ACL Fest celebrates 20 years

Sage Dunlap and Reya Mosby

This year, Austin City Limits Music Festival celebrates 20 years of bringing many of the world’s biggest artists to Austin for a celebration of live music. Bringing a fresh mix of music legends and up-and-comers to the stage, the music festival continues to reach live music lovers of all ages each year. To reflect on the legacy of Austin’s beloved fall festival, The Daily Texan looked back at 2002, exploring how the festival has changed since its inaugural year.



The first ACL Fest included 67 bands that played on five stages at Zilker Park over the course of one weekend. Today, the festival offers a line up of more than 150 artists representing many genres that will perform on eight stages over the course of two weekends. While many artists have come and gone, all contributing to the legacy of this live music celebration, western swing band Asleep at the Wheel played at the first ever ACL Fest and returns this year to grace audiences with their signature twangy, upbeat sound. 



Fashion makes a big part of any festival experience — offering attendees a chance to express themselves creatively without worries of fitting into the standards of everyday wear. Throughout ACL’s 20 years, many trends have come and gone, defining the festival’s fashion scene. In the early 2000s, ACL attendees came to the event decorated in Y2K classics such as baby tees, mini skirts, embroidered low-waisted jeans, fringe and hair clips. While some items on that list, such as baby tees and hair clips, are trendy today, festival fashion has changed considerably over the past two decades. Now, attendees can expect to see high-waisted baggy pants, crocheted crop tops, long skirts, fun sunglasses, go-go boots, sheer clothing and more.    



In 2002, the first ACL garnered an audience of about 42,000, despite only expecting a crowd of 25,000 music lovers. This inaugural ACL fest only offered about a dozen food vendors to serve the large, bustling crowd. After decades of growth and promotion, in 2021, the festival attracted approximately 75,000 people per day across a two-weekend period. This year’s festival will host 39 food vendors, including Austin favorites like Amy’s Ice Creams and East Side King. The festival’s growth, while drawing in larger crowds and more expensive tickets, ultimately resulted in greater economic impact for the city.


Monetary Impact 

The inaugural festival took place over two days, with tickets costing $25 for one day and $45 for two. Since then, the festival expanded to a two-week long event, with a one-weekend wristband totalling about $300. The festival continues to grow its economic reach, racking up approximately $369 million for the City of Austin in 2021. The 2002 event took place at Zilker Park, where the festival continues to call home to this day. Since its conception, the festival has donated $48 million of its proceeds to the Austin Parks Foundation to beautify and expand Zilker and other parks throughout the city.