It’s More than Just Music: Students React to ACL’s Return Mid-Pandemic

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Photo By Caelyn Swendner

Crowds of people gather at the edge of Zilker park to watch Greta Van Fleet close out the night. This was the rock band’s second performance at the festival.

By Caelyn Swendner, Yearbooker

Trailer food, hot sun, crowds of people screaming song lyrics: the Austin City Limits (ACL) music festival has returned, packing Zilker Park full of Austinites, tourists, and Westwood students alike. The line-up this year consisted of several current popular artists like Doja Cat, Billie Eilish, and Miley Cyrus as well as retro favorites like Duran Duran and Modest Mouse.

This year’s line-up was controversial with two headliners being dropped from the set list right before the festival. Duran Duran was a replacement for Stevie Nicks, the iconic front woman of Fleetwood Mac, who was originally announced to headline with an ecstatic reaction from fans. Less than a month before she was set to perform, she dropped out of ACL and all other shows in Texas due to COVID-19 concerns. In addition, Dababy was swiped from the line-up for homophobic remarks made at a recent concert in Miami. The rapper was replaced by fan favorite Tyler the Creator. 

“Tyler gave such a great performance. I’m a big fan of his because his songs are so fun to sing along to and he’s my go to when listening to music. So it was so cool to see him in person. I wish he played more of his old songs though,” Campbell Hardin ‘24 said. 

Nicks’ departure wasn’t the only thing COVID changed about ACL. Either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours was required for entry. While vaccines were not mandatory, masks were still compulsory in areas like shuttles, large lines, merchandise stores, and any indoor areas where social distancing would be hard to maintain. 

“No one really followed the mask mandates, not even the performers or security guards. I knew people who were nervous about getting a COVID test but other than that it was basically ACL like normal,” Hardin said. 

One thing not normal about ACL was Trixie Mattel, who was the first drag queen to ever perform at the festival. Mattel performed in the Tito’s Handmade Vodka Tent, one of the event’s smaller stages. Predictably, fans flooded the surrounding area of the tent due to her immense popularity, loudly chanting her name minutes before she emerged from behind the stage. 

“It’s really exciting to see that ACL is taking steps to further their inclusivity. I think the reason it took a while to get someone like Trixie is because of the prejudice in the area we live. LGBTQ representation is really important and I want there to be more of it at mainstream events like ACL to normalize it,” Livvy Bush ‘24 said. 

Another hit performance was that of Greta Van Fleet, a band that puts a modern spin on sounds of classic 70s rock. 

“Greta [Van Fleet] thoroughly impressed me with their guitar skills and Josh’s live vocals, I was pretty far up in the crowd and it was really immersive. They’re really talented performers,” Lucy Metzger ‘24 said.

There were many artists at the festival who strongly opposed Texas’ new abortion laws. Billie Eilish spoke about wanting to pull out of the performance in protest, but ultimately decided it wasn’t fair to fans, especially those who were adversely affected by the law. Eilish lit up the stage with the message “Bans Off Our Bodies” instead.

“I support her more because she stood up for what she believed in,” Parker Sanders ‘23 said.

Similarly, Phoebe Bridgers, another Los Angeles native, protested the law. Prior to the festival, she criticized Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Twitter. At her ACL Stubb’s show, she joked about how a publication had to edit her statements for her personal safety.

“I think what Phoebe did was justified, I have no issue with her speaking on how she feels about the law,” Carolyn Craig ‘25 said.

Bridgers performed both weekends at the festival and did an additional show through Austin City Limits at Stubb’s Barbecue in downtown. 

“Phoebe’s performance was so emotional and it was just crazy to be there with her. You could really feel the songs because they are so personal. Her lyrics are always so relatable and well written, she’s one of my favorites,” Metzger said. 

ACL’s cult-like status at Westwood is something that generates buzz year after year. Excitement and discourse around the line up announcements fill the halls and classrooms. It’s hard to be unaware of the festival or a classmate’s opinions on it. Having artists that influence the student body perform so close to campus has become an integral part of Westwood’s culture. 

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