Is Charlotte the Austin of the East Coast?
Both southern cities are home to big universities and have up-and-coming economies—fueled by banking and tech, respectively—that share a love of barbecue, a penchant for live music and rapidly growing millennial populations.
But the two cities present different benefits—and growing pains—to their residents and prospective transplants. Similar to how many Austinites look to San Francisco as an example of what lies ahead for the Capital City, at least one Charlottean is looking to "Austin as a guide (and in some cases a warning) for what's to come in Charlotte."
Here's how Austin and Charlotte compare across 15 highly specific, occasionally scientific categories.
1. Top workplaces
Charlotte's largest employers include Atrium Health, Wells Fargo, Walmart and Bank of America, according to the Charlotte Business Journal. Austin's largest employers include the State of Texas, the University of Texas at Austin and Dell.
2. Origin stories
Charlotte was settled around 1750 and is named for Princess Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, queen of England and wife of King George III, which is why it's sometimes called the Queen City.
Austin, previously known as Waterloo, was purchased to serve as the capital of the Republic of Texas in 1839 and renamed in honor of "Father of Texas" Stephen F. Austin, who colonized the region and introduced slavery, despite attempts by the Mexican government to ban it. Texas was annexed into the U.S. in 1845, and Austin became the state's official capital the following year.
3. Beloved food
Although there are many, the top contender in Austin might just be migas, where in Charlotte it is arguably shredded pork barbecue, eaten with a plastic fork.
4. Median home price
The median home sales price in the city of Austin hit an all-time high of $550,562 in April, exacerbating the challenges of first-time and prospective homebuyers, according to the Austin Board of Realtors.
The Charlotte housing market is similarly outperforming the national average, posting double-digit gains in home prices and contending with a housing shortage and population growth. But it remains relatively affordable compared to the Austin market. The median home sales price in April was $315,000, according to the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association.
5. College towns
Austin and Charlotte are both home to state universities. The University of Texas at Austin is the 14th best public school in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report; has an enrollment of more than 50,000 students; and counts the second largest endowment at $31 billion. The University of North Carolina-Charlotte is second to flagship campus Chapel Hill but still enrolls more than 30,000 students.
6. Population growth
Austin beats Charlotte both in terms of population and growth, but only barely. The capital city had a population of 978,908, according to 2019 census estimates, and had grown 22.1% since 2010. Charlotte had a population of 885,708 and had grown 20.4% over the same period.
7. Fitness freaks
(The Trail Foundation)
According to the 2020 American College of Sports Medicine's community fitness index, Austin ranks 31st and Charlotte 67th among the country's largest cities. Austin's score reflects better bike friendliness and more farmer's markets per capita, among other metrics.
8. Craft brewery density
(Zilker Brewing Co./Facebook)
Charlotte narrowly beats Austin in terms of ranking and number of breweries, according to the Real Estate Witch's 2021 list of best beer cities in America. Charlotte came in 17th, with 76 breweries, and Austin ranked 25th, with 71.
9. Natural disaster risk
The Willie Nelson statue downtown got a dusting of snow during the February winter storm. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, received a score of 16.89 on the national risk index, which is compiled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This places it in the 88th percentile nationally, at risk of such natural hazards as drought, hurricanes and tornadoes.
Travis County scored worse—24.91—which landed it in the 96th percentile nationally. Its most prevalent natural hazards include drought, lightning and tornadoes.
10. Local politics
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, a Democrat in her second term, is the first Black woman to hold the office. She has championed against anti-LGBT legislation, investment in affordable housing and light rail.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler, also a Democrat in his second term, is the first mayor to serve as part of the 10-1 council system. He has tackled contentious issues, from zoning reform and homelessness to the city's affordability crisis and recent protests over police violence, with varying degrees of success.
Both cities are liberal strongholds in more conservative states. Nearly two-thirds of Charlotteans voted for President Joe Biden in the 2020 election, compared to 49% of North Carolinians. Nearly 72% of Austinites went for Biden, compared to 47% of Texans.
11. Sports culture
Both Austin and Charlotte recently gained soccer franchises, but the North Carolina city also has a stable of other beloved professional sports teams, including the Panthers (NFL) and Hornets (NBA).
Until recently, Austin was alone among the country's 15 populous cities that lacked a major league team. Now it has Austin FC, which has won two games and lost four so far in its inaugural season.
12. Millennial appeal
(Michael Anthony Orona)
Austin and Charlotte are among the most attractive cities among millennials. According to SmartAsset's 2020 report, Austin ranked third and Charlotte fifth in terms of net millennial migration. Similarly, RentCafe included both among its top 15 hottest cities for millennials renters over the last five years, with millennials making up 48% of Austin rental applicants and 43% of Charlotte rental applicants.
Austin and Charlotte rank 23rd and 24th, respectively, among large U.S. cities in terms of ethnic diversity, according to a recent WalletHub study. Austin is a majority-minority city, with a rapidly growing Asian population and decreasing shares of families-with-children in the urban core and Black residents overall. Charlotte is also a majority-minority city, with increasing Asian and Hispanic populations, according to Mecklenburg County's 2020 pulse report.
14. The great outdoors
Austin beats Charlotte in terms of its 2021 ParkScore ranking, which is compiled by the Trust for Public Land and includes the 100 largest U.S. cities. In 45th place, Austin fell eight spots from last year and received its lower mark for equity. Charlotte, however, ranked near the bottom, at 91st place, and received its lowest mark for access. Fewer than 40% of Charlotteans live within a 10-minute walk of a park, compared to 62% of Austinites.
15. Celebrity sightings
(Gary Clark Jr./Facebook)
Charlotte lags behind Austin in terms of famous residents. The city counts former Tar Heel, Charlotte Bobcats majority owner and possible best basketball player of all time Michael Jordan as a part-time Charlottean.
Austin, on the other hand, saw more celebrities lay down roots in 2020 alone, including extremely successful podcast host and professional devil's advocate Joe Rogan, "Dawson's Creek" actor James Van Der Beek, enigmatic Tesla CEO Elon Musk and "Entourage" star Adrain Grenier. Other notable Austinites include possible gubernatorial candidate Matthew McConaughey, country music legend Willie Nelson, Grammy winner Gary Clark Jr. and Coach Taylor himself Kyle Chandler.
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The time has finally come, Austin City Limits fans. Try to contain your excitement—there is still lots of prep work to be done.
Festival crews began setting up in the park last week, giving hope and excitement to ticket holders. With just a few days left until the festival's post-COVID debut, use those jitters to plan out the best possible festival season.
Whether it's your first time or you're an ACL veteran, here are a few tips to keep in mind while you prepare for the music.
Don't miss a beat:
What to bring
First things first, put on that wristband before leaving the house so there's no chance of losing it. Also, just as important as your wristband to get in, all attendees must show a negative COVID-19 test obtained within 72 hours of entering the festival. Fully vaccinated attendees may show proof of vaccination instead of a negative test.
Now to the fun stuff.
Pack light. I repeat, PACK LIGHT because you're going to be doing a lot of walking and moving around. That said, there are a few light creature comforts that will make the sizzling sun bearable, starting with a seat: a foldable chair, picnic blanket, whatever, but you'll want to have a place to camp out while waiting in-between sets or enjoying a bite to eat.
If you bring nothing else, make sure you bring a reusable water bottle. Hydration is crucial and water refills are free at ACL, with stations to fill you up all over the park, so save your money on plastic bottles by bringing one.
Sunscreen is a must, especially if you're planning on making it through a full weekend. Lather up but remember that it's not in an aerosol container and weighs less than 3.4 ounces. It's always good to have a bandana on hand, you never know when you might need one, but you can always grab a freebie from festival vendors.
Expect your battery life to be drained from posting on social media and trying to find friends in the crowd. Do not forget a cell phone charger. This year ACL will have antennas through MatSing, which means the typical WiFi challenge will be partially alleviated. You can pack it all in a one-pocket fanny pack, which doesn't have to be clear if it's smaller than 4.5" x 5.5" or any clear bag smaller than 12" x 12" x 6."
What NOT to bring
The ACL gods have spoken and they said no coolers, glass containers or hammocks are allowed. You can bring in a point and shoot camera but ACL prohibits anything with a detachable lens—in fact, the festival prohibits all professional photo and video equipment.If it's illegal, it is probably prohibited. ACL is not allowing any e-cigarettes or vape devices, outside drinks, tents, spiked jewelry, fireworks, bicycles, pets, umbrellas and selfie sticks are all prohibited. Read the full list of illegal items here.
How to get there
Trying to park at Zilker or anywhere close to the park will leave you disappointed—unless you purchase a third-party parking pass, such as at Chuy's on Barton Springs for $100-weekend parking—so it's probably best to nail down another mode of transport because streets nearby will be blocked off.
More likely than not, you'll still have to do some walking if you take an Uber, which partnered with ACL as the official rideshare app. Drivers have designated pick-up and drop-off zones that are often a trek away from the action. Plus, with high demand comes high prices, so you'll need to factor it into your ACL budget. When you're ready to head home, you won't be able to call an Uber until you pass the river, South Lamar Boulevard or the Frontage Road.
Depending on where you're coming from, it may be best to park downtown and shuttle over to Zilker Park. ACL has historically held free, quick and easy shuttles that pick up attendees, bus them all the way to the Barton Springs West entrance and drops them off at the end of the day. You can catch the shuttle at Republic Square Park downtown starting at noon on Friday and 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. CapMetro also has bus routes around the city that run to Zilker Park, like MetroRapid Route 803.
Biking and walking 🚲
You won't be able to take your bike inside the festival but bike parking is available on Stratford Drive after crossing the Mopac Pedestrian Bridge and on Toomey Road at Sterzing Street and on Azie Morton Road.
How to survive the heat
(Roger Ho for ACL)
You're going to sweat, so make peace with that. Luckily, this year's forecast is calling for relatively mild temperatures. Now that that's out of the way, you can stay cool by dressing light, staying hydrated and giving yourself time to rest in the shade, which is where all the "must-brings" come in handy. Keep attire light and breathable, a hat or a bandana to keep the hair out of your eyes and a pair of sunglasses on hand. (Pssst… Don't miss our ACL style guide!) Make sure to take breaks and explore the air-conditioned areas of the park—the merch store and beer hall offer respite from the sweaty exterior.
What to eat
Like every year, ACL is bringing in only local restaurants, so you know you'll be eating well. Prepare yourself for a mark-up while you're there—there are plenty of restaurants around the Zilker area and on Barton Springs Road that you can sneak out to if you don't want to pay festival prices.
If you are going to eat at ACL, this is a great time to try something new because you can visit Torchy's any ol' time. Why not try Taco Bronco or Tamale Addiction if you're in the mood for Mexican food? It wouldn't be Texas if The Original Black's Barbecue or Micklethwait Barbecue weren't on the list, it wouldn't be trendy if you couldn't get a bodega-inspired snack from Wicky's Walkup, and it wouldn't be greasy festival food if you couldn't get a mac and cheese stuffed grilled cheese from Burro.
For your sweet tooth, Skull & Cakebones serves spooky sweets just in time for fall, Lick Honest Ice Creams creates creamy masterpieces with local and organic ingredients or if you're trying to stay mobile, pick up a handheld pie from Tiny Pies.
How to maximize your time
Don't go into the festival blindsided, lest you miss shows that are important to you. The first step in enjoying the festival to its fullest is by familiarizing yourself with the artists—a big part of ACL is discovering new favorites and up-and-coming musicians. This year, almost 20 local artists are performing and the worst feeling is discovering an artist that you could have seen at ACL.
Next, map out which artists you want to see with ACL's daily schedules. Though ACL has yet to unveil its new version of the app, previous versions allow you to schedule reminders for shows you wanted to see.
Don't forget to download the app prior to the festival—ACL can alert guests of set changes, weather and festival news in real-time.
Who to see
Miley Cyrus brought Billy Idol to the stage at this year's Lollapalooza. (Charles Reagan for Lollaplooza)
Miley Cyrus brought out special guest Billy Idol during her Lollapalooza set to perform their duet "Night Crawling," so ACL guests might get a two-for-one. Tyler, The Creator, took the Lollapalooza set with a theatrical performance that relives his past eras. The queen of Hot Girl Summer, Megan Thee Stallion, successfully got the entire crowd on their feet. It's important to keep in mind that some of these artists might be nearing retirement, like George Strait, so seize the opportunity to catch rare acts live.
There are some local treasures you don't want to miss—Black Pumas, of course, a band that needs no introduction and has its own holiday in Austin; Dayglow, an indie-pop project put on by frontman Sloan Struble; Nané, a thoroughly-Austin band formed from UT students Ian Green and Daniel Sahad, Dayglow drummer Brady Knippa and Black Pumas keyboardist JaRon Marshall; and Sir Woman, a solo project by Wild Child singer Kelsey Wilson.
Ultimately, who you decide to see is up to you but know that you won't regret branching out. You may not love every new band you see but you're bound to find at least one new jam. From the biggest stages, Honda and Lady Bird, to the smallest BMI and VRBO stages, there is a show to enjoy on all of them.
The festival will be here before we know it!
Two of Texas' top 10 most wanted fugitives were arrested this week, one of which was captured in Austin, a gang member by the name of Edward De Los Santos.
De Los Santos, a 43-year-old affiliated with the Tango Blast gang, was arrested at a South Austin hotel on Sept. 22 by the U.S. Marshals Lone Star Fugitive Task Force, Texas Department of Public Safety Special Agents and the Austin Police Department.
De Los Santos was wanted for continuous violence against family members, assault with injury, possession of a controlled substance and evading arrest with a vehicle. The Tango Blast member was added to the Most Wanted list on Sept. 2 and has been convicted with multiple accounts of aggravated assault, burglary of a habitation and aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon in the past.
The other, 51-year-old Moises Calderon, was arrested for affiliation with the Hermandad de Pistoleros Latinos gang on Sept. 23 in an apartment in San Antonio.
Calderon has been in and out of prison since 1991, when he was convicted of murder and sentenced to 40 years before being let out on parole in November 2014. He has been wanted since violating his parole in October 2020.
Both of the gang members were located thanks to tips, which Texas Crime Stoppers will pay out. Texas Crime Stoppers is funded by the Governor's Criminal Justice Division and pays out cash tips to those who provide information that leads to an arrest.
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Heading to Q2 Stadium? Four months ago, it would've been tough to do so without dropping a pretty penny, but by mid-September, season ticket holders were clamoring to sell their seats for as little as a $10 beer.
While Austin FC continues to sell-out crowds—their most recent match was at capacity despite their record and scheduling conflict with a Texas Longhorns game—demand has dipped as new factors continue to pull down prices.
Austin FC's rocky season has been met with unbridled fan support, but it's also lost that honeymoon-phase traction as they fell to the bottom of the standings, faced a third COVID surge and were met with school, work and good ol' Texas football.
On Sept. 15, Austin FC fan Tanis Olvedo was willing to strike a deal: two beers for a ticket.
Austin FC went from $200+ tickets to this 😪 we down bad pic.twitter.com/Q3yOr7UBiC
— Darth Concha (@davidhidalgo44) September 15, 2021
Although he later sold at cost to another season ticket holder, many fans have seen the value of their season tickets take a serious dip. By Wednesday, Sept. 15, tickets that were once no lower than $36 had dropped to as little as $14.
Austin Anthem member Phil Stanch used his accounting skills to map out the dip in his ticket sales prices.
Phil Stanch found that the predicted value of his season tickets (in orange) will continue to trend downward. (Phil Stanch)
Here are the main reasons why fans say Austin FC's ticket prices have taken a tumble:
Austin FC's first home game on June 19 seemed like perfect timing—by June 16, 51% of Travis County residents were fully vaccinated. Mid-May saw Austin lift its risk-based guidelines to Stage 2 for the first time since the pandemic's onset just in time for the brand-new Q2 Stadium to open at 100% capacity.
But with the third surge sending Austin back into Stage 5 and hospitalizations skyrocketing in late summer, some diehard fans reluctantly began opting for the couch over a 20,738-capacity stadium.
That safety-consciousness comes tenfold for parents of young children who are still ineligible to get vaccinated, at-risk fans and the older population.
School starting and unvaccinated kids. That’s why we haven’t gone in a while. We are season ticket holders, so we have just given ours away to friends and coworkers that can go.— jae (@jae98342926) September 23, 2021
Austin has stuck to capacity and hasn't added any masking or testing requirements, garnering some criticism from fans.
I stopped going because of the COVID surge. I tried to sell my tickets a couple of times and they didn’t move. Then I decided to eat them to make space. Not happy the club didn’t create a mask or vaccination requirement.— Ruben Cavazos (@rcavazos) September 24, 2021
Just as the surge reached its peak in mid-August, schools across Austin once again opened in-person, leaving many families unable to go to late-night games on weeknights. Ten of the club's 17 home games have been on Wednesdays, Thursdays or Sundays—days that have quickly transformed into "school nights."
With 9-5ers unable to justify 8:30 p.m. weeknight games and kids tucked in bed by 10, fewer fans have been able to make their way to the games.
And with school comes another conflict of interest- tried-and-true Texas football is fully underway, and though Sept. 18 saw a sold-out crowd, a few Verde seats were left empty as the two teams played at home at the same time for the first time.
A combo of a number of things:— Tom H (@hallockitup) September 23, 2021
- Wednesday or Sunday games that end around 10pm are not appealing to people with jobs or kids.
- Being in last place hurts, no matter how passionate people are about the team. Nothing on the line.
- This is still Texas, and it’s football season.
While COVID and fall responsibilities have played a factor, Austin FC is also dealing with the unfortunate reality of being a last-place team.
Season ticket holder Doug Mayo was one of the 4% of season ticket holders who didn't renew his deal with the team. Once confident that he would easily sell the coveted tickets for their original price, the team's record plummeted alongside his own ticket prices. Mayo said that the team's 5-4-16 record caused their honeymoon phase to end prematurely.
"The newness wore off fast," Mayo said. "Nobody wants to go to a sporting event when it's 99% certain the team they support will lose."
For Mayo, it'll take a better record and more passionate play on the field to get him back in the 20,000-member season ticket waitlist.
"Mainly (I want) them to start acting more like a professional team," Mayo said. "We were so excited to have something to look forward to throughout COVID and it's just been a disappointment."
I've been a big supporter in general, I went to 4 games in the first half of the season, but no amount of "fan camaraderie" makes me want to spend $30-40 to see a team that plays without heart. And that's bc the last game I saw we actually won (albeit Houston was down a man).— Brown and in Austin (@DisraelTV) September 23, 2021
Still other reasons abound: some fans say it's those $10 beers themselves that cause prices to dip, while others say tickets were overpriced in the first place. Although Austin FC says 96% of season ticket holders decided to renew for 2022, many did so with a grain of salt, including longtime fan Shawn Collins.
"I have tickets in 110 (the Lexus Club) and even when the demand was crazy high I couldn't get face for my tickets because they were so high to begin with," Collins said. "When I got them I figured I'd make back what I paid on games I couldn't attend."
Austin FC's dip in ticket sales may be more of an MLS problem than a unique issue: gameday employee and University of Texas sports business student Ben Patterson said that prices shot up due to pre-season excitement and are now at more normal levels.
"The initial hype of finally having a pro sports team is likely what drove up season ticket prices at the start of the year," Patterson said. "Now that excitement has cooled off, ticket prices have dropped in value steeply."
But while five straight losses are enough to drive at least some fans away, plenty are committed to staying Verde through thick and thin.
It might not be easy being green, but thousands of fans are now enjoying the benefits of $20 tickets as they continue to pack Q2.
Let's not question why tickets are NOT expensive.
Let's just keep buying tickets at $20. Whaddaya say? https://t.co/HkhOjczzZJ
— AC (@Arc34_) September 24, 2021
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