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(Greg Noire/ACL)

As a long-time Austin City Limits festival goer, Ashley Garcia was ecstatic to move to Austin in early 2020 and finally be in the same city as her favorite music festival. No more hotel rooms, hours of driving and extra fees to pay.

When COVID-19 hit and event cancelations swept through 2020, though some were proud of the organizers for taking the festival to a virtual format, many Austinites held their breath for an ACL that never happened.

"You could tell they were holding on as long as possible," Garcia said. "I guess those last months, that's when they finally gave the final word of 'nope, it's canceled.' It was so heartbreaking."

This year holds a glimmer of hope for festival attendees, artists and organizers alike. According to Fresh and Clean Media Director of Publicity Sandee Fenton, ACL still plans to hold an in-person festival in 2021, as promised. Though Fenton declined to answer further questions, she issued the following statement to Austonia:

"We are currently planning to hold the festival in Zilker Park in October. We remain in communication with local officials and will offer updates through our website and social media when we have more information to share. Of course, the health and safety of our fans, artists, staff and community is our number one priority and planned for accordingly."

Holding the festival this year will be a daunting task—ACL attracts almost 500,000 fans every year, a figure that doesn't include staff or performers, and tightly packs them together in front of stages.

At ACL 2019, fans packed so far behind Childish Gambino's stage that it was nearly impossible to see the band. (Laura Figi/Austonia)

For artists, the restart of gigs, concerts and festivals couldn't come soon enough, especially for Austin-born-and-raised artist Jackie Venson, who told Austonia that sheltering in place has made her feel confined after a jam-packed year of performing in 2019.

"I felt like I was just screaming at the walls I was stuck inside of, it was really crazy," Venson said. "When I lost my tour and when (festivals were) canceled, and I lost all of that income and all of that activity, I realized how dependent I was on certain things."

Venson performed at ACL 2018 and was part of last year's virtual live stream.

Jackie Venson at ACL 2018.

Although Venson said she found a certain independence in live streaming and being able to directly connect with her audience, after getting a COVID-19 vaccine through a volunteer program, she is ready to book as many shows as possible. Venson said she would even play ACL 2021 if she is asked.

"I don't think that musicians can get any lower than they are right now," Venson said. "I don't think that we'll ever get a harder blow than any of the blows of last year ... because if (musicians) can get through last year, period, they can handle anything. Anything."

Though the popular California music festival Coachella, which is normally held in April, was canceled due to COVID-19 in January, many other festivals are following in the footsteps of ACL. New York City's The Governor's Ball, normally held in June, has been postponed to September this year for optimal chances, Tennessee's Bonnaroo is scheduled to go on in September and while Chicago's Lollapalooza has neither confirmed nor denied the festival yet, it is run by the same companies as ACL and still has the 2021 tickets page up.

And aside from music events, locally, the University of Texas said this week it plans to have 100% capacity for fall football games this year, which would mean the gathering of 100,000 people at the Darrel K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

Ashley Garcia in front of the iconic ACL flags in 2016. She has gone to ACL every year for some time, until it was canceled last year. (Ashley Garcia)

For Garcia, anything is better than a virtual concert. If ACL 2021 goes on, she hopes to see Chicano Batman, a band that holds special meaning to her and represents her Hispanic heritage, and Austin's own Black Pumas, who captured her interest the first time she heard them play.

"I'll be the first one to buy a ticket," Garcia said. "I think (ACL) really does give Austin that 'Austin vibe.' You can tell everyone's there for one reason with the connection of the music and just having a good time. I think that all of that together makes it feel much bigger than it is."


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