Off the Record

Recounting the first decade of the Austin City Limits Music Festival, one year at a time

Charles in Charge: (l-r) C3 Presents' 
Charlie Walker, Charles Attal, and 
Charles Jones in the ACL 2010 war room
Charles in Charge: (l-r) C3 Presents' Charlie Walker, Charles Attal, and Charles Jones in the ACL 2010 war room (Photo by John Anderson)


The Austin City Limits Music Festival always begins the same way: the Star Wars theme followed by Western swing institution Asleep at the Wheel. Then things get interesting. On the cusp of ACL's 10th anniversary spectacular, OTR looks back at the highs and lows that have come to define Austin's premier destination festival. May the force be with you.

ACL 2002: Beginner's Luck

Sister Seven's road manager Charlie Jones of Capital Sports & Entertainment and Stubb's booker Charles Attal join forces for a two-day outing heavy on local talent.

Headliners: Arc Angels, Wilco, the String Cheese Incident, Ryan Adams

Breakout: Gary Clark Jr.

Chronicle reported: "[Y]ou'd have to be pretty damn jaded to look at this inaugural festival's lineup and dirt-cheap ticket price and not see the potential for something big." – Andy Langer

ACL 2003: Back in Black

Dedicated to Johnny and June Carter Cash, with Drive-By Truckers, North Mississippi Allstars, and Old 97's, among others, paying tribute.

Headliners: R.E.M., Steve Winwood, Al Green, Mavis Staples, Dwight Yoakam

Breakouts: Kings of Leon, the Shins, Jeff Klein

Chronicle reported: "Everybody we went after we pretty much got." – Charles Attal

ACL 2004: Growing Pains

An increase in capacity to 75,000 and deadening heat prove too much to handle despite Solomon Burke's royal R&B revue.

Headliners: Solomon Burke, the Pixies, Sheryl Crow, Cat Power, Elvis Costello

Breakouts: Franz Ferdinand, the Killers, Ray LaMontagne

Chronicle reported: "Hot tip for any band with two really good albums and a couple more fair to average discs to its credit: break up." – Michael Bertin on the Pixies reunion

ACL 2005: The Dust Bowl

Roky Erickson returns with the magnitude of Hurricane Rita, the latter causing cancellations and a massive dust storm; ACL earns Pollstar's Music Festival of the Year award.

Headliners: Coldplay, Widespread Panic, Oasis, the Black Crowes

Breakouts: Arcade Fire, the Frames

Chronicle reported: "Austin's autumn music fest has thus far been cursed with hellishly hot temperatures and not a prayer of rain. 2005 was the most biblical yet." – Christopher Gray

ACL 2006: It's Raining Tampons

Ben Kweller plugs his infamous nosebleed onstage, gets spoofed the next night by the Flaming Lips.

Headliners: Tom Petty, Van Morrison, Massive Attack

Breakouts: Ghostland Observatory, Phoenix, Feist

Chronicle reported: "[T]he dance party was too soon over – and, somehow, a new day was just beginning."
Dan Oko on Ghostland Observatory's last-minute addition

ACL 2007: Ring of Fire

The White Stripes cancel, M.I.A. and LCD Soundsystem square off, a propane tank ignites, and somehow the newly minted C3 Presents avoids catastrophe.

Headliners: Bob Dylan, Björk, Muse, My Morning Jacket

Breakouts: Andrew Bird, Peter Bjorn & John, Regina Spektor

Chronicle reported: "In the end, M.I.A. really did pull up the people." – Audra Schroeder

ACL 2008: Echoes, Silence, Patience, and Grace

For once, everything goes as planned; Spiritualized rises to the occasion.

Headliners: Foo Fighters, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Beck, Manu Chao

Breakouts: Vampire Weekend, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, MGMT

Chronicle reported: "'We're not really a festival band,' offered Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold from the stage, but the Seattle quintet aptly demonstrated it was, in fact, worthy of the label." – Doug Freeman

ACL 2009: "Austin Shitty Limits"

$2.5 million in landscaping improvements goes out to pasture as Zilker Park morphs into a mud bowl reeking of Dillo Dirt, the city's treated-sewage compost.

Headliners: Pearl Jam, Kings of Leon, Dave Matthews Band, Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Breakouts: Bon Iver, Grizzly Bear, Raphael Saadiq, Passion Pit

Chronicle reported: "In an act of solidarity and sympathy that echoed as loud as any howls, [Eddie] Vedder splashed down in the mud of the mosh pit, a last reminder we're in this shit together." Dan Oko on Pearl Jam

ACL 2010: Size Matters

C3 Presents lands its biggest headliners to date, a feat matched by the scale of the performances by everyone from the Flaming Lips to Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros.

Headliners: Eagles, Phish, Strokes, Muse

Breakouts: The Relatives, Miike Snow, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros

Chronicle reported: "Thank you, Eagles fans, for not throwing shit at us." Ted Leo

Festival Notes

Park rangers have pledged to enforce the statewide burn ban this weekend. According to the Statesman, patrons will be asked to stop smoking or to exit the park to light up, refusal of which could lead to trespassing citations by the Austin Police Department. Good luck with that.

Hate the taste of Nicorette? YouTube's live-streaming performances on two channels with exclusive backstage footage:

Mavis Staples headlines the sixth annual Concert Under the Stars, a fundraiser for the re-election of Texas Sen. Kirk Watson at Zilker Park tonight (Thursday). Bring your checkbook.

Organizers have installed 11,000 square feet of shade as well as additional free water dispensers and an extra misting station. Patrons can bring two sealed water bottles.

Returning vendor Toms Shoes has donated 2,400 pairs of shoes through sales over the last five years at the festival.

Red Cross of Central Texas and Texas Wildlife Relief Fund will be accepting donations at the volunteer headquarters (10am-6pm), with help from the Do Good Bus,a traveling community activist initiative that is partnering with Foster the People. C3 Presents has pledged to match Friday's funds.

Three-time ACL veteran Colin Meloy of the Decemberists reads from Wildwood, the first installment in his fantastical middle-grade series set in Portland, Ore.'s "Impassable Wilderness," with his wife/illustrator Carson Ellis at BookPeople on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 7pm.

Just as the hangover from ACL subsides, Black Pistol Fire pulls from the hip at the Palm Door for Paper Cuts, the Chronicle's free live music series, sponsored by Capital Metro and featuring refreshments from Pacifico beer, DonQ Rum, and DoubleDave's. RSVP at

Goofy's Concern: Paul Leary (l) and Gibby Haynes at Emo's East
Goofy's Concern: Paul Leary (l) and Gibby Haynes at Emo's East (Photo by John Anderson)

From Beyond

The Butthole Surfers didn't just open Pandora's box at Emo's East on Sunday; the shock-psych troupe drilled it a gloryhole. Wielding a 90-minute shotgun marriage of art-damaged Texas blues and hardcore delinquency, the reunited Surfers gave Frank Hendrix's sold-out, $2 million Riverside facility a trial by everything but fire. Three massive projection screens mirrored the quartet's twisted vision, which peaked with a searing medley of "Lady Sniff" and "Pepper." "Anybody want to hear a racist joke?" egged mad conductor Gibby Haynes early. "Go to a Rick Perry press conference."

Music news

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Austin City Limits Music Festival
Playback: The Boxing Lesson Goes Rambo
Playback: The Boxing Lesson Goes Rambo
Boxing Lesson's not afraid of 'Big Hits'

Kevin Curtin, May 10, 2013

Playback: ACL Doubles Down
Playback: ACL Doubles Down
ACL's dual weekend model next year will feature the same line-ups. Plus, ACL weekend tidbits.

Kevin Curtin, Oct. 12, 2012

More Butthole Surfers
Texas Album Hall of Fame: Butthole Surfers
Texas Album Hall of Fame: Butthole Surfers
Think No Think’s John Dowey on Locust Abortion Technician

Aug. 25, 2017

My Little Red Book
Let's Go to Hell: Scattered Memories of the Butthole Surfers
Front lunatic Gibby Haynes escapes the Butthole Surfers' first bio, but nothing else did

Kevin Curtin, June 17, 2016

More Off the Record
Off the Record
Off the Record
OTR attends Fun Fun Fun Fest, packs things, and moves to the Cloud

Austin Powell, Nov. 11, 2011

Off the Record
Off the Record
All the fun fun fun that fits

Austin Powell, Nov. 4, 2011


Austin City Limits Music Festival, Butthole Surfers, C3 Presents

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle