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7 reasons why the 2021 Austin City Limits music festival could really return to Zilker this October

(Katrina Barber/Austin City Limits)

After a barrage of cancellations swept through 2020 and bled into 2021, news of an in-person Austin City Limits Festival comeback may seem out of place. However, as the population inches toward herd immunity, it might not be so far off.

With possibly the most difficult year of the pandemic under our belts, here are a few reasons ACL could go on as scheduled in 2021.

1. ACL has been planning for the festival

An ACL spokesperson confirmed the planning of a fall in-person music festival to Austonia last week. Organizers have been promoting its 2021 dates since the same day it canceled the 2020 festival. While its social media accounts have been largely inactive, ACL's website is up-to-date on dates and times for the in-person festival.

2. Live Nation's CEO is confident in festivals returning

ACL is put on by Austin-based event management company C3 Presents, which is owned by Live Nation, a global entertainment company that puts on festivals around the world. During an investor call on Thursday, Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino said he is optimistic about the return of summer festivals this year. Citing 170,000 tickets that had been sold for three different music festivals in the United Kingdom, where the government recently ruled that large live music events can return at full capacity on June 21, Rapino said he thinks the U.S. could be on the same timeline. Festivals could start as early as midsummer if states can up their business capacity to 75%, Rapino said.

After all…

3. "Everyone who wants a COVID vaccine will have had one"

Rapino said that by mid-summer, COVID-19 vaccines are projected to be available to the general public and believes outdoor events will be a preferable interaction since they are open-air. Some have suggested events as large as festivals should only be an option for people who have received and have proof of getting the vaccine.

"For both the U.S. and U.K., projections indicate that everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one by May or June, and Europe and most other markets following a few months later," Rapino said. "Given the mass social and economic toll the lockdown has put on the public, we believe there will be strong momentum to reopen society swiftly as soon as vaccines are readily available, and we believe outdoor activity will be the first to happen. So while the timing of returning to live will continue to vary across global markets, every sign points to beginning safely in many countries sometime this summer and scaling further from there."

Gov. Greg Abbott said last week that more widespread distribution will begin by the end of this month. While the vaccine process has been nothing short of a mess, Austin's vaccine allocation is on the up and up, as this week's allocation jumped up 50%.

With the approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one shot, The Texas Department of State Health Services will receive an additional 200,000 doses next week. As of Feb. 22, Austin had received 233,515 doses of the vaccine, but this week alone, the city will receive a 46,540 dose shipment. Plus, Moderna and Pfizer are ramping up production with the intention of delivering 300 million doses each by July. The state health department estimates that vaccines will be available to the general public this spring.

4. Cases are on a national decline

Although the U.S. is coming out of a massive spike that started around October, cases have been on a steady decline nationally since mid-January. Travis County has followed the same trend. Even though COVID-19 is still not under control, with a vaccine available and the worst spike behind us...

5. Tours are being planned

Austin-based musician Jackie Venson told Austonia last week that she had been vaccinated through a volunteer program, which meant she was finally ready to get back on the road and retry a tour that had been canceled in 2020. Artists all over the world are rescheduling international tours that were called off in 2020, including The Weeknd, Tame Impala, Harry Styles, Russ and Maroon 5. Some even have shows scheduled in Central Texas, months before ACL is even scheduled to begin.

6. Festivals are being planned

ACL is not the only festival that plans to reignite in 2021. While major spring festivals like South by Southwest, California's Coachella and UK's Glastonbury have been canceled for the second year in a row, other festivals later in the year have managed to skirt the issue by waiting. Although Dr. Anthony Fauci does not recommend easing up restrictions until the time is right, he said large gatherings should be safe to resume once the U.S. nears herd immunity—after 70-85% of people are vaccinated or have already recovered from the virus—which he predicted would be this fall last month.

Festivals like The Governor's Ball and Bonnaroo—New York City and Manchester, Tennessee, festivals that usually kick off June—have been postponed until September. On the local front, JMBLYA said it is planning 2021's festival and UTOPiAfest is already selling tickets for an October festival.

7. We really, really need it

After a year when no one thought things could get any worse, Texans have already been through the wringer with statewide political protests and the winter storm of the century that left millions without necessities.

Austin became the Live Music Capital of the World by playing live music and residents have certainly missed its presence. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on our lives from a physical and mental standpoint and while no Austinite wants to see anyone get hurt by a music festival that is supposed to bring joy to the city, going another year ACL-free just doesn't feel right.

Logistically, planning an international festival after a global pandemic is a challenge in and of itself. Some have talked about providing proof of a vaccine to enter, setting tents six feet apart or cutting the attendance lower to make the event a real possibility. For now, seven months away from the two-week fest, ACL is definitely a possibility.


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