What to Wear and What To Bring to the Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL)

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For two consecutive three-day weekends in October, Austin rolls out the green carpet of Zilker’s Great Lawn to welcome the over 100 bands and artists who play the Austin City Limits Music Festival, or, as it’s more commonly known, ACL. To help you get ready, we will be sharing what we’ve learned covering the festival for the past five years. We’ll also help you decide what bands to add to your 2015 ACL schedule. For even more on this year’s festival, check us out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and be sure to take a look at our 2015 ACL board on Pinterest.

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Whether it’s your first ACL Music Festival or your tenth, if you are anything like me, you spend a majority of your time thinking about what bands to see, and then realize you actually need to think about what to wear and what to bring. After going to the festival seven times, I’m happy to share what I have learned over the years:


Things I won't wear to ACL, Exhibit A: floral headbands.
Things I personally won’t wear to ACL, Exhibit A: floral headbands.

Comfort is your #1 priority. Note: if you are looking for any guidance on trends or high fashion, you’ve come to the wrong place. I work at home and barely ever go shopping, so virtually every time I leave the house, I consult my closet and find nothing that seems appropriate. I think my biggest fear is to look like an unmistakable MOM. Plus, nobody wants to stand out for looking like a mid-thirty-something trying to look like a twenty-something. That said, I do like the excuse to grab a more fashion-forward girlfriend, go shopping and get a few fun new items to wear to ACL. I usually head to H&M and Forever 21 at the Domain, Nordstrom Rack and even Savers to see what might work for the festival.

My watermelon shirt, which was on clearance from H&M, was perfect for ACL.
My watermelon shirt, which was on clearance from H&M and which cost $7, was perfect for ACL.

No matter what the forecast, I find I am always warm, so I usually wear shorts and a sleeveless shirt or tank top. It’s nice to have something with pockets to keep your phone and schedule easily accessible. Long skirts can work, but shorter skirts are hard for sitting on the ground. Some people swear by layers for the evening, but I just use my rain jacket after dark if I get chilly. I got a lot of compliments on my $7 H&M watermelon top at last year’s festival. I bought a romper one year and chickened out about wearing it, since I thought it would be too hard to negotiate in the portable toilets. The nice thing is that right before the festival, many stores are clearing out the last of the summer inventory, which still works fine for ACL.

There is no doubt I will see someone at ACL wearing something like this furry number I saw at H&M.
There is no doubt I will see someone at ACL wearing something like this furry number I saw at H&M.

Pick shoes that are made for walking. We’re mentioning shoes in What To Wear and What To Bring because they can make or break your festival experience. DON’T wear new shoes. I usually wait until the last minute and expect to break them in at the festival. Bad idea, unless you bring a pair of flip flops as a back-up. I’ve had the best luck with short booties. They don’t say MOM like running shoes, you don’t get your feet stomped on in a crowd – plus, they are usually relatively comfortable. I wore flip flops one day, and there were places were the ground was squishy and I ended up with some dirty and gross feet. That said, you can always sit down for a mid-afternoon set and go barefoot for a while to give your tootsies a break.

Found a lot of fun and colorful stuff at H&M for under $50 because the store was having a mid-season sale (yes, before fall officially began).
Found a lot of fun and colorful stuff at H&M for under $50 because the store was having a mid-season sale (yes, before fall officially began).

Don’t stress about it. After spending way too much time thinking about what to wear, I arrive and the festival and realize ANYTHING GOES. The people watching is fantastic, because you’ll see everything and anything from funny socks to women in non-sports bras to funny hats to shirtless bros to people in furry costumes and everything in between. My worries about standing out quickly seem ridiculous. Plus, it’s all about the music, right?!



Our friends at Fine and Folded have a great list of ACL Must Haves. We’ll add to their list below and explain why these things are important:

Phone + Charger. Texting and posting on social media during peak hours at the Festival can be slow or nearly impossible. Try to use your phone sparingly at the festival, but if you are there all day, you might need to charge it. There are places you can charge your phone at the Festival, including the AT&T Charging Station near the Austin Ventures stage, the Samsung Wireless Charging station near the Waterloo Records Honda Artist Signing Shack, at the State Farm Gigapower Gallery, at ACL Eats and near the Barton Springs Beer Hall (see map here). You could also consider investing in a battery pack or paying for a locker, which gets you unlimited phone charging during the weekend you attend (click here for Weekend One and here for Weekend Two to reserve one).

Water. You’re going to pay plenty for food and drink at the Festival, so you might as well bring along the allowed two sealed, non-glass water bottles, up to 1 liter each (I’ve frozen them in the past so they stay cool longer). If you’d prefer to ditch the plastic, empty CamelBak water bottles and hydration packs, and plastic or aluminum water bottles are allowed, and you can easily fill these up at the CamelBak filling stations all weekend long.Advertisement
Sunscreen. It’s a must for virtually anything outdoors in Austin. Make sure to re-apply, as you don’t want to be that person who looks like a lobster on Sunday. Oh, and don’t forget that spray sunscreen is not allowed.

Comfy shoes. You are on your feet for a loooong time. You’ll need to sacrifice fashion for comfort. Sandals are usually fine, but the ground can get muddy in places and it’s easy for feet to get stomped in a crowd, so I’d recommend short booties.

Blanket. As I just mentioned, the grass can get wet and muddy, and it’s very likely that you will be sitting for at least part of the day on the ground. A blanket is great if you have kids with you and want to have a home base for the day. If you want to travel light, I usually just lay out my poncho and sit on that.

Bandana. You’ll probably want to wipe off your face or hands at some point over the weekend, and bandanas take virtually no space in your bag, so I usually bring one along.

Sunglasses. Two words: Texas sun.

Poncho. KNOCKING ON WOOD THAT IT DOESN’T RAIN. But if it does, you’ll want to be prepared. As I mentioned earlier, I usually sit on my rain jacket when the grass is still wet from dew.

Handi-wipes. You’ll be eating, drinking and using the port-a-potties and will want to wipe down your entire body by the time the day is done. I bring a few individually wrapped hand wipes each day of the festival.

Hand fan. No matter what the weather is like, I’m always warm, so having a hand fan that takes up no room in your bag and you can use in between sets can be a lifesaver. Plus, so pretty!

A few other things you’ll want to bring along:

A crossbody bag or small backpack. A small messenger bag is perfect to carry what you’ll need at the festival. You’ll want something that allows you to be hands-free and you won’t want a purse on your hip as you try to make it through crowds.

Cash. When you activate your wristband, you can sign up for ACL Cashless, which worked great for me last year. It’s really nice not to have to deal with getting stuff out of your bag and just swiping your wristband to pay for food and drinks, but I still bring some cash, just in case. The ACL Art Market will only accept cash & cards, so if you’re planning on shopping at the art market, you’ll need to have those forms of payment handy.

A printout of the bands you want to see. It’s great to have the ACL app on your phone (if you still have it on your phone from past years, an update will get you all you need to be set for 2015, and if not, you can get it here for iPhones and here for Android devices), but you’ll want to save your battery power to try to find friends and take photos. I usually bring a one page printout of the bands I want to see and a pen and then I mark on my festival program I get when I enter the gates so I have something in my pocket I can easily refer to.

Kleenex. The portable toilets run out of TP at some point during the day and you might need one at other times during the weekend.

Other essentials. A few other things I always bring are ibuprofen, gum, an extra hair rubber band, a koozie ($3 at the festival) and deodorant.

Your kids. Children 10 years-old and younger are admitted – free of charge – with a pass-holding adult. Plus, ACL has its own mini-festival, just for kids: Austin Kiddie Limits. It’s an oasis inside the gates with its own portable toilets, activities, music and more. You’ll also want to take advantage of the free Tag-a-Kid service. Stop by the Tag-a-Kid booth, where your child will receive a specifically numbered wristband. Should you and your child get separated, you’ll have a way to get reconnected. For all you need to know about taking your kids to ACL, visit Austin City Limits Music Festival With Kids. One last note: although strollers are allowed, wagons of any kind are not.

What are your tips on attending ACL?

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".

1 Comment on What to Wear and What To Bring to the Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL)

  1. Found this online and it was very helpful. I’m trying to decide whether or not to take my almost 9 year old daughter to the festival this year. She really loves Paul McCartney! That being said, I’m just nervous about the crowd and if she’ll enjoy herself….do people primarily stand? Or will we be able to sit if she gets tired? Paul McCartney doesn’t go on until 8:00 pm Friday.

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