Finally, the Austin Welcome I've Been Waiting For
As much as I love it today, surprisingly enough, it wasn't until after college that I started really getting into the live music scene. Around the same time, I had a few college friends move to Austin, the Live Music Capital of the World. I distinctly remember visiting them to see my first show in Austin. Like all too many who have experienced the magic of this great city, it was love at first sight.
But love is all about timing. And my love affair with Austin has had its misses.
Austin has been at the top of my application list for YEARS. After my first reporting job in Southern Oklahoma, I applied. Nothing. After three years* in Rochester? Nothing again.
It wasn't until AFTER a buddy down in Texas asked if I wanted to do Austin City Limits this year that I found myself applying for reporting jobs in Austin once again. And wouldn't you know it? Instead of having to shell out for a plane ticket and Air BNB for the festival come October, I was in a U-Haul leaving New York by July. The timing was right this time. I finally got my dream job in Austin, Texas.
Some might call that a manifestation. And it all finally came full circle this past weekend in a truly unforgettable three-day adventure.
* For those unaware, it's common for television reporters to sign 2-3 year contracts so the news station can have consistency in its programming. Everyone loves a familiar face on TV!
Austin City Limits
Austin City Limits has been coming to Zilker Park for 22 years now. Held across two weekends, it brings tens of thousands of people to Texas' capitol for a lineup that is always authentically Austin, and features up-and-coming artists alongside more mainstream acts and veteran performers. Really, there's a little something for everyone - to say nothing about all the great Austin restaurants and local shops that also get to participate.
This year, headliners included Kendrick Lamar, The 1975, Foo Fighters and Mumford & Sons. But when it comes to festivals, what I really enjoy is listening to those acts I've never heard of before. So I never try to plan a schedule too rigidly, and instead kind of just go with the flow. Many of the friends I tagged along with are even more plugged in than me when it comes to music, so I'm happy to say it was a weekend of pleasant surprises.
First things first, the weather was perfect. It was a little warm on Friday, but Saturday and Sunday both dipped down into the upper 60s. For a daytime festival out at the park, you couldn't ask for anything better.
Gates opened at noon, but we didn't arrive until about 1 or 2p each day. While my out-of-town friends stayed at an Air BNB and then walked, I drove downtown with my Austin friends and we took the shuttle in and out each day. That got me home around midnight each night, and while that's no doubt a long day, it was really rather tame compared to some other festivals I've been to - which made bouncing back each day much easier haha!
The Set List
Friday I got to see Ethel Cain, Blond:ish, Major Lazer, Portugal the Man, some of Above and Beyond and Kendrick Lamar. As you would expect of one of the headliners, Kendrick Lamar put on a phenomenal performance, which also included a really cool drone show before he took to the stage. But I also really, really enjoyed Blond:ish who was absolutely electric.
As for food, I had one of the best giant pretzels of my entire life, and some pretty disappointing vegan chicken tenders.
It was a day of lots of wasted energy, walking back and forth across a 400-acre park to greedily catch sets happening at the same time. Not to mention, the first day is always the hardest. Still, it was totally worth it. I was pinching myself the entire time! It was so incredible seeing the backdrop of the Austin skyline behind artists giving it their all on huge stages.
Saturday after catching the solar eclipse (how cool was that?!), my friends and I saw Declan McKenna, Rina Sawayama, Coi Leray, Alanis Morissette (over Thirty Seconds to Mars), Tove Lo and The 1975. I had never heard of Rina before ACL, but not only was it my favorite set from Saturday, it was one of my favorite sets across the entire weekend. Those are the festival moments I live for! (Seriously check her out!!)
While Tove Lo also gets an honorable mention, my biggest regret is not seeing the Foo Fighters over The 1975. But I really wanted to see the headliner with one of my buddies and his group of friends, so it was honestly still a great time. While The 1975 might not be my kind of music, there is no question of how well produced the show was. And the crowd?? Damn!
Sunday was a pretty packed day, but somehow involved less walking with more chill vibes. It was the best way to close such a wonderful festival. We got to catch a little of Dope Lemon upon arrival, then it was Del Water Gap, M83, The Breeders split with Little Simz, Hozier, Labrinth, and finally my most anticipated performance, Odesza.
Del Water Gap was another new find for me, and following Odesza, was probably my favorite set from the day. Though I also really enjoyed M83, and Little Simz gets an honorable mention. I wish I saw more of her set over The Breeders - she was just incredible!
When it came to food, I saved the best for last: a dumpling place that was new to ACL. I got these fantastic vegetable dumplings which were honestly way better than I expected them to be. But you only got six for $15, which left me feeling a little disappointed. But hey, festival food means festival prices.
Lost in the Music, Found in the Chaos
When I got in to work Monday, my coworkers cheered, "You survived your first ACL!" Honestly, I expected to be way more fatigued than I was. At the very least, I thought my feet would be miserable. But the worst I got was a little sunburn.
In festivals past, I've gotten sick or left my car keys in a hotel room across the country. This time around, I had nothing but a pleasant experience all around. 10/10. For my first ACL, it was pretty much perfect. I was one of the lucky ones.
Each of my out-of-town friends (except one) who shared an Air BNB together came down with COVID-19 following the festival. When they left early Sunday night because they weren't feeling well, I just thought it was fatigue. But nope! (I tested myself out of an abundance of caution, but felt completely fine). I really hope they all feel better soon.
And one of my Austin friends fell victim to a pickpocketing ring, if you can believe it! I left him at Portugal, The Man and not even moments later, his phone was nabbed. By the time he got home and used his computer to locate it, his phone was already hours away. As of yesterday, it was in Florida. Crazy!
With all that transpired around me, it left me feeling a little guilty that I got off so scot-free... haha!
Happy to Be Home
I'll be honest, relocating to Austin hasn't been easy. Moving never is, certainly not when its from across the country. And while my place is finally starting to feel like home, getting back on my feet has had its share of struggles. But the music, the food, the nicest crowd around... that beautiful Austin skyline...
This is what I've been waiting for!! This past weekend was the perfect representation of why I wanted to come to Austin in the first place, and I'm just so, so thankful to be here. Beyond that, I'm also so grateful that I got to share this experience with so many wonderful friends.
I'm truly blessed.
Until next time, thanks for reading!