Castillo: The beat goes on at ACL — with changes after Vegas carnage


Time was when the rockin’ rite of passage known here simply as ACL brought with it mundane concerns, like getting your hands on a pricey ticket, fighting choked traffic to get there, and putting up with extreme heat or dust once you got in.

Braving the elements took on new meaning in 2009, when heavy rain turned Dillo Dirt on the Zilker Park grounds into a soupy slog. It would have been comical were it not for the health concerns some people raised.

As Austinites know, Dillo Dirt is a compost of sewage sludge and yard clippings. “Mud Central, Humidity City,” the New York Times wrote then.

CONTINUING COVERAGE: Austin officials reassure public about ACL safety after Vegas shooting.

Fine, but that wasn’t mud — and welcome to October in Austin.

The Times seemed to think it was all worth it, though. So do the throngs of fans who flock here from around the country for the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival extravaganza. Beginning today, some 75,000 people will pack Zilker each day — the first of back-to-back, three-day musical weekends — to hear Jay-Z, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chance the Rapper and more than 100 other acts.

ACL is a communal experience, fitting for the city that proudly proclaims itself the “Live Music Capital of the World,” reminiscent of the massive outdoor music festivals of the 1970s – but with more polish, less long hair.

This year’s 16th annual installment of ACL, however, brings new, grave concerns about public safety. The Las Vegas sniper who unleashed a rain of bullets at another major music festival with a glittery lineup — leaving at least 58 people dead and hundreds more injured — is impossible to ignore. The latest in a long line of lethal attacks, it was the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. Central Texans were among the survivors.

The massacre forced Austin police to reassess their security strategy for ACL — and to make sure every threat possible is addressed, interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said Monday. What happened in Las Vegas, he said, “is something new … someone that appears to have a very well-planned attack on a large gathering like that, contained in a relatively small location.”

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Federal law enforcement officers will join in security efforts at ACL. So will additional officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety. With security top of mind, festivalgoers will see new measures implemented. They can expect pat-downs, bag searches and metal detectors at the gate. Plenty of officers will be visible, Manley said. Plenty of others will not.

As law enforcement officers do what they can to keep festivalgoers safe, the show will go on, hopefully without incident, hopefully creating new favorite favorite memories.

Everyone has their own ACL “greatest hits.” Mine include watching 20-somethings captivated by the timeless Stevie Wonder, singing along to songs written before they were born. Another is Los Lobos belting “One Time, One Night,” with its evocative lyrics about the struggles and hopes of American life, set to a churning roots rock beat.

A shot rang out in the night

Just when everything seemed right

Another headline written down in America

Everything must have seemed right in Las Vegas on Sunday. Then the shots rang out and the carnage began. Now, Americans are asking if the headlines about another massacre will simply fade away.

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I hear it said that this time, people have had enough. But we’ve heard that before, especially after Sandy Hook elementary, when children were slaughtered.

I hear that this is another tragedy. But a man armed with an arsenal of high-powered weapons picking off innocent people in the cover of night is not a tragedy; it’s cold-blooded murder. A tragedy is when we allow it to happen again and again. Tragedy is when we become numb and we accept a new normal — one that has our children participating in active shooter drills in elementary school classrooms.

The beauty and the magic of music is that it gives us something with which to connect. It speaks to our souls and brings us joy; even the saddest songs have beauty. That’s the experience the victims in Las Vegas had gathered for on an October night in America. Like many who attend ACL, they had made long-standing plans for their weekend escape and flown in from all over the country.

Time was when we didn’t have to give so much thought to our safety when going to a movie theater or a music festival. As a new edition of ACL gets under way today, law enforcement officers will work to keep us safe and to prevent another attack like the one in Las Vegas.

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We will adjust and be grateful for the added layers of security. But we can’t forget: Fear shouldn’t have a place there. The question is, what are we going to do about it?



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