6 Things You Need to Know About Austin City Limits

Posted by Brad Pauly on Friday, September 25th, 2015 at 4:28pm.

Photo by Ralph Arvesen

Austin is gearing up for the 2015 Austin City Limits Music Festival starting on October 2nd this year. If you've been fortunate enough to call Austin your home previous to this year, then you're very familiar with this local phenomenon. The festival brings popular and award-winning artists together with lesser-known and local music acts for two weekends filled with Austin food, drinks, and non-stop music. The festival brings over 75,000 people per day to Austin from all over the world and boasts one of the most musically diverse lineups among popular music festivals.

Newcomers looking to experience the festival for the first time can brush up on their ACL knowledge just in time for the festivities to begin. All of you veterans of the festival and the show may already know many of the facts about ACL, but some of these tidbits may surprise you.

Austin City Limits has been around for 40 years

Photo by Earl McGehee

ACL buffs will definitely know this already, but those without a close tie to Texas may not be aware that before there was an Austin City Limits music festival, the Austin City Limits television show started four decades ago.

It all started when one of the most well-known and affluent public television networks, PBS, was hurting for original programming to draw nationwide audiences. Bill Arhos wanted to put on a big music show for a pledge drive to increase attention and donations back in 1975, so he went straight to the producers at PBS. He suggested that they open up a low-budget, music-centered performance by Willie Nelson, a beloved Texas country music icon. PBS approved and, after a hugely successful fundraiser, decided to keep the show running with more musical guests.

Austin City Limits TV Logo

The TV show is the longest-running TV program in history

That's something for Texans to be proud of. It's well known that Austin draws plenty of musicians from different background to perform live shows, but only viewers of Austin City Limits know that over the last 40 years, the show has garnered performances from the biggest names in music.

Greats such as Johnny Cash and Neil Young have graced the stage, but Austin City Limits doesn't stop at folk and country music. From blues master B.B. King to the unmatched vocals of Etta James, the ACL stage has hosted peerless musical acts for generations. Even modern musicians have a place on ACL, and big-name acts such as Death Cab for Cutie and Kings of Leon have brought the show to a younger audience.

Photo by Andreanna Moya

The festival started in 2002

The Austin City Limits music festival was born of the TV show back in 2002. It started as a festival looking to draw a moderate local crowd and celebrate Austin's musical culture. A total of 67 bands, few compared to today's ACL festival, took up five stages at Zilker Park for two days. Though the fledgling company C3 that produced the event expected only a crowd of a little over 20,000, the festival exceeded expectations and received twice as many ticket sales as expected.

A ticket for the first ACL Music Festival only cost $25

Amazing ticket sales after the first year spurred intense growth. In just one year, the number of performers grew nearly two-fold, and ticket prices rose to $65 for three days of music. 

Attendance quickly outgrew the capacity of the park. Toward the 2010s, guests began having to move shoulder to shoulder to traverse the park, and the park's grass was left largely barren in the aftermath of the festival. Adverse weather created mud pits and transportation became difficult. To compensate, festival producers finally decided to split the festival into two separate weekends.

Demand is so high for festival attendance, however, that Zilker Park remains full for both weekends.

ACL passes sell out within minutes - sometimes seconds

Austin City Limits 2012 Photo by Nan Palmero

Everyone knows how hard it is just to get your hands on an ACL wristband. You have to make sure you're on the ACL festival email list, wait for the notification that sales will begin, wait on the website for sales to open, then hit refresh on your browser until wristbands are available. Even if you manage to reach the website in time, wristbands can sell out within minutes and the window to succeed is incredibly small.

If you miss your chance, though, don't worry. You can always buy wristbands on resale websites - for nearly $400. 

Three-day passes for ACL 2015 are reaching outrageous prices on sites like Craigslist. As the festival draws closer, slick merchants will roll out last-minute passes at heartbreaking prices. Single three-day wristbands can reach nearly $1000 during desperate times, and even one-day passes will come to $300 for the serious procrastinator.

Photo by Nan Palmero

ACL Festival after-parties offer a more intimate musical experience

Austin is a musical giant and cultural wonderland with a rich history in music, and the Austin City Limits Music Festival is just the tip of the iceberg. Artists who are in town to perform will often put on secret shows at local venues after the festival winds down. For the 2015 festival, Rock icon Billy Idol will be playing an after-festival show. 

The information about these shows is hard to find and often travels by word-of-mouth, but if you come across a juicy bit of info about a great show, it's worth your time and money to check it out. 

Get the most out of this year's ACL festival by knowing the history and appreciating what it took to turn Austin into the live music capital. From all of us at Pauly Presley Realty, be safe, be kind, and enjoy the once in a lifetime performances at this year's festival!

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