ACL has lost focus on music, shifted to festivalgoers

Olivia Berkeley

ACL didn’t use to be like this. 

As a native Austinite, I had the privilege of attending ACL before it turned into one of the biggest musical festivals in the country. My first ACL experience was in 2006 when I was in middle school — I saw Gnarls Barkley and John Mayer with my mom because I was too young to go unchaperoned. I proceeded to attend the festival bienially over the course of my high school years, and ultimately gave up on buying wristbands this past year. I didn’t have the money, and, more importantly, I wasn’t willing to exert the effort that has now become inextricably associated with ACL.

While I was busy growing up in Austin, so was ACL. Over the past eight years, ACL has grown out of the ugly redheaded stepchild of music festivals stage and into the hip young adult one. Everyone and their mother now makes the effort to attend ACL, regardless of lineup. In the past, ticket purchase was dependent on who was playing, not on the overall ACL experience. You went for the actual music, not just to say you went. 

This isn’t to say that all the masses of people that go to ACL aren’t there for the music. Of course, most people have to have some artist attend to convince them to buy a wristband. But it is true that the spirit of the festival has changed significantly since its conception. People never used to dress up in their finest hippy clothes to go to ACL; it wasn’t a seen-and-be-seen kind of thing. High schoolers didn’t run rampant over Zilker Park, taking selfies in the process. Massive crowds didn’t prevent you from finding your friends. The “unknown” acts were actually unknown and not just trendy indie bands. The headliners that played in the mid 2000s would now be supporting acts. 

ACL isn’t alone in its transformation — the handful of other large music fests in the US like Coachella, Bonnaroo and Outside Lands are equally revered. The current music festival climate is one that is less focused on music and more devoted to creating a well-rounded festival experience. And, truth be told, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the way it is, and will be always be — it reflects the necessary changes that had to be made to keep up with the times. The up-and-coming music festivals will one day graduate to festival stardom, bringing in more money and hype in the process. As long as people still recognize that, above all else, they are there for the music, I guess I can’t complain too much. 

Berkeley is a Plan II and public relations sophomore from Austin.