ACL and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year(s)

Ava Spurgeon, Staff Writer

After the festival’s pandemic-induced cancellation in 2020, Austin City Limits (ACL) returned earlier this month. ACL is hosted at Zilker Park over two weekends at the beginning of every October. Headliners this year included Billie Eilish, Miley Cyrus, and Tyler, the Creator. Popular local restaurants were there as well, so visitors could purchase from Juiceland, Torchy’s Tacos, Amy’s Ice Creams, and dozens more. 

ACL is a local tradition that students like junior Kate Starkloff have been attending for years. She is returning to the festival again with her family this year. 

“I’ve been to ACL every year because I love music and I love big crowds,” Starkloff said. “I don’t think the music will be that good, but I’m just excited to get back to normal a little bit.” 

While Starkloff is looking forward to returning to live music and crowds, some students who have gone in previous years are opting not to attend in 2021. Student Annabella Smith has made the decision to not return this year.

 “I’m not going back this year because of COVID,” Smith said. “I think the protocol is probably the best way to make sure everyone stays safe and doesn’t get sick. I agree with it, but I understand why some people might not.” 

Across social media platforms, there was discussion about whether or not ACL was going to put a mask mandate in place due to announcements that more information would be released closer to the festival’s date so the COVID-19 situation in Austin could be accurately assessed. 

According to the festival’s website and social media accounts, attendees must provide either proof of being fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or a printed copy of a negative COVID-19 test result they obtained 72 hours before attending in order to be admitted. Once the festival arrived, ACL organizers announced masks would be required in areas of the park where social distancing would not be possible, such as lines and shuttles.

“You do have to be close to other people, which is kind of worrisome, but I’m glad there’s protocol in place,” Starkloff said. “I’m still excited.” 

Dollahon believes the festival will have some negative effects on the city. She feels especially nervous about the medical aftermath and damage it could cause.

“I do think there will be outbreaks afterwards, or it will be like Blues on the Green or something like that,” Dollahon said, “but as long as you get vaccinated and hang out with vaccinated people you should be okay.” 

Blues on the Green is a music festival that takes place in Zilker every summer. The festival was postponed this year when Austin entered stage five and experienced a surge in COVID-19 cases. Entering October, Austin moved from stage five COVID-19 restrictions down to stage four. ACL proceeded as previously planned.

Some Austinites believe no protocol should be in place at all, as has been shared through social media platforms, while other people have commented that they personally believe negative tests should be required for all attendees, despite vaccination status. Dollahon has a similar perspective to Smith on the protocol ACL is enforcing. 

“I think the vaccine or test are very necessary,” Dollahon said. “I’m vaccinated so I’m okay, but honestly I think they should say you can only go if you’re vaccinated. But it’s not my decision, and I don’t think it’ll affect how fun it’ll be because as long as everyone’s being safe, it should be fine.”

Although social media users had expressed trepidation over the festival’s COVID-19 protocol in ACL’s social media comment sections, weekend passes sold out within three hours of being available for purchase. Junior Eva Dollahon had never attended ACL before, but was excited about having her first experience at the festival this fall and felt it was safe enough to attend this year.

 “I feel like it will be really fun this year because I haven’t been before,” Dollahon said. “I’ve heard a lot of good things about it.”