lemonade and went straight to the Tegan and Sara show! When you have a Tito’s band, you can go up on the side stage at their stage to watch performances, but it was at max capacity so I was waiting in line with a friend of mine who ultimately chose not to wait it out. Let’s be real, I only waited for 5 minutes and just like that, I quickly had my chance to stand on the side stage with Gilbert, a new friend I met in line who told me he’s a drag queen! Gilbert showed me a bunch of photos of him in his get-up, and I had so much fun with him. At this point, I needed an espresso martini before hitting the next round of shows.

We caught some of the Thirty Seconds to Mars performance, which featured Jared Leto jumping around in a crazy gladiator costume. What a wild experience that had me pondering so much about the actor.  My favorite discovery and surprise act was Bob Moses, This is another Canadian electronic duo (I guess I love canadians!) and I really liked their lights and all the instruments. 

The weekend ended with the Foo Fighters, a band I’ve listened to since I was a little girl. I grew up with two older brothers, 9 and 11 years older than me, who would drive me to school listening to bands like theirs. I also love Nirvana and somehow didn’t know until a few years ago that Dave Grohl was in that band, too! Plus, the new drummer, who replaced Taylor Hawkins after his tragic death last year, was really talented. Always go to ACL both weekends to enjoy our city’s park and huge and smaller new acts to learn about, and to see the people of Austin!