Taking the Digital Stage: ACL Goes Online for 2020 Festival

Katie Busby, Staff Writer

One of the busiest times of the year in Austin is usually early October. People from all over come to gather in the Live Music Capital of the World to enjoy Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL) in Zilker Park. This year, however, ACL was done a little differently. 

To limit the spread of COVID-19, the festival was moved online for 2020. It was held the weekend of Oct. 9 through 11, each night starting at 7 p.m. and ending at around 11:30 p.m.. It was a free event that could be attended through a YouTube live stream. The online festival was a combination of reliving ACL history through past acts, performances from the Austin City Limits TV series and a set of performances recorded specifically for this year’s festival.

Mélat, one of the musical acts who performed in ACL 2020, was impressed with the festival’s competent execution. She said she also appreciated the encouragement of musical discussion.

“I thought it worked pretty well,” Mélat said. “People were actually interacting with each other on YouTube, and I thought it was done really well. I honestly didn’t really know what to expect when everything is kind of happening for the first time around during this whole pandemic thing, but I think they pulled off a pretty incredible festival.”

The festival was organized with acts at specific times and a scheduled talk covering topics related to the Austin community after every few acts. Senior Annie Franklin tuned in to the show and said she appreciated the videos in between each performance.

“I thought it was pretty well done,” Franklin said. “Between sets, they had little pre-recorded videos about the community, voting, et cetera that I thought were nice. I did enjoy it. It was definitely a different experience than normal, but it was still fun to watch.”

Junior Shivani Regan attended the performance. She said she enjoyed some of the benefits of the online festival, like being able to watch the show from the comfort of her own home, but the online experience was not the same as an in-person festival for her. 

“I feel like, besides the music, a lot of people go to ACL for the experience of being in a music festival, and as much as I loved sitting at home watching it, it was not the same,” Regan said. 

Mélat, who was born and raised in Austin, thought that the festival did a great job of showcasing the city. She said people were given more of a chance to be exposed to many sides of the city rather than just getting immersed in the festival. 

“I thought it was really cool how they showcased so many things that are happening in Austin because I think a lot of times people will come into town for ACL, and then they’ll watch all these cool national and international acts but not really interact with the city itself,” Mélat said. “I think ACL did a really cool job this year of trying their best to showcase the food spots, businesses, organizations, artists and all that stuff. I think it was really cool how they were actually able to spotlight the city rather than just having people come to the city and kind of getting lost in the festival itself, which is always fun, nothing wrong with it, but I think it was really cool how they highlighted Austin as almost like the featured act.”

 This year’s headliners included Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, Billie Eilish and Twenty One Pilots. Franklin said that the lineup influenced her decision to attend.

“I decided to attend because I thought it was a cute idea, and they had a pretty good lineup,” Franklin said. I was particularly excited for Spoon, Saint Vincent and Paul McCartney.” 

People who bought tickets to the festival this year received refunds, and the online event could be attended for free. For Regan, who had bought tickets and had them refunded, the virtual festival wasn’t a replacement for the traditional ACL, but she still thought it was enjoyable to watch.

“I had actually bought tickets in November of last year to go to ACL this year, but obviously it got canceled, so my tickets were refunded,” Regan said. “When I saw that they were doing this virtual ACL thing I thought it might be a fun thing to try out. Obviously it wasn’t going to be like the real thing, but I thought it would still be fun.”

Mélat said the festival holds a lot of significance for her and that she feels it is a part of the culture of Austin. According to her, performing in the show was a way to provide a form of comfort and normality for her in today’s strange world. 

“I’m born and raised in Austin. ACL has been like a staple here forever,” Mélat said. “This is obviously a big year just because we’re all living in a world that we didn’t really think we would be living in and having to find new ways to function…I’m all about trying to give joy as much as possible and spreading love. I figured this would be a great way to safely be able to bring a little bit of joy in bringing a little bit of normalcy in a not-normal way to everyone.”