Thursday: Austin City Limits has flourished since it began in 2002

Kate Dannenmaier

Twelve years ago, Austin City Limits made its humble debut to the music festival scene, but even in its first year, the “multifarious fiesta” intrigued former Daily Texan staffer Brent Wistrom, who wrote in 2002 the first of the Texan’s many ACL articles.

Long before ACL became a music festival on Sept. 28, 2002, “Austin City Limits” was a popular TV show on PBS. “Austin City Limits,” which ran for 28 seasons before the festival began, was a music show that recorded live in Austin. One of the city’s “best-known assets,” the program premiered in 1974, originally featuring blues and country music. It featured more than 400 artists, including Johnny Cash, Norah Jones and Sheryl Crow, before producers decided to bring its live performances from the studio stage to the public arena. 

“One of the top 5 questions at the city visitors’ desk is how to get tickets to ‘Austin City Limits’ recordings,” Wendy Morgan, former director of music marketing for the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau, told Wistrom. “This is the first time Austin City Limits has opened its doors to the world.”

In a separate article reviewing the festival, former Texan staffer Matt Dentler wrote that the approximately 30,000 people in attendance of the first day “seemed to know they were a part of history.” Artists including Los Lobos, Wilco and The String Cheese Incident performed during the first-ever ACL festival.

“It’s going to be more than just a cool concert, it’s going to be different from anything anyone has seen in this town,” Lisa Schickel, then-director of promotions at Capital Sports & Entertainment, told Wistrom.

Each year since the debut, ACL has increased in popularity, size, and, especially, price. The price of a one-day ticket has skyrocketed from the original $25 to $90, and the price of three-day passes rose from $45 to $225. The original ACL lineup boasted 70 bands. This year more than 130 artists will be performing. While 30,000 people was “astonishing” for ACL’s first year, the festival now averages 75,000 people per day.

“More than 25,000 tickets have been sold,” Wistrom wrote. “The festival is not expected to sell out due to the event area’s size.”

In 2014, it is not a question of whether ACL will sell out of tickets, it’s a matter of when.

No one knew how big ACL would get. Schickel asserted the possibility that it “might” become a permanent part of Austin’s hectic concert schedule, but nobody could be sure. At the time, Schickel said ACL was only scheduled to go on for the next three years. Fortunately, it has flourished into 2014 and shows no signs of going away.

“The first day of the two-day Austin City Limits Music Festival proved what many had hoped: Not only could this festival be realized, it was a fascinating, carefree time,” Dentler said.

In the past 12 years, ACL has transformed from a public television show, to a small festival, to a musical mecca where artists from around the world gather.