Austin City Limits Is A Festival Full Of Hometown Comfort, Even Across Two Weekends

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Austin City Limits is my hometown festival, and I’ve gone enough times to know a few tricks. ACL brings a lot of out-of-towners into the city. Uber prices skyrocket with people who don’t know about the free shuttle from downtown to Zilker Park. My block up north, a comfortable six-ish miles from Zilker, becomes a street full of Airbnbs. Friends come in from Denton or San Antonio or out of state, and couches and air mattresses fill with friends pumped for the Friday headliners. The city, already bursting at its edges with new transplants and a rotating cohort of students, swells to capacity. Zilker Park, year-round home to cute hiking trails and the ever-popular Barton Springs Pool, accepts thousands upon thousands of strangers. I walk in like an old pro, seasoned enough to know where the HomeAway stage is and where the best landmark meeting spot is (the yellow “Craft Beer” sign on the edge of the Beer Tent, just past the press lounge).

ACL is reliably hot — the weather is always hot in Austin, but some demonic intervention makes those two weekends in October ungodly hot. 95-degrees-and-humid hot, sweat-running-down-the-back-of-your-knees hot. Zilker Park is beautiful, but there are not a lot of trees, at least not by the stages. You will stand in the sun. You will suffer a little. Stay hydrated. Miller Lites are almost the same price as water bottles, but learn from my mistakes a few years ago and alternate. Those killer mid-afternoon sets are worth it. Also, bring a hat.

The lineup for the festival was incredible this year — the headliners were some of the best of the fest season, give or take a Beyoncé. Paul McCartney made a rare fest appearance to absolutely crush it on the American Express stage Friday night. Walking around the park that day, I saw more than a few 50 and 60-something year old fans in Beatles T-shirts and new McCartney merch, freshly snagged from the merch table.

Some camped out by the American Express stage with chairs and sun visors, catching sets by David Byrne and The National (legends in their own right) or walking across the park to jam to Hozier or Big Thief. I was touched to see these fans who seemed devoted to music more than anything else, the few middle-aged guys in the crowd of UT undergrads at Noname’s show and Greta Van Fleet. They loved it all, but they came alive during McCartney. I didn’t grow up on The Beatles, so I was a little concerned I wouldn’t get as much out of the set. But McCartney put on an incredible show, and it turns out I know more Wings than I thought I did.

Apart from the fireworks of McCartney’s set (yes, there were literal fireworks) the other headliners were also killer. Childish Gambino had to cancel his tour dates to recover from an injury, but Justice were a crowd-pleaser during weekend one, and Lil Wayne is sure to be memorable for those lucky enough to catch him next weekend. Travis Scott drew a massive crowd on Sunday — I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Sunday crowd that big. I was already on the other side of the park, so I saw Arctic Monkeys that night instead.