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What to take, how to get there, who to watch: Austonia's complete guide to ACL

King Princess, who performed at ACL 2019, surged in popularity after the festival. (Charles Reagan for ACL Fest)

Note: This guide was written before weekend one of ACL.

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

(Laura Figi/Austonia)

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

(ACL Festival)

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.

Rideshare 🚙

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.

Shuttles 🚌

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.

Friday Update: Check out our latest weather report on festival weather here (it's going to rain!).

What to eat

(ACL Fest)

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

(ACL Fest)

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.

View all the local artists going to the festival here.

The festival will be here before we know it!


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