ACL strays from original purpose, fails to properly include Austin artists

Audrey Larcher

This weekend, swaths of students attended Austin City Limits, helping to maintain the festival’s status as the most attended event in the city. Hosting genre pioneers like Radiohead and LCD Soundsystem, as well as wildly popular acts such as Kendrick Lamar, the Chainsmokers and Cage the Elephant, the lineup speaks for itself — ACL has grown immensely in the past 15 years, solidifying its place among Coachella and Lollapalooza as a world-class festival. However, the festival has grown increasingly out of touch with its roots in the Austin music scene, trending more towards commercialization than supporting the arts. Big events, while designed to host big bands, detract from the intimate culture that characterizes our city’s music and contributes to the commercialization that hurts local musicians.

Austin did not earn the Live Music Capital of the World’ without significant contribution to the arts. Throughout the 20th century, our city served as a hub for dozens of genres and styles, from folk to punk to reggae and everything in between. The unique cultural influences that synthesized here encouraged collaboration, and venues like Stubb’s and Vulcan Gas Company facilitated this musical exchange, rendering themselves as historic in the process. This climate influenced musicians of monumental importance like Willie Nelson and Daniel Johnston, but what made the Austin scene so unique was the bands that performed for the sake of performance, not to get big or make copious amounts of money.

ACL was only a bi-product of the city’s success in cultivating a supportive music environment. At its inception, the festival hosted well-known country musicians, but the lineup was evenly balanced out by local acts as well. Compared to last weekend’s slew of artists charting in the Billboard Top 100, the inaugural festival emulated a far more genuine Austin vibe, and more accurately represented the scene’s diversity.

As ACL has progressed significantly in 15 years, the Austin music scene has only deteriorated. As Chip Vayenas, drummer of local band Mingo Fishtrap, noted “the area is a little over-saturated” and weekly shows don’t have the “big turnouts… there used to be”. In a text message, Vayenas observed that there is “less urgency for people that live in Austin to see local acts … because they are spoiled by the amount of talent available,” making it difficult for musicians to support themselves financially.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying these famous acts — Major Lazer contributes to music just as much as A Giant Dog or any other local band does. But while the Austin music scene faces threats from a rising cost of living and declining community enthusiasm, we also need to make room for local musicians. There is not one clear solution, but cultivating a more inclusive space is the first step. If students and community members support DIY spaces such as Shirley’s Temple or co-op shows, we can provide a platform for musicians of all success-levels, styles and ages. Furthermore, influencing legislation to preserve the Red River Cultural District and other hubs of musical collaboration is crucial to ensuring the historic legacy of Austin music is maintained throughout this period of tumultuous change and growth.

Larcher is an economics and Plan II freshman from Austin. Follow her on Twitter @veg_lomein.