- By Peter Blackstock American-Statesman Staff
A major stage relocation, an added food vendors area and a new spot for the main merchandise store are among the biggest changes to this year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival when the event’s grounds expand to include a section of Zilker Park on the south side of Barton Springs Road for the first time.
ACL Fest kicks off its 16th year on Friday, beginning a three-day first weekend with more than 100 performers on eight stages scattered around the park. Headliners include hip-hop superstar Jay-Z, Las Vegas rockers the Killers, ’90s alternative band the Red Hot Chili Peppers, young phenom Chance the Rapper, English virtual group Gorillaz and indie-pop/electronic outfit the XX.
READ MORE: A look at who’s playing ACL Fest 2017
There’s also a new way into the grounds this year. Festgoers arriving via Barton Springs Road now will be able to enter from both the east and west sides of Zilker Park, in addition to the Lady Bird Lake entrance on the northwest edge of the park. The entrance on the east end of Barton Springs Road will be moved up to just west of the bridge over Barton Creek, with the main box office moved to the east side of that bridge.
Festival organizers said the primary reason for adding space on the other side of Barton Springs Road was “to enhance the ACL Fest experience for patrons by offering more room to move within Zilker Park.”
The additional space did not increase the festival’s capacity, according to organizers, who noted that their goal was “to make more room for existing ticketholders to enjoy the festival.”
Increased capacity would have been basically a moot point in 2017. Single-day tickets for Friday and Sunday are still available for both weekends, as are three-day tickets for the festival’s second weekend. That’s unusual for ACL, which often has announced sellouts of most weekend and single-day tickets well in advance.
Mostly what festgoers get with the changes to the layout is an abundance of open space in the heart of the grounds. Last year, the festival relocated a stage adjacent to the rock island, a key geographic feature near the park’s center, to a spot along the southwest perimeter. That helped reduce traffic jams between the rock island and the festival’s beer hall.
Centralized room to roam will increase this year because the smaller BMI Stage, formerly in a shaded grove near the main entrance, is moving to the southwestern spot where the new stage had been last year. Organizers said the BMI Stage “has been relocated to improve crowd flow and to avoid sound bleed issues.”
Similar sound-bleed issues plagued the southwestern stage last year, because of its proximity to the large Honda Stage and a near-direct cross-line to the Miller Lite Stage. As a result, organizers also are reorienting the relocated BMI Stage to face more toward the center of the park.
The stage that was in the southwestern spot last year is the one now on the south side of Barton Springs Road. Dubbed simply the Barton Springs Stage, it’s the lone stage that doesn’t bear a sponsor’s name.
Adjacent to the Barton Springs Stage will be the new main merchandise store, relocated from last year’s spot on the northeast side of the park. A smaller satellite merch store will remain in that location, near the Waterloo Records Artist Signing Stage. (Though it’s being called a “stage” on the festival’s map, Waterloo Records owner John Kunz said there will be only sales and signings there, not performances.)
Another significant addition next to the Barton Springs Stage is a satellite ACL Eats area, featuring food booths run by many of the same vendors operating in the main food area on the north side of the park. Those booths frequently have had long lines in past years, so the added outlets may reduce wait times during peak dinner hours.
As for crowd capacity at the new stage, fest organizers compared the audience space to that of the Miller Lite Stage in the northwest corner of the park. Acts booked on the Barton Springs Stage include Solange, Tove Lo, the Black Angels, Hamilton Leithauser, Zhu and Whitney.
Adding the area south of Barton Springs Road means that part of the road itself will be inside the park’s fenced boundaries for the first time. Organizers noted there will be a fire lane on the roadway for vehicles to use in case of emergencies.
Asked if this was the first time the festival had expanded the footprint of its operating space, organizers declined to define it as such. “This is simply a reorganization of the use of the space ACL Fest has always utilized, not an expansion,” they said. They noted that the area across the road has been used last year by production crews, which were relocated in 2016 when the Austin Kiddie Limits area moved to a shaded grove formerly used for production.
Last year’s move of Austin Kiddie Limits to that area was “a huge success,” organizers said. They’ll keep it there this year, with an addition of a Central Market booth that will sell box lunches and beverages.
Other new additions to the grounds for 2017 include a shaded wine lounge on the southeast side of the park that will feature wines from around the world; a Chipotle food stand near the American Express (formerly Samsung) Stage at the east end of the park; and more shade structures in front of the main ACL Eats area.
A new activity on the schedule this year is a Silent Disco, which will take over the Tito’s Vodka Tent from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. each night as the main headliners square off on the Honda and American Express stages.
Not returning this year is Lowe’s Studio, a lounge that offered up a few low-key and quite pleasant bonus acoustic performances from a handful of festival acts in 2016.
A few details regarding entry into the park:
• “We do expect the Barton Springs East gate to be the most popular for entry,” organizers said. “We recommend utilizing the Barton Springs West or Lady Bird entrances for faster entry.” Expect larger lines around the peak entry time between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.
• One alternative for those entering from the east is to walk around the bicycle parking area just south of the new Barton Springs Stage and over to the Barton Springs West entrance across William Barton Drive. That’s also where shuttles will drop off patrons who arrive via ACL’s complimentary shuttle from Republic Square Park downtown, and from Fanzone charter buses that can be reserved from surrounding areas such as Round Rock and Buda.
• To reduce box office lines on Friday, organizers encourage festgoers to stop by ACL’s pre-festival box office at the Yeti Flagship store, 220 S. Congress Ave., on Wednesday and Thursday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. before each festival weekend to pick up their passes.
• New bag restrictions might cause confusion at the gates. The festival’s updated list of allowed and prohibited items includes the following language about bags: “18 L sized bags or smaller (roughly 1000 cubic inches or 10” x 10” x 10”) – drawstring bags work well.”
We asked for clarification and organizers responded that “18 L” means 18 liters, but they offered no further specifics about variance in bag shapes or styles. “Fans should be prepared ahead of time and leave bags at home to expedite entry,” organizers said. “Bags that exceed size restrictions will not be allowed.”
• Also on the list of prohibited items this year are umbrellas (including “sunbrellas”), inflatable furniture (such as air-filled sofas and chairs), drones, hammocks and e-cigs or vaping devices.
More ACL Fest previews
Lineup look: Here’s who you should go see
Fest fashion:a practical guide to staying fresh at Zilker Park
Eat and drink:Vendors at ACL Eats for 2017