Walking into Zilker Park on Oct. 12 sent chills down my spine. I was immediately greeted with the sight of hundreds of dragonflies and thousands of people. As I got closer to the check-in gates and felt the thumping of the bass, I could not help but smile. The smell of local Austin Texas foods had me even more excited, since I had not eaten all day long. I was especially ecstatic about the vast array of vegan options like wings, nachos, and even chili! The health check and scanning went surprisingly fast, even though we rode on the free shuttle from downtown. From the fast-moving lines, to the amazing food, three days, eight stages, and over 50 artists, Austin City Limits would make this weekend one I would never forget.
I attended the ACL festival with my fiancé, so I was encouraged to see some artists that I was unfamiliar with. We started the day off seeing JXDN, and I immediately fell in love with his sound. It was a mix of old pop-punk, My Chemical Romance vibe, mixed with some indie hip hop — absolutely amazing! Although we only heard a few songs since we got there late, he put on an amazing show. He had quite a large crowd that kept high energy by jumping around while So What played. The crowd waved their phones’ flashlights back and forth to Better off Dead, even though it was the middle of the day. He seemed genuinely happy to be there and even gave a bow before he left the stage. Since his set was right next to the smaller food stands, we ended up grabbing some canned water (because it is definitely better that way) and amazing cauliflower wings before setting out for our next concert stage. This time, it was one I was looking forward to.
Up next on the VRBO stage was the Hinds, an all-woman indie rock band from Madrid. They were so adorable jumping around the stage and screaming in excitement before the show even began and that, in turn, got the crowd even more pumped to see them. I had heard a few of their songs from social media, but would have never guessed they would put on such a memorable show. It was so good that my fiancé bought their album right after they performed their opening song, Riding Solo. They filled the entire 45-minute set with the same energy and never faltered. They gave a short speech about the difficulties of getting to the U.S. during these times, especially coming to Texas, and then they told us to enjoy the next song, which would be very short. It was, sitting at less than a minute of instrumental music — just the right amount of time to wave at what seemed to be every single member of the gigantic crowd cheering them on. A lovely group of girls who truly encapsulated the fun of performing their own music; watching them live makes you want to dance your heart out right along with them. I can’t help but to smile just thinking about it.
As soon as Hinds ended their set, we raced our way to the food area once again to replenish our Liquid Death water (usually four at a time) and get a midday snack. After filling up on a snow cone and some pizza, we ran into something we were not sure about, since it was almost completely white and had no line whatsoever. It was a tent with ACL shirts lining the perimeter that were not available in the official merchandise booths. We were shocked to find out that these were Rock N Recycle booths! Rock N Recycle had four booths set up among the grounds of Zilker, where they would hand out giant green plastic bags and encourage attendees to bring it back full of plastic and aluminum in order to get a free shirt and help in their efforts of keeping the park clean and free of harmful litter. From that moment on, we made it our mission to fill up at least one bag, which was pretty easy considering that, during any concert, most people turn into litter monsters and throw their cans and cups onto the ground, which leaves a perfect window for the trash collectors at the end of each set to run around the field collecting as much trash as possible. We were able to fill up at least 10 bags over the weekend, but only got one shirt. I found it to be rather surprising that so many people left their trash on the ground, since there were trash cans and receptacles every 10 feet, but we got free shirts from it, so I cannot complain too much.
After cleaning up, we made our way to the next performer on our list: Finneas. Neither of us knew all of the songs that he played, but both of us were astonished to see him come out into the 90 degree weather sporting a suit and high-heeled shoes. He played some breathtaking music, but, about halfway through, he did something rather remarkable. He stopped the music and set out for an inspiring tale mentioning how last weekend he took the time to tell the crowd something along the lines of, “f—ck Greg Abbott!” and “my body, my choice.” After chanting for a few minutes, instead of leaving it at that, he took the time to encourage us to vote for people who have the same values as we do: the ones who believe in human rights and the right to healthcare. He told us that, if we use our individual power to come together as one, we will change the world. Our politicians will be ones with the same values we have, or the ones that are already elected will change their ways for fear of getting voted out, but that will not happen unless we get out there and vote. Finneas was not the only artist that weekend to use their platform to encourage voting among the younger generation in attendance, although every artist we saw after that had some form of chant or speech advocating for human rights, hating Greg Abbott, and encouraging donations to Planned Parenthood.
Finally, after seeing the astounding Finneas perform and making us all cry to the songs he wrote for his girlfriend, it was time to see the two artists my fiancé and I were sold on the moment the lineup was announced: Jon Pardi and George Strait . . . sorry Miley. Jon Pardi played across the field, so we had no time to clean up after Finneas’s show, but we dragged our green bag, half-full of cans, anyways. People in the crowds actually started to bring their cans to us after learning what we were doing. We waited about five minutes for the show to begin and pushed our way through the crowd until we were in the mosh pit — if you can even call it that, being that it was for a country artist and all. We were ready for an amazing show, and that is exactly what we received. Jon Pardi gave us an hour of hits that we knew every word to. From Heartache Medication and Tequila Little Tim we were jumping around and screaming every word like crazy. He played his songs back-to-back without much said in-between, but he made sure to take the time to wish everyone a ‘lucky’ night as he closed with Dirt on my Boots — a song about picking up a date and going dancing, and then slipping off his muddy boots before heading to the bedroom. He ended right on time and yelled at us to hurry up and get to Ladybird stage to see Mr. George Strait himself.
From there, we truly had a once in a lifetime experience. George Strait is arguably the greatest country music singer of all time, and, while most people gag at the idea of country music, nine out of 10 times, they know a song by Strait. He held the stage in front of thousands of people for two hours singing songs about the rodeo days, his childhood crush, all of his exes, and many more of his 100 greatest hits. He, of course, took the time to sing Codigo, his song about his Tequila brand, reminding everyone that, if you are not a fan of Tequila, you just have not tried Codigo yet. He closed after a much-requested encore with The Cowboy Rides Away — a beautiful ending to day one of ACL Fest. We did feel pretty bad for Miley Cyrus, since most people were there to see Strait; his tickets sell out in minutes these days, but, passing by her stage, we saw she still had a few hundred people packed in to see her.
Day two came and went rather quickly, as we slept through the majority of the day and just barely had enough time to catch Doja Cat’s mesmerizing performance. She went all out on stage for her opening song and choreography, and then took the time to apologize for her voice since she was sick. (None of us could tell.) She still blew the crowd away, playing hit after hit and encouraging us to participate with her. She made sure her audience was having fun right along with her. The hour she had set for her seemed to blow by in just minutes, as we were all surprised when she announced she only had time for one more song, stating that they had to get the place cleaned up before Billie Eilish took the stage. Doja ended at 7:20 p.m., and Billie Eilish’s set was 8:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., which gave us a little over an hour to race to the other side of the park for dinner, where the gigantic lines really were moving so fast you hardly felt like there was a wait, eat our dinner, and run back to Ladybird stage in order to get a good view of Billie Eilish.
Unfortunately, by the time we arrived back at Ladybird stage, the crowd was already so packed that we almost touched the stage behind us — clear across the field! As she started her entrance, we knew our current position would not be good enough, as we could hardly hear anything she was saying. We made our way as close as we could until we were actually able to decipher what song she was playing. After an hour and a half of jumping and screaming lyrics, I was sad the show was over. She took a moment to tell us to look at her and be in the moment — to put our phones down and be with her presently. She talked about saving the world, chanted about Planned Parenthood, and then a cricket joined the show and landed right on her head. It was inspirational and adorable all at once. I looked at tickets to her next show in Texas on our way home because I was so sad it was over. They were sold out already, unfortunately.
Sunday, the final day of ACL, we only cared about seeing two people, so we enjoyed the scenery that Zilker park had to offer and hid away for a while. We grabbed some more local food and had a picnic while listening to artists come and go from stage to stage. That is, until 5:30 p.m. rolled around, the time of day I was honestly dreading. Don’t get me wrong, I like to keep an open mind when it comes to music, but Marc Rebillet was just not for me. I was sure of it. I could not stand it when my fiancé would play his songs in the car; they were obnoxious and sounded like a frat boy made it at 3:00 a.m. after getting wasted and found a cheap DJ set laying around. I can not lie, though, after hearing the man play live, I was a changed person. I bought tickets to his show in Dallas immediately after leaving his set. Marc Rebillet plays everything — his entire set — impromptu. He is a one man band who became increasingly popular over the course of the pandemic, when he would live-stream these impromptu sessions on YouTube. He took these shows to the stage and blew us all away. He makes songs based on phrases or situations that just happen by luck, and, this time, a group of cowboys in jean shorts and pink cowboy hats happened to be around. He brought them — I think there were six in total — all on stage and made a song for them. They danced around for at least 45 minutes while he continued his encouragement and crowd surfed after popping a bottle of champagne. Although most people took the time to call out Greg Abbott for his abortion ban, nobody did it like him. Marc Rebillet gifted us with an entire song all about ‘f—ck Greg Abbott,’ where the attendees were quite literally able to mosh to a 5-minute, absolute demolishment of the Texas Governor. Honestly, I can say that I cannot wait to see him again. One hour of an improv skit basically shifted my viewpoint from being absolutely disgusted by his music to paying to see him again. If that is not what music festivals are all about, they’re doing it wrong.
To close out the weekend, Tyler, the Creator took to Ladybird stage for an hour and a half show. Honestly, I feel bad for all of the headliners that went up against George Strait, Billie Eilish, and Tyler, the Creator; they did not stand a chance at having the level of crowd Ladybird calls to. As we took to the field one last time, we knew this time would be different. We were unable to make it even halfway through the field due to how thick the crowd was for the final show. Tyler really put on a fantastic show, perfect for the end of ACL. The 30-year-old visionary opened with Corso and continued through the decade with Yonkers and IFHY until closing with RUNITUP. I can not say that I knew every word, but neither did he, admitting that when he forgets the words he tends to rile the crowd and shout at us to “Jump! Jump!” to keep things moving along. Never was there a dull moment during his concert, which could really be said about the entire weekend. A perfect ending to a perfect weekend for sure.
Austin City Limits came to a close that Sunday, but without too much complaining from anyone. After three days of back-to-back concerts, I think I speak for most when I say we were all completely worn out. All the artists there gave us a piece of themselves and made the weekend something magical. I look forward to attending the Festival again next year, though I don’t know how they could ever manage topping their 20th anniversary. The only thing I can really complain about is the lack of clean restrooms, but you can pay for indoor air conditioned ones if you want to skip the port a potties. The Parks and Recreation department for Austin really knows what they are doing; they could not have made this weekend any better.
Featured Image: Courtesy of ACL