Tips to Make ACL 2014 Your Best Yet

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LiveMom is thrilled to be covering the Austin City Limits Music Festival for the fifth straight year. We have listened to all 140 bands and are your one-stop-shop for the biggest music event of the fall, whether you are taking the whole fam or using it as an excuse to get some adult time. Keep up with our coverage of this year’s festival here on LiveMom and over on Facebook, Twitter, our ACL 2014 Pinterest page and Instagram. We’ll be there Weekend One! You can even peruse our schedule.


Before we know it, ACL will be here. We know you are busy and don’t have hours upon hours to research every question you might have about the festival, so we’ve done some thinking about what we’ve learned over the past five years and rounded up some locals who were willing to share their tips.

GETTING TO ACL

Whoever said “getting there is half the battle” had obviously attended ACL (and, come to think about it, has been a parent). The nice thing about Zilker is that it’s right in the heart of the city, which makes the festival-related road closures and traffic that much harder on anyone who needs to do anything in central Austin. I have always gone without my child, so that certainly makes things easier. My parents live in Clarksville so I can park at their house and walk the mile or so to Zilker. Even then, street parking in surrounding neighborhoods fills up by the mid-afternoon, so arriving early is the best policy. If I were to bring my kid with me for part of the weekend, I would arrange for my husband to drop him off and pick him up at the official passenger drop off area by the pedestrian bridge at Austin High.

Here’s what the locals had to say about transportation:

  • Park as close as you can, and bike the rest of the way. We have parked along the Hike and Bike Trail and in the parking lot next to the Dougherty Arts Center and loaded our two young kids into a Chariot Bicycle Trailer. You can strap your lawn chairs on the top and pack blankets, toys and food/drinks behind the seat. Our kids love the bike ride to and from the festival – so much to see and so much excitement. – Kirsten Brunner
  • Take advantage of the shuttle. My office is downtown, just a few blocks from Republic Square Park so we took the shuttle over. It looked like a long line but it was constantly moving. So despite misgivings, the shuttle ended up being the best way to get to Zilker Park. – Lisa Caldwell
  • Pedi-cab it. I was seven months pregnant for ACL. My husband scheduled a taxi cab to pick us up at our home and drop us off at Cesar Chavez and Lavaca. Once you are downtown there are tons of eager pedi-cab drivers waiting to take you as close as they can to the entrance of the park. Some might even have shade and fun music. In the past we walked or took our bike to the festival. But if you are deep into your pregnancy like I was, you will want a pedi-cab. – Sara Odom
  • Pay to park close. You can take a bus or drive and park downtown, then take the bus over to the festival, but unless you plan to arrive and leave early, you can wait in the bus line for up to 45 minutes (or more).  We’ve gotten in the habit of parking at Park Hills Baptist Church and walking the mile to the festival from there.  They charge $30 per day for parking (it’s a fundraiser for the church), and once you leave you lose your spot, but you can reserve it and pay online, so it takes a lot of the “what if’s” out of parking for the festival. – Amanda Bofferding

WHAT TO WEAR

Depending on the day, I tend to be down at Zilker pretty close to when the music starts and stay almost until the last song. Add to that a mile walk back to my car (some uphill) and in general I prioritize comfort when I decide what to wear. Shorts and tank tops have worked well for me in the past and my favorite footwear were low booties and my trusty Chaco flip flops. I still use ACL as an excuse to go to H&M, the Rack and Atown to pick up some cute tops or even just some accessories. All that said, I must admit that  the vain part of me wants to avoid looking like an obvious mom. Since I’m fashion-challenged, I’m glad the locals I connected with suggested to:

  • Strike a balance between cute and comfy. You can find me in sundresses or cute skirts/tanks. Flip flops work best for me, in case the ground gets wet or muddy. – Kirsten Brunner
  • Be ready for any kind of weather. We weren’t sure what to bring but knew rain was inevitable and it was hot, too. So I bought a few cheap H&M sundresses and paired them with my Hunter rain boots. Not exactly the height of fashion but I was comfortable and I had dry feet. That has jokingly become my concert uniform. Rubber boots are perfect for club shows, too! – Lisa Caldwell
  • Wear layers. Even if you don’t think it will be chilly, bring  light jacket or a long sleeved shirt to throw over your clothes. After a long day of sweating, it’s nice to have something dry to put on. Make sure that kids wear shoes which are easy for them to take on and off independently, in case you spend time in the sand pit at Kiddie Limits. – Coni Stogner

WHAT TO BRING

It’s worth the time to go through the list of what’s allowed (and what’s prohibited) before you go on the FAQ page. I bring a backpack with a lightweight rain jacket (which I sit on instead of a blanket), two sealed, frozen-the-night-before liter sized water bottles to refill, a printout of notes about the bands I want to see (don’t want to waste battery juice on the ACL app — plus it’s good to have a backup), plus the obligatory cash, sunscreen and sunglasses. My peeps had these sage pieces of advice for festivalgoers:

  • Be prepared. I always bring a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. Depending on the weather, I will throw in a light sweater or windbreaker. Sometimes an umbrella, rain galoshes and a raincoat are lifesavers. Just depends on the forecast. A disposable rain poncho works great to cover both you and your backpack. We always bring sound-blocking headphones for the kids in case the sound gets to be too much. Glow sticks and bracelets are so much fun for kids and adults when the sun sets. – Kirsten Brunner
  • Strollers double as handy storage. I suggest bringing a lightweight stroller than can handle moving over the lawn. You can store extra clothes, wipes and snacks for the kids underneath. The essentials we bring are toilet paper, Lysol wipes, wet wipes and hand sanitizer spray. Bring lots because people will ask you for some. Don’t forget cash or use the new cashless system. A portable charger for your phone is a must. If you have kids, bring what you need if you were going hiking. Also, a blanket or umbrella to keep the sun off them or so they can nap. – Michelle Mattalino
  • CamelBaks all around. My husband and I each have a 3.0 Liter and we fill them up about three times a day out there.  My husband’s is a bare bones model, but mine is a backpack that also has a CamelBak pouch, so this doubles as my diaper bag at the festival. Our kids also have their own 1.5 L CamelBaks. They are 3.5 and 5 years old and can carry them around. – Amanda Bofferding
  • Strollers can be saviors. Even when kids are older, it’s nice to have a stroller to stash all of your things. Bring the biggest stroller with the most room. If you can, bring one with cupholders, since you’ll use them. We always bring refillable water bottles and koozies for the adults. Put a pack of Kleenex in your back pocket so it’s with you all day long, in case you need it. I also find that bamboo mats are easier to carry than blankets. For the kids, we always bring a soccer ball and a frisbee. For littles, it’s much safer to have your child nap in the stroller instead of on a blanket. I was surprised when my older kids all climbed into the stroller at the end of a long day. – Coni Stogner
  • Master the perfect setup. We really only spend a few hours at AKL and spend the majority of our time at the adult concerts. We stay further back in the crowd, use ear protection, spread out a blanket between our camp chairs for the kids, and stretch a UV proof blanket between the chairs to keep them out of the sun. – Amanda Bofferding
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  • Give your kids a boost. Last year when I took my older kids (11 and 9) I brought collapsible stools that fit in my messenger bag. They gave them enough of a boost to actually see who was playing on stage! – Liz McGuire

FAMILY TIME VS. ADULT TIME

Obviously, if you have your kids at the Festival with you, you can’t expect you will get to see every single band you’d like to. Most of the parents I connected with did some form of divide and conquer:

  • Spend time at Austin Kiddie Limits. We go straight to the fun hairdo station, and all three of my kids have loved being part of the drum circle and playing the guitars each year we have gone to ACL. If you don’t arrive at Zilker until later, remember that AKL closes at 4:30pm so make sure to head straight there. – Coni Stogner
  • Spread out. We usually swing by Austin Kiddie Limits, enjoy some of the freebies and activities, but then venture out to the bigger acts. We always bring a few blankets to spread out, some balls, frisbees and bubbles. We don’t worry about getting too close to the big stages — having room to spread out and play is more fun for the kids. – Kirsten Brunner
  • Kids can play while adults rock. My friends gather all the kids together in a centralized location and parents can take turns splitting up to see the bands they want to see. – Michelle Mattalino
  • Make a home base. We usually set up camp at one of the main stages and then we can explore the festival without all of our gear and chairs. We use a deep sea fishing pole with a feather boa and helium balloon on top to mark our spot. The deep sea fishing pole is extra long but collapses into a nice short length that can be carried around. – Kirsten Brunner
  • Do your homework. Take a look at the lineup and decide which stage has most of the bands you would like to see. ACL’s gotten too big to expect to move across Zilker many times each day. Then make a home base near that stage and take turns with your partner if you want to get closer. – Coni Stogner
  • Hang during the day and hand off at night. I know parents that have babysitters pick up their kids at 6pm and take them home, so they can stay late and have adult time. I love that compromise! – Michelle Mattalino
  • Divide and conquer. My husband and I get 3-day passes but we never take our kids for the entire three days. We usually choose one or two days to take them, and line up babysitters for the rest of the time. We don’t take them for the entire day, especially if it’s too hot. We typically aim to get there when the gates open, let the kids play and hang out til they get grumpy, then my husband will help me get them back to the car and I will go home for the day. I usually choose at least one day for the kids to stay home with a sitter and I go and enjoy. – Kirsten Brunner
  • Arrange a kid swap. It might be too late for this year, but many parents switch weekends with other parents. One parent will go one weekend and the other family keeps the kids that weekend. Then, they switch. That way everyone gets to go but the kids can stay home and have a slumber party. – Michelle Mattalino

THE BEST OF THE REST

Long-time festivalgoers seem to have their hacks to make ACL doable. For me, my epiphany happened last year when I decided I would forgo the social scene for one day and focus on the music, by myself. It was a great day — I caught lots of great music, met some interesting people and never had time to feel lonely. Here are some other tips my trusty music lovers shared:

  • Take advantage of the Kiddie Limits portable toilets. The best thing about going to ACL Fest with kids is that you have access to the AKL porta potties! I know it sounds weird, but the regular porta potties can get pretty gross by the end of the festival. The AKL potties are family sized, and only people with kids have access to them because only people with kids are allowed access to Austin Kiddie Limits. – Amanda Bofferding
  • Stay cool. The big mister fans on the west side of the Rock Island are a big hit with my kids (and my husband and me), especially on hot, hot days. Spray bottles and personal mister fans are also popular with my kids. They have water filling stations, so we bring our kids’ Kleen Kanteens and fill them throughout the day. – Kirsten Brunner
  • Cell service can be unreliable. Don’t plan on getting in touch with anyone on your phone.  Texting is the best bet, but even that isn’t 100% at the festival.  So if you are planning on meeting someone, do it the low tech way and set up a place and time beforehand, just in case your cell isn’t working. – Amanda Bofferding
  • Teachable moments happen. We’ve had to talk to our kids about why a person was acting strangely if he or she was drunk and in general we don’t even try to go to the biggest stages after 5pm as it just gets too crowded. Now that my oldest is 10, we’re having more conversations about lyrics in songs and what they mean. I say that music is a form of expression and I think the conversation you have with kids is the most important. – Coni Stogner
  • Prepare to be surprised. We tried to have a plan of what shows we wanted to see but were most surprised by the performances on the smaller stages. – Lisa Caldwell
  • Make a plan with your child if you get separated. Make sure to put your name and number on your child’s person, just in case they get lost. Show them where to go. An easy step with younger children is to tell them to find a mom and they will help you. It’s less intimidating than security and easier to spot. – Michelle Mattalino (Note: ACL offers a free Tag-a-Kid service. Stop by the Tag-a-Kid booth where volunteers take down your contact information and give your child a specially numbered wristband. Should the two of you get separated, there will be a way to reconnect you.)
  • Treats can smooth out rough spots. We always go to Amy’s Ice Creams at the Food Court, but I make sure not to “burn” this too early in the day. If one of my kids is losing it, I might say, “Hey, I think it’s time for some ice cream!” – Coni Stogner
  • Don’t go hungry. I think the best part for me last year as a pregnant foodie was the food. My favorite bites are the kimchi fries from Chi’Lantro, the bahn mi tacos from Peached Tortilla and the Fun Punch licuado from JuiceLand. – Sara Odom

Repeat ACL attendees: what tips would you share?

ACL Stratford Drive entrance

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.livemom.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Nicole-Basham-Sara-Marzani-Photography-livemom.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 8-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau’s words, her mission is to “suck out all the marrow of life”, or in her son’s words, to cultivate in him a love of “advenchers”.[/author_info] [/author]
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About Nicole Basham 793 Articles
A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 10-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau's words, her mission is to "suck out all the marrow of life", or in her son's words, to cultivate in him a love of "advenchers".

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