Austin City Limits provides opportunities to local bands

Hannah Smothers

The underground of starving Austin hipsters is abuzz with claims that Austin City Limits Music Festival has become a commercialized nuisance that stomps on real local talent.

Matthew Hines of local band The Eastern Sea quickly dispels these suspicious rumors.

“There’s been all this conversation about how there needs to be more local bands,” Hines said. “But I don’t think there should be any more bands in ACL than there already are from the local scene. I think it would devalue the festival.”

The three-day hurricane of celebrities and tank tops that takes over Zilker Park every year had a humble beginning in 2002 as a two-day festival that featured mainly up and coming local bands. Lindsey Tishgart, who worked with ACL as a PR publicist for three years, attended the inaugural festival as a UT student.

“It was more of an experiment the first year,” Tishgart said. “People who went were probably more familiar with the ACL TV show.”

The festival has grown into an event that sells out in days. More than 70,000 people fill Zilker Park each day of ACL, a stark difference from the 20,000 or so reported to be in attendance each day of the first festival. Kellie Goldstein, programs directors with the Austin Music Foundation, has been a regular attendee of ACL and hasn’t missed a festival since 2003.

“The first few years were gorgeous with open fields and it had more of the ‘community of music lovers’ feel,” Goldstein said. “To my knowledge, it was not sold out the first few years. I’m not sure we’ll ever recapture those amazing moments again but I do wish the crowds were more manageable than they have been the past several years.”

ACL relies on its reputation for bringing in acts like Kanye West, Coldplay and Arcade Fire to sell tickets, but local acts still break the peaceful quiet that hangs over Zilker Park every morning before the crowds pour in.

C3 Presents, the company responsible for putting on ACL, is also the company behind Lollapalooza, the mega music festival held every year in Chicago.

“At Lollapalooza, you’re not going to see a bunch of bands from Chicago just because they’re from Chicago,” Hines said. “Austin and ACL are uniquely local. They have local businesses and local bands. At least five or six every time.”

Hines explains that if local bands view ACL as a menace or a threat, it is strictly by fault of their own attitudes.

“It’s your choice whether you want to take advantage of it or not,” Hines said. “I personally love being at the bottom of a good list, because you can show that list to people and say ‘Hey, look who we’re playing with.’ It’s a weapon in our arsenal of convincing people to take us seriously.”

Goldstein agrees, and offers advice to local bands to use ACL as a networking opportunity, rather than cower in fear from the continually growing event.

“I hope that all of the musicians use the opportunity to their advantage,” Goldstein said. “There are also plenty of Austinites who don’t attend the ACL festival, but they still want to hear music. So if you’re a musician, book gigs and network even if you didn’t get the invite to the ACL Festival. The music business is extremely competitive and always will be.”

Goldstein views ACL as a crucial part of modern-day Austin culture, especially to the younger generations. She continues to have a positive and memorable experience at the festival Austinites have watched grow and mature from within the grassy confines of Zilker Park.

“[ACL] is a place where almost every age and genre have an act they can go listen to,” Goldstein said. “One of the most fun adventures we have is finding our new favorite bands, and yes, many have been local bands.”

Austin City Limits is one that includes the name of its hometown in its title. This alone speaks for the fact that ACL does have a unique focus on local bands, even if that focus is smaller than some would prefer.

“It’s like an ecosystem within another ecosystem,” Hines said. “Austin has its own world of local bands, and there’s not really a tight scene in Austin. But since Austin has so many huge festivals, both ecosystems have to live together in a symbiotic type of relationship.”

Printed on Friday, October 12, 2012 as: Austin bands play Zilker