3-day music blowout: the Austin City Limits Festival

Musicians in front of the Austin skyline (courtesy Austin CVB)Since moving to the Austin area last year, I’ve noticed that many travel magazines have breathlessly discovered the capital of Texas.

Here’s breaking news; Austin has been the Berkeley of Texas for decades, a blue, den-of-iniquity blob in the midst of a lot of red.  (For our non-U.S. readers: a “Red State and Blue State” explanation.)

Those of us who knew that already are quite bemused by the “gosh, there is a cool, hip city in flyover country!” attitude of some publishers.  Still, we cosmic cowboys think it’s nice to be noticed, especially for the live music scene.

The insanely fabulous South by Southwest (SXSW), held every March, is perhaps the best-known music event held in the state (no, Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July picnic outgrew his Pedernales Ranch-area setting years ago.)  If you’re a musician worth your chops, you want to be seen and heard playing Austin in March.

For Joe or Jane General Music Fan, however, I’m not sure that SXSW is really the best time to visit.  First, it is a three-part extravaganza; Music, Film and a tech conference called Interactive.  The town is slammed for weeks by the sheer magnitude of thousands of visitors. Hotels are packed, restaurants overflow.  It’s bananas.  Second, SXSW is fundamentally a very buzzy, all-day all-night trade show, at least for the music and film industries.  It’s not intended for fans (although Interactive is pretty consumer-friendly, I think.)

For my money, a better pick is the Austin City Limits Festival, held for three days in Zilker Park in September and tied to the long-standing PBS series of the same name.

This year, the festival dates are 14-16 September, and the lineup includes the usual disparate group of performers:  Björk, Bob Dylan, White Stripes, Beausoleil, Raul Malo, Joss Stone, Steve Earle, Wilco, Ziggy and Stephen Marley, Arctic Monkeys, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Asleep at the Wheel,  Yo La Tengo, Ghostland Observatory, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Ben Kweller,  Lucinda Williams, Paolo Nutini, Preservation Hall Jazz Band….Ow, my head hurts….just go see the whole 2007 lineup.

Where to stay?  Every magazine review of the city flogs the funky Austin Motel and super-Zen-hip Hotel San Jose, both of which are quite nice and probably quite sold out already for September (hey, call and check; maybe you’ll get lucky.)

Here’s what I recommend — you need a place that is within walking or cycling distance of Zilker Park.  I have now done the shuttle bus drill from downtown to the park, and while the distance is short as the crow flies and the service is pretty darned efficient, there are just so many people that it takes forever to get out of the park when the evening ends.  People dribble into the park at various times during the day, so going in is not bad, but everyone pretty much leaves at the same time at night, forcing a lot of standing around/waiting when you’re most ready to collapse into your hotel bed.

These other hotel options are all a fairly long walk or a short bike ride on the Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail from Zilker Park back towards downtown; the trail is well-lighted at night and you’ll be pumped from the music anyway.  Try the Radisson Hotel, the Four Seasons, the Hyatt or the Embassy Suites, all next to/near Town Lake at the foot of Austin’s “Main Street,” Congress Avenue.  A little further north, clustered around the Convention Center near Trinity and 4th Streets, are the Hampton Inn, Hilton and Courtyard and Residence Marriott properties.

There is also a lesser-known Extended Stay America at 6th and Guadalupe; very handy and clean, plus it’s within stumbling distance of Katz’s Deli, open 24 hours because “Katz’s Never Kloses.”  (Update: Katz’s did, in fact, finally go out of business years later, and close.) Nothing like a bagel with lox or blintzes at any hour.

And now the bad news….I didn’t move fast enough to write this and the 3-day tickets are already sold out, but you can still get single day tickets (buy one for each day!) or spring for big-bucks VIP tickets that cover all three days.  Move fast if you’re interested, obviously.

Y’all come on down!

Technorati tags: travel, music, Austin City Limits Festival, Austin, Texas

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  1. Bryan Reply