Austin City Limits

Hilary Simon, an elementary school teacher, tries on hats at the Antingua stand, one of the many vendors displaying wares at the Art Market. 

Photo Credit: Adithya Sambamurthy | Daily Texan Staff

Twelve years ago, Austin City Limits made its humble debut to the music festival scene, but even in its first year, the “multifarious fiesta” intrigued former Daily Texan staffer Brent Wistrom, who wrote in 2002 the first of the Texan’s many ACL articles.

Long before ACL became a music festival on Sept. 28, 2002, “Austin City Limits” was a popular TV show on PBS. “Austin City Limits,” which ran for 28 seasons before the festival began, was a music show that recorded live in Austin. One of the city’s “best-known assets,” the program premiered in 1974, originally featuring blues and country music. It featured more than 400 artists, including Johnny Cash, Norah Jones and Sheryl Crow, before producers decided to bring its live performances from the studio stage to the public arena. 

“One of the top 5 questions at the city visitors’ desk is how to get tickets to ‘Austin City Limits’ recordings,” Wendy Morgan, former director of music marketing for the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau, told Wistrom. “This is the first time Austin City Limits has opened its doors to the world.”

In a separate article reviewing the festival, former Texan staffer Matt Dentler wrote that the approximately 30,000 people in attendance of the first day “seemed to know they were a part of history.” Artists including Los Lobos, Wilco and The String Cheese Incident performed during the first-ever ACL festival.

“It’s going to be more than just a cool concert, it’s going to be different from anything anyone has seen in this town,” Lisa Schickel, then-director of promotions at Capital Sports & Entertainment, told Wistrom.

Each year since the debut, ACL has increased in popularity, size, and, especially, price. The price of a one-day ticket has skyrocketed from the original $25 to $90, and the price of three-day passes rose from $45 to $225. The original ACL lineup boasted 70 bands. This year more than 130 artists will be performing. While 30,000 people was “astonishing” for ACL’s first year, the festival now averages 75,000 people per day.

“More than 25,000 tickets have been sold,” Wistrom wrote. “The festival is not expected to sell out due to the event area’s size.”

In 2014, it is not a question of whether ACL will sell out of tickets, it’s a matter of when.

No one knew how big ACL would get. Schickel asserted the possibility that it “might” become a permanent part of Austin’s hectic concert schedule, but nobody could be sure. At the time, Schickel said ACL was only scheduled to go on for the next three years. Fortunately, it has flourished into 2014 and shows no signs of going away.

“The first day of the two-day Austin City Limits Music Festival proved what many had hoped: Not only could this festival be realized, it was a fascinating, carefree time,” Dentler said.

In the past 12 years, ACL has transformed from a public television show, to a small festival, to a musical mecca where artists from around the world gather. 

Threadgill's to broadcast ACL festival

Those unable to snag a ticket to Austin City Limits festival can stop by Threadgill’s instead for free coffee and a broadcast of the fest.

KGSR-FM is offering a live broadcast of ACL at Threadgill’s on Barton Springs. The $5 cover will be donated to the Seton Shivers Cancer Center.

The first 100 people to arrive will receive a complementary breakfast taco and free coffee will be provided throughout the broadcast.

Nearly a dozen artists will stop by on Friday and Saturday for live performances and interviews. Asleep at the Wheel, an American country music group that has worked with Willie Nelson, will be present at 8:30 a.m. on Friday. They will be followed by First Aid Kit, a Swedish folk duo composed of two sisters, at 9:00 a.m. Friday. Four more bands will play, including the Wheeler Brothers, Patterson Hood, Ben Howard and LP.

Another five bands will perform on Saturday — The Dunwells, The Eastern Sea, Patrick Watson, The Whigs and Michael Kiwanuka.

The broadcast will be from 8:30 a.m. to 11:20 a.m. on both Friday Oct. 12 and Saturday Oct. 13 at Threadgill’s on Barton Springs.

A crowd cheers for The Sword on Friday, October 8, 2010 at ACL. This year will be the tenth annual festival.

Photo Credit: Shannon Kintner | Daily Texan Staff

The sweaty, three-day, five stage, 130-band extravaganza that is the Austin City Limits Music Festival celebrates its 10-year anniversary this weekend.

The festival has taken the ACL name places Ed Bailey, ACL’s vice president of brand development, never envisioned. Twelve years ago, he sat down with the KLRU staff and its board of directors to expand the brand beyond the long-running public television series. Never did he imagine that during the next 10 years, the festival would have hosted performers such as Spoon, Pixies, The Strokes, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Dave Matthews Band, Coldplay, Bjork and Kanye West.

“Ten short years ago, all you had was the television taping six floors up in the communications building in the University of Texas,” Bailey said. “Amazingly, all this came just from that.”

The non-profit KLRU wanted to create a festival that would add another dimension to the ACL live music experience while staying true to the show’s vision. The vision is, in Bailey’s words, “to create a space where bands just let loose with their fans.”

To create this, KLRU outsourced production of the festival to a group of business partners that would eventually become C3 Presents, the music industry powerhouse that’s also responsible for Lollapalooza.

“There was no long-term deal; it was all, ‘Let’s go do it,’” Bailey said. “‘Let’s try to make it stand for what the TV show has always represented. Let’s take what we could do in a year’s worth of television shows and do it in a weekend.’”

Within a span of three or four months Charlie Jones and Charles Attal, the future co-founders of C3 Presents, developed a two-day festival with five stages and 67 bands. One-day passes were $25. Organizers had expected between 20,000 and 30,000 to attend, but 42,000 people showed up on that first Saturday in 2002. The first festival, which featured an array of artists from Gillian Welch to String Cheese Incident, set a precedent of eclectic line-ups that the festival has kept as its popularity has grown during the last 10 years. Some highlights of the decade include Pixies in 2004, Coldplay in 2005 — the dustiest year in the festival’s history, Dave Matthews Band in 2009 and the Flaming Lips’ infamous bubble entrance last year. This year’s festival features less well-known groups Reptar and AWOLNATION, as well as international superstars such as Stevie Wonder.

After a record 75,000 people attended on the Saturday in 2004, promoters lowered the festival’s maximum capacity at the request of surrounding neighborhood associations. A new contract last year with the City of Austin authorized C3 Presents to sell up to 75,000 tickets, and attendance last year was around 70,000 each day.

Bailey said the reputation of the ACL television show helped contribute to the success of that first festival. Now that the festival is an established destination, it brings major bands to the television show that might not otherwise have made the trip. In past years, Pearl Jam, My Morning Jacket, Wilco and The National have all doubled dipped, performing for both the festival and the show, and this year Austin City Limits Live will be taping Coldplay, Arcade Fire, Randy Newman, The Head and the Heart, and Gomez over the festival weekend.
Looking forward, ACL must continue to adapt by making content of the festival and television show directly accessible from computers and phones, Bailey said.

Last year, a number of performances at the festival were made available for live streaming for the first time. This weekend, C3 Presents is making 35 performances available for live streaming through the online magazine “Spacelab.”

“The business models of the record industry and the business models of television have changed so radically that if Austin City Limits is going to be in the conversation 10 years from now, we’re going to have to do a massive amount of change,” Bailey said.

Eco-friendly expansion brings Austin City Limits to Willie Nelson Boulevard

Willie Nelson played his second show at the new Austin City Limits Moody Theater on Monday night.

The state-of-the-art theater, located on Willie Nelson Boulevard, will be the new home to Austin City Limits, the longest-running music series in American television.

The venue itself will host concerts year round in addition to the concerts hosted by the television program. The switch to Moody Theater from Studio 6A at the University of Texas has increased available seating to a capacity of more than 2,700.

In addition to more available space, the theater was built with green building standards and is significantly more sustainable than its previous location on campus.

It’s the end of an era for Austin City Limits. Music fans and country singer Lyle Lovett met for the final taping Monday at Studio 6A on campus, the home of the longest-running music show for the past 36 years.

As the lights dimmed and the cameras turned on, Lyle Lovett stepped onto the stage he once looked upon as an audience member in the mid-1980s. Lovett and his backing band, tightly packed from one end of the stage to the other, opened with Eric Taylor’s “Whooping Crane,” a somber song for a bittersweet evening. An audience of music lovers, celebrities (Jeremy Piven), local icons (Lance Armstrong) and Austin City Limits alumni, including founder Bill Arhos, looked on in silence.

“We’re really proud of what we’ve done all of these years, and the shows that have happened in this studio and the memories of people who have stepped on to that stage, but we’ve never been ones to dwell on the past,” said Terry Lickona, executive producer of Austin City Limits. He has worked for the program for 33 years.

Beginning in February, the music series will broadcast from downtown. The new venue, called the Moody Theater, will maintain a similar floor layout to replicate the intimacy found on the sixth floor of the Jesse H. Jones Communication Center on Monday night. It has been in the works for five years and will offer a mezzanine, upper balcony and retractable bleachers to fit 2,000 people, as well as the capability to broadcast performances in 3D, Lickona said.

For UT alumnus Scott Newton, this transition brings many new challenges. Newton has been taking photos for the program for 32 years. His images line the walls of Studio 6A and have recently been collected in his anthology,“Austin City Limits: 35 Years in Photographs.”

“It’s my room. I know it backward and forwards,” Newton said. “I don’t need a light meter. I just know from looking at it what the exposure setting is going to be. There will be some differences when we move, but I don’t know what those differences are yet.”

Lowell Fowler has been attending performances since the show’s first season. For Fowler, the venue holds many memorable nights of watching Coldplay, Pearl Jam and Lucinda Williams perform on the stage that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame labeled a landmark in 2009.

“You just can’t get more intimate, can you?” Fowler said. “The performers are right there and they are talking to you right there.”

Associate producer and UT alumna Leslie Nichols finds there are some things she won’t miss after her 10 years at Studio 6A.

“I won’t miss fall semester and the influx of new freshmen trying to figure out how to park and drive around campus, but I will miss the energy of being at one of the largest university campuses in the world,” Nichols said. “It will be a lot different downtown.”

Studio 6A was never built for live-music recording. It’s on the sixth floor, with bathrooms three floors below and limited access to elevators and fire exits. The fire marshal’s restrictions limited the seating from 300 to its original 600.

“When we walk into this building and studio, we pretty much know how things are going to go down and what to expect,” Lickona said. “But when you move everything lock, stock and barrel to a brand new $40 million facility, it’s a little scary. It’s a little intimidating. We’re not going to know until we do that first show and turn the camera on.”