Student ACL workers reap benefits of long hours in premium access to festival, networking opportunities, free food

Caroline Culberson, Life & Arts General Reporter

Surrounded by bright blue skies and verdant grass, bass reverberated through the tent poles as festival goers in sequins, shorts and fanny packs lined up for treats in between shows. For Paisley Polk, a UT student who spent the weekend at Bananarchy’s Austin City Limits Music Festival booth, dipping frozen bananas and smothering them with toppings, the long hours felt both strenuous and electric. 

“We were trying to get the bananas out in like thirty seconds because there was always such a long line, but it was fun,” art history sophomore Polk said. “It never felt chaotic. It was harmonic.”

Every year at ACL, UT student workers gain free access to the festival on days they work. For many like Polk, working at ACL offered the chance to explore festival grounds and see performances from the staff section.

“We did get three breaks,” Polk said. “Every break, you could feasibly go and see an artist. I took my longer break centered so I could go see St. Vincent … she’s such a showman.”

Even outside of breaks, radio-television-film freshman Sarah Powers used tacos to make valuable connections in the music industry. She said working with Torchy’s Tacos afforded an opportunity to network with Billie Eilish’s tour photographer and an ACL production manager as she handed them their food.

“The days go by so fast,” Powers said. “You’re busy and the music is around you, so even though you’re not directly next to the stages at all times, you get the whole essence of the festival.” 

Torchy’s employees danced, chanted and enjoyed deliriously tossing free tacos to festival goers in the late hours as their shifts ended. 

“Being able to interact with the crowd in a funny way was super cool,” Powers said. “Everyone would come up to the Torchy’s tent specifically because we made sure we looked like we were having a good time.”

When Powers returned as a festival goer for weekend two, she said she knew exactly what acts she wanted to see. Having traded queso and tacos for other treats the previous weekend, workers from her favorite tents remembered her and offered her free food. 

Philosophy sophomore Lair-Émile Wysong Reina echoed the benefits of working in food service as opposed to security or ticketing. He worked weekend one with Austin Oyster Company in the uber-exclusive C3 tent for founders and artists. After shucking an estimated 400 oysters himself, he has the blisters to show for it.

“The rapport with the people you’re serving is probably better when you’re handing them a (free) beer or a cold oyster, as opposed to telling them to get out of an area or rummaging through their backpack,” Reina said.

Reina received a C3 founders wristband, which offered free food, alcohol and exclusive access that outside patrons cannot purchase. Still, Reina stressed that all staff passes come with tremendous benefits if you make friends with fellow staff members to bypass red tape and access perks throughout the weekend.

“That’s part of working in the service industry, making those connections, because we all take care of each other,” Reina said.