From Heat to Mud to 20 Incredible Years of Music: A Look Back at the Austin City Limits Music Festival

ACL started 20 years ago on a hot September weekend in Austin.

AUSTIN, Texas — As far as music festivals go, this first Austin City Limits festival in 2002 was a modest affair, with 67 bands and a one-day pass for just $25. That first year, about 25,000 people were expected, but 42,000 showed up. And with that, an Austin tradition was born.

In a KVUE News interview that aired on the festival’s first weekend 20 years ago this fall, Terry Lickona, longtime producer of the acclaimed PBS TV show “Austin City Limits,” said it was all about the quality music.

“The music is going to be good,” he promised just hours before the doors opened all those years ago. “It will be a comfortable and fun environment where people can bring their families and expect not only great music, but also great food and a chance to experience that true Austin vibe.”

And that vibe has been going on for two decades, a regular unbroken fall ritual except during the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, when the festival was canceled due to health concerns.

There have been a few changes over the years. In 2012 the festival was moved from September to October and ACL changed from one weekend to two in 2013.

Sure, there have been complaints every year about crowds, traffic and noise, but festival-goers have been able to witness some of the most memorable musical performances of our time, even when faced with to the choking dust whipped up by the high winds of a hurricane off the Gulf of Mexico in 2005, or the mud from constant rains in 2009 when festival-goers had to make the most of ACL’s wettest weekend.

But the ACL is more than mud, music and memories. Organizers say that since 2006 the music festival has added more than $2 billion to the region’s economy.

And, so, there’s more music this final weekend of the 2022 ACL, and more evidence — as if it were needed — that Austin truly is the live music capital.

About Chris Stevenson

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