We just got back from Weekend Two of Austin City Limits Music Festival. Although this is actually our third year at ACL – it was our first as official media, so we are super excited to share our recap this year. If you are interested in reading more about ACL, please check out our recap post for 2018 here.
If you aren’t familiar, Austin City Limits is one of the biggest and most established festivals in the United States. The festival runs not just once, but on two back to back weekends – with some variation between the two weekends. For more general information about the festival itself – scope out their site. Next year’s festival dates are already scheduled for October 2-4 and 9-11, 2020. We hope the recap of our experience below will help you prepare for next year. This is definitely a festival to add to your bucket lists.
I flew into Austin on the Thursday night before the festival right after work. As mentioned above, I have personally been to ACL three years running, but this was the first time I flew directly to Austin. Check out the recaps for more information – but in years past I flew into San Antonio, rented a car and made the little over an hour drive to Austin (with a pit stop at the famous Salt Lick BBQ). This time, I managed to snag a Southwest flight early enough to get directly to Austin non-stop for around $250. Booking early and keeping an eye on alternate airports (like San Antonio) would be my first major tip if you want to head out to Austin.
Speaking of hotels – I have stayed a flew places around town in the past. In 2017, fellow festie Megan and I were being budget conscious (having spent big bucks on Lolla earlier in the summer) we ended up at the downtown La Quinta. It is definitely centrally located, but had a younger (rowdier) crowd than other places I have stayed. If you don’t mind that your hotel will largely be filled with fellow festival goers, then overall it was fine. Clean with a good breakfast and a location that is walking distance to the shuttle.
In 2018, I dragged my patient husband along for the ride. We made something of a spur of the moment decision to make the trip and ended up a little bit further (but still walking distance) to the shuttle. We stayed at the Hyatt House and really enjoyed it. Our hotel still had plenty of fellow festival travelers, but a slightly older, quieter group. We enjoyed some nice late night snacks and drinks at their bar and would recommend that spot as well.
This year I was traveling alone, so I made the decision to go a different route and find the closest hotel I could to the shuttle stop. Austin is super safe in general, but I tend to be careful about setting myself to walk alone at night – especially if I might be carrying cameras or other equipment. It is certainly easy enough to ride share or even walk across one of the bridges to the park. Scootering (is that a real word??)) is also an option as rentable scooters are plentiful in downtown Austin.
In any event, this is a round about way of explaining how I ended up at brand new Hotel ZaZa which is seriously less than a minute walk to the free ACL shuttle.
Hotel ZaZa opened just a couple weeks before ACL and is probably one of the nicest places I have ever stayed – both in terms of looks and service. It might be a little pricey for some (myself included) but if you are coming with friends it would definitely be doable. Especially if you want a perfect place to stay for the fest and for going out afterwards. I don’t want to spend too much time on the hotel, since I know you guys came for the festival scoop, but I will hit a few of the highlights.
First, the service was fantastic. On the first morning, I went to breakfast and when I came back my room had already been cleaned. It was like house elves had been there. They also have a beautiful turn down service every night, complete with bottled water, chocolates, and candles. Speaking of candy, there are jars of candy throughout the hotel. A major perk in my book. Next, the food and related options at the Hotel ZaZa were also top notch. Each morning coffee and tea service were set out in a central area on every floor. The hotel also boasts a fantastic restaurant and bar on 7th floor (Group Therapy) and similar offerings in the main lobby at Perfect Strangers. Group Therapy offered full dinner, a full bar, live music and more. All in all I was very impressed. Now on to the festival stuff!
Please pardon our lower than usual quality photos – we were cellphone only unless otherwise credited.
The first day of Weekend Two was forecast to be a chilly one with predicted temperatures in the mid 60s. Unfortunately, the temperature never came close to that mark. I had headed out for the day in jeans and a sweatshirt, and ended up buying a windbreaker from the merch tent basically as soon as I got on site. That mostly did the trick, but it was definitely much colder than I expected it to be. Normally, many of the brand activations are handing out free fans, this year the big giveaway item was rain ponchos.
I didn’t let the cold temperatures get me down and Friday was a fantastic music day. I spent most of the day bouncing between the Miller Light Stage and the BMI Stage, starting the day visiting the sets of both Savannah Conley and Houses. P.S. keep an eye out for an interview with Houses coming soon (likely next week). This is a good spot to talk about my love of the BMI Stage. It is one of the smallest stages at the festival but specializes in showcasing exceptionally talented rising artists. Every year I feel like I end up spending most of my time there, and not just because of the amazing C3 Guest Lounge behind the stage. Though that is absolutely my favorite hang out spot and I have talked about it in detail in the past. Artists that play on the BMI Stage often turn out to be some of my favorites and wind up being major names down the line. For example, lovelytheband, Dreamers, AJR, Maren Morris, Atlas Genius and so many more have all played on the BMI Stage in the past. This year’s group was equally fantastic and the atmosphere among the most energetic.
After spending some time at the BMI Stage and exploring the grounds, I headed back to the Miller Light area to Check out Black Pistol Fire. It turned out to be a phenomenal set, and even featured a cameo from one of my other faves Blackillac (made up of Austin rappers ZEALE and PHRANCHYZE).
On Friday afternoon, we got the opportunity to meet and chat with Savannah Conley. Her set was amazing in the morning and I had gotten to meet Emma from her band by chance when I was being super weird and trying to find myself in one of the old pictures of the crowd. *Photo Credit: Erika Goldring for BMI*
How does the festival experience differ most from a standalone show?
Savannah explains that it is definitely very different. She starts off by mentioning that for her the times are weird. You are performing much earlier than you would be for a normal show. She goes on to describe how “there are so many artists and people . . . there is just so much to take in. As far as her setlist, she too describes taking out some of the more intimate pieces – but says that’s the festival life (yassss Savannah helping us out unintentionally with our whole living the fest life thing) they (people at festivals) want to party. Something about that makes you want to play . . . to fill that soaring space.
You have had a busy summer and lots of tour dates coming up, is there anything particular you want to share or are excited about?
I have been enjoying playing stuff from my new record that will be coming out. Savannah explains that she has spent some time earlier this year on tour with Ben Folds – and will be going back out. She described this as awesome in general, going on to say that she has never felt like she has learned as much and is almost a different person . . . I mean not really a different person just that like I am playing differently and learning so much from the experience from him. He (Ben Folds) is just in the mode of teaching people things – Savannah explains how this on tour has really helped her learn and grow as an artist.
Prior to playing festivals did you attend a lot of them? Do you still get time to explore festivals now?
Savannah told us that she really didn’t attend festivals before performing at them. She grew up near Nashville and there was just music (concerts) all around and accessible. That said, Savannah explained that she would definitely be exploring ACL and was going to be hanging out all weekend. We can vouch for that as we saw her around throughout the the weekend.
You mentioned on stage when you introduced Same Old Eyes that you call it the song that scared your grandma . . . what were you feeling when you wrote it?
Savannah opened up here about struggles with depression – which she has worked hard to deal with throughout life, but not really opened up about until recently. She explained that when she wrote the song she was “in the middle of a down spell” and when she was in that place it “clouds the way” she was seeing the world. She described looking out the window and seeing the people going about their lives, being happy, doing things, and to paraphrase really wishing she could see the world . . . or be the way they were.
I thanked her for her openness. I have been surprised how so many artists have talked to us about similar feelings this year and how I really feel like when musicians and others with a platform do this it helps. I told her that I have struggled with similar feelings, usually resulting in my not wanting to leave the house or cancelling plans. I asked her what kinds of things have helped and whether touring and being on the road has required coping skills.
Savannah explained that writing really helps her. She laughed as she described that she gets to a point where her mom will say “you are being crazy you have to go write.” She reflects that she’s able to recognize that in her self and say why am I feeling this way, oh it is because I haven’t written in awhile. As for the tour, she told us it was definitely different – but that it has actually been helpful for her because it suits her nature – really suits her need to be moving and doing and being in different places.
We talked to Savannah about her family and more! But are going to save some of that for our next post about female artists . . . so keep an eye out!!
Thank you so much to Savannah for taking time to talk to us and being super sweet. We look forward to including a longer profile in a piece we have coming up later this fall about some of our favorite female artists of the summer.
After chatting with Savannah and getting a hug, I ran across the park to chat with representatives of the Austin Parks Foundation and the Rock & Recycle. This post is already getting super long – so for now I will just tell you that ACL is in a league of its own when it comes to focusing on sustainability efforts and supporting parks across the entire city. We will be including tons of details about these efforts in a post coming during the off-season about all kinds of ways festivals across the country and internationally are making efforts to “go green.” So for now, look out for that post and if you want more info on ACL’s sustainability efforts check out their site and the APF site here.
After learning a lot about the greening efforts from the Austin Parks Foundation, I enjoyed some Tacodeli and gingery cocktail. The Raconteurs ended up being my last show of the night. The cold (mostly my fault for not being dressed enough) caught up to me, and I decided to take my chattering teeth back to the hotel to warm up. Major shout out to the stranger who gave me a hand-warmer during the afternoon. It absolutely saved me and ended up staying warm until I went to bed. I spent a lot of time in the later part of the day hanging out in one of the lounges chatting with an awesome couple from out of town. Besides the tacos earlier, I also bought some warm chocolate chip cookies from Tiff’s Treats. The warmth was much needed and I could have definitely eaten more than the two I bought.
The trip back to the hotel via free shuttle was very easy. Only a few other cold souls were on the bus and I feel like the trip took no time.
I mentioned Blackillac a little bit earlier in the recap, but they were the primary reason I wanted to get to the festival early on Saturday. I had a delicious breakfast at the hotel: a steak and cheddar omelette with this little square of crispy grits that I am still dreaming about. The shuttle line was quite a bit longer than I expected – Saturday tends to be a busier day so plan for that. It still wasn’t a bad wait, and I made it to the grounds and swiftly through security – missing only the first few minutes. Blackillac put on an energetic show, one of my favorites of the weekend. Their performance was just as exciting as I hoped it would be and it actually warmed up enough that I was down to a t-shirt at one point.
After Blackillac, I saw part of Orville Peck’s and then headed for some more quality time at the BMI Stage. The sets that afternoon from Laundry Day and Dayglow were both awesome – and I am pretty sure Dayglow played at Full House theme song cover at one point. I also got a delicious ice cream sundae made with High Brew salted caramel coffee (yum yum yum) and met a whole table of new friends. Judah and the Lion also put on an awesome show, but I couldn’t stay the whole time because I needed to get a good spot for . . . Billie!!!! I headed over to one of the main stages for Billie Eilish just about 40 minutes before she was scheduled to come on. I managed to get a semi good spot on one of the sides thanks to a friend who had procured some special passes. That said, there were plenty of good viewing spots and you actually might have been better off out in the main crowd, as far as viewing angles go.
At this point in the year, I have been to about a dozen festivals, but Billie Eilish had eluded me so far. I love her music and was so excited for this set. Despite being in a walking boot, she did not disappoint and the crowd energy was practically electric. Maybe it is just me, but I often find myself unable to really focus after such an awesome and much anticipated set. I think I have talked about this before: like when I felt as though I had just completely peaked at Innings Festival (after meeting David Ross, seeing Eddie Vedder and meeting Rollie Fingers), knowing my day could not get any better I wanted to end on that euphoric note. I am being terribly inarticulate at describing this, but I was just so happy and fulfilled. I wanted to go home with that feeling. I fought that at ACL because I also wanted to see James Blake and a bit of The Cure. Both were absolutely excellent and I am glad I stayed.
After that, it was time to head home to get warm and snag a delicious meal at Group Therapy. I had planned for a quick meal and a shower, but ended up meeting some fun strangers aka new friends at the restaurant and having lots of Prosecco and candy while we chatted for a couple hours. By the end of the night I had multiple invites to after parties. Though I did not take advantage of any this trip, I strongly recommend snapping up tickets to one of the late night shows or adventuring in Austin at least one night. I spent some time talking about “going out” options in my 2018 recap linked above, but Rainey Street, 6th Street, and checking out the bat swarms under the Congress Avenue Bridge are all popular options. I am particularly fond of the atmosphere on Rainey Street – a tucked away, haven of little houses turned into unique bars.
On the third and final day of Weekend Two, I woke up extra early to make sure my room change was all set. I had originally booked only three nights, but when my redeye got changed I ended up needing one more day. Hotel ZaZa took care of everything smoothly. As a bribe to myself to get up after two cold days, I ordered room service breakfast. Once again it was delicious, and I finally got to take advantage of my floor’s morning coffee station (saving myself from paying for room service coffee).
I headed into the festival around 11:30 and the line for the shuttle was quick and easy. My first stop of the day was one of my new favorites, Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors. They have been around forever, so it is really me that is new to them. Their set was the perfect mix of upbeat and more poignant songs and was well attended for a show on the earlier side. By the time it ended, the crowd had grown and was happily dancing and singing along.
Next, I was headed for a set of back to back shows: Mallrat and Yola. After that, I was headed for two more shows at the BMI Stage, one of which was rapper IDK who put on what must have been one of the craziest sets of the weekend. The crowd was going absolutely nuts – moshing, dancing, yelling and more. IDK even got out in the audience to crowd surf.
Later in the afternoon, I got the chance to sit down for a quick interview/chat with Drew Holcomb. Originally, I had the text of that interview here – but the post was just getting out of control. So please check out our full interview with Drew Holcomb in an artist feature here.
Sunday was also exciting because I also got to meet up with LTFL team member Jill, who had been in town and doing festy things most of the weekend. After the chat with Drew Holcomb, Jill and I split up so that she could see Third Eye Blind and I could head for Kacey Musgraves. The crowd was pretty evenly split between the stages and I tried to catch parts of both sets. I headed back early for one last night cuddled up in my comfy ZaZa robe before a very very early morning trip home and directly to work – while Jill held down the fort at ACL. Here are Jill’s thoughts on ACL as a first timer to the Austin area:
- ACL was a chill, family-friendly festival. I felt like I saw a lot more families here versus other festivals, especially since they offer Austin Kiddie Limits to cater to our younger fest attendees
- Authentic Austin food was a great draw. As someone who was visiting Austin for the first time, it was nice to know I wasn’t missing out on major dining opportunities because they offered a lot of Austin-favorites on the grounds
- Side note here: Tiff’s Treats Tiffwich is a MUST have
- Side note from me: Love that we both loved Tiff’s Treats
- The grounds were very manageable to walk from end-to-end. It was nice not having to worry about missing the first 15 minutes of an act because it didn’t take long to get from one stage to the other, and there wasn’t much sound bleed either
- The location of the festival is also unique. It’s in the middle of downtown Austin, but also right along a river with a large park. So you could go kayaking on the river in the morning, grab brunch and mimosas downtown, then be at a music festival all within the same 2 mile radius.
- two words: SILENT. DISCO. This was such a fun part of the festival, I wish they had it open during all hours. Pro tip if you want to check it out get there right when it opens at 8, otherwise you might end up waiting in a long line.
- The Acts:
- Lizzo: This was by far the craziest set I saw. She was on a smaller stage but she definitely drew the biggest crowd. She talked about how they had to bring in extra speakers for her and her performance was being projected on the tv screens of the main stages because there was just such an influx of people. She was incredibly high energy and you could see on her face that she was blown away by the turn out and by the support. She got the whole crowd to do a wave all the way to the back, and then BRING IT BACK, which was one of the coolest sights I got to see during ACL. She absolutely killed her performance, I think it was my favorite of the weekend (outside of Judah and the Lion but that’s just because I’m obsessed).
- Childish Gambino always leaves it all on the stage when he performs. He wants the audience to feel like they’re all at a church service together and you can tell he’s using every last drop of energy between the dancing, the running through the crowds, and getting up on a very high platform so that even the people in the back feel like they’re front row.
- Judah and the Lion will always be a favorite for me, but I also love when bands take the opportunity to explore the festival themselves. These guys were spotted hanging out in the Beer Hall on Saturday just watching the Texas v. OU game, enjoying the atmosphere before their set. They also have a way of making you feel comfortable at their set even if you’ve never heard of them before. Every time I take a new person to a Judah set they walk away saying they’re excited to start looking up their songs.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed ACL. Despite the unfortunate weather on the first day, the vibe of the festival was relaxed yet still electric, and every performer seemed to be truly grateful to be performing on these stages. I will definitely be back.
Thanks to Jill for sharing first timer thoughts with us.
And of course, thanks to ACL for having us out!
Holy moly this post got long! Thanks for sticking with us. We are happy to answer any questions about ACL, Austin, or our travel experience. As always, please feel free to tell us about your experience or share favorite artists in the comments.