I’ve been in Austin since 1992—a decade before the Austin City Limits Music Festival even began. I went to Aquafest and Kerrville Folk Festival each once. Lollapallooza in ’95 when Southpark Meadows was still just meadows. These were all “aw-shucks-I’ll-try-anything-once” good faith gestures. As far as I was concerned, live music belonged in the corrugated steel embrace of the Liberty Lunches and Emo’s of the world. And SXSW was the undisputed reigning music festival champion of all time.
In 2002, the first ACL Fest was announced. Forget it. Why drop myself into a Texas-sun heated cauldron of 70,000 moshing suckers?
Then, aw shucks, I went. The ear plugs of unknowing dropped like the proverbial scales, and I heard the light. In the heart of my beloved live music capital, for a brief moment, our Barton Springs-fed oasis bloomed with stages, bands, and a mindset that resists definition. Call it a vibe, soul, creative spirit, the flying spaghetti monster, whatever you want. This wasn’t just a place to sample sounds like a beer flight at Black Star. This was a place where people, as packed together and sweaty as I expected, high-fived and belly-bumped by way of introduction. A sanctuary of free expression, and anyone and everyone could be an artist.
And speaking of art, not only are the fields of Zilker speckled with dada performances and ironic costumes—not to mention the music—but ACL over the years has ramped up local artist representation in a dedicated market section (where I once peddled “TAKE OFF YOUR PANTS!” buttons from the Blanton’s 2007 Mike’s World exhibition for a scarf and a smile).
Austin is a gem-ridden city chock full o’ creative incubators. I can hear music at the Blanton and see art at ACL Fest. We’re on to something in this town, and I don’t want to miss any of it.
ACL Fest 2012 took place earlier this month. Next year, there will be two weekends worth of music on Oct. 4-6 and 11-13, 2013.
— Richard Havens, the Blanton’s Manager of Special Projects