Torrential rains that caused flooding across portions of Central Texas brought the second weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival to an abrupt end Sunday.
Overnight storms deluged Zilker Park, where the festival takes place, washing away temporary fencing, causing food tents to collapse, sending trash cans afloat and damaging portions of the nearby Butler Hike and Bike Trail, prompting organizers to wind down the world-renowned music festival a day early.
KEYE-TV meteorologist Jordan Steele estimated the storms dumped 10 to 12 inches of rain at Zilker, making it one of the region’s hardest hit areas.
Refunds equal to a third of the price paid for each three-day wristband automatically will be sent to ticket purchasers within three weeks, according to C3 Presents, the Austin-based promoter that oversees ACL Fest. For most people, that works out to about $75.
About 75,000 people had been expected to attend, according to city officials.
“Our first priority is always the safety of our fans, staff and artists,” said C3 Presents communications director Shelby Meade. “We regret having to cancel the show … but safety always comes first.”
City crews were in Zilker Park early Sunday morning trying to push away pooling water with large brooms, said Sara Hensley, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
“Our crews had been out there early trying to mitigate the water, but it just wouldn’t stop,” Hensley said. “We didn’t believe it was in the best interest of the public to continue.”
C3 Presents said a final decision to cancel the festival was made at about 8 a.m. Sunday. Officials were concerned about the condition of the park and the roads for people trying to get to the festival, Hensley said.
“It was a decision we didn’t take lightly,” she said.
C3 Presents had already paid the parks department a fee of $30,000 — $5,000 per event day — to rent out Zilker Park for two weekends of three days each.
The company also will have to pay $500 a day after ACL Fest for every day it spent loading equipment into and out of the park.
Hensley estimated C3 Presents probably wouldn’t be able to remove large equipment such as stages for a few days, until the Great Lawn dries out. The department hasn’t decided yet whether it will reimburse C3 Presents the Sunday fees because of the ACL Fest cancellation.
“We want to be fair to them and will work with them to address the issue of not being able to have (ACL Fest) on Sunday,” she said.
Word that the final day of ACL Fest had been canceled spread quickly Sunday morning on social media sites, leaving wristband-holders forlorn and musicians who had been booked Sunday scrambling to find new venues where they could perform.
Divine Fits, Franz Ferdinand and Red Baraat were among those who managed to move their shows elsewhere, while others, such as headliner Lionel Richie, never resurfaced.
In scenes reminiscent of South by Southwest, long lines formed at venues around downtown. The Mowgli’s, for example, announced on Twitter that they would play free shows near the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless in the afternoon and later at Lamberts.
At ACL Live, hundreds of people lined up after rumors started that Sunday night ACL headliner Atoms for Peace would perform; that show was announced just before 6 p.m.
Samantha Kruse came to Austin from Washington, D.C., for her first ACL Fest, despite hobbling on one crutch because of an Achilles injury.
“This morning was a terrible mix of hangover and depression,” she said. “We went to get coffee at 11 o’clock this morning and heard it was canceled. We were like, ‘No, it’s not!’”
The first official rainout at ACL Festival not only led to some dejected fans and silenced bands; among the hardest hit could be vendors, who also were left to figure out what to do with the thousands of dollars of unsold food.
Daniel Northcutt, owner of Frank restaurant and a vendor at this year’s festival, said C3 Presents handled the bad conditions well and doesn’t expect to be reimbursed for any of his vendor fees.
“I’m sorry it didn’t work out,” Northcutt said. “But it’s all part of the game. This is what we do.”
Second Bar + Kitchen chef David Bull said he’ll work to incorporate the excess food into standing menu items. Bull said he’ll also donate some items to the food bank.
Dan Stacy, who runs the Seedling Truck, was at Zilker Park early Sunday when he began to hear that officials probably would cancel.
“Our booth was destroyed overnight, so I was a little relieved,” he said. “There was no way I was going to be able to operate.”
Stacy was most concerned about the lost wages and tips for the dozen or so staffers who were scheduled to work Sunday. The Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated earlier this month that about 4,500 people work on-site at Zilker Park each day of the festival.
“Our revenue was up 30 percent over last year, and even with how today went, it was a good year,” Stacy said Sunday. “Today kept it from being a great year.”
Torchy’s Tacos owner Mike Rypka didn’t find out about the festival cancellation until early Sunday afternoon, when he was biking down to Zilker Park to help out.
News was slow to get to his on-site manager, too.
“He got down there early this morning and started prepping and was like, ‘Why is no one showing up?’” Rypka said.
Rypka said he’ll likely lose somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 worth of food.
“All of the produce, we’ll probably have to throw away,” he said. “It’s a damn shame.”
Statesman at ACL
Life & Arts: A special look back at the festival in highlights and photos
@austin360.com/acl: Full coverage from both weekends of the fest, plus photos and reports from some of Sunday’s impromptu shows.