ACL for Kids Review: Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Rain

Growing Up Austin - Austin Parenting

(I totally spaced on getting a good picture at ACL with Sparkles. This one looks like a serious medical procedure is taking place. No worries, she is just getting a temporary tattoo to go with her pink hair and superhero cape.)

I went to music festivals when I lived in Houston in the early 90s and this is what I remember.

  • Skimpy women’s fashion.
  • Cigarettes and pot.
  • Lots of heavy drinking that led to fights that sometimes involved the police.

One time I saw a fight with two women pulling out each others’ hair as they tumbled down a hill. I never thought that I would bring my kids one day.

But now it was twenty years later and I was a Mom and I wanted to give it a try. I brought Sparkles, who is 5-years-old, to the Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL) last Saturday.

ACL is a long way from the festivals I went to when I was younger. Zilker Park is clean, the crowd is well-behaved and I haven’t seen any arrests in the several years that I’ve gone. And the festival welcomes kids. For one thing, kids ten and under get in free. For another, Austin Kiddie Limits is a section of the park just for kids, with temporary tattoos, pottery painting, a DJ workshop, video karaoke and more. There is a stage in Austin Kiddie Limits with kid-friendly bands.  What’s not to love?

Sparkles thought ACL was cool, because I told her you have to be five-years-old to go (my own personal rule) and that meant Buttercup had to stay home. Sparkles liked the activities and also the food (Austin Pizza‘s cheese pizza) and the treats (Coolhaus‘ ice cream sandwich). She waited a long time for H-E-Buddy‘s Alter Ego Factory, because one small part of it was face painting and she loves face painting.

Do you remember how Sparkles has declared that she doesn’t like hiking? On this day, she declared that she doesn’t like live music either. Please, no one tell her about the art section of my blog, or she might decide she doesn’t like to draw anymore too. 🙁

There were a few minor, less-kid-friendly parts of the day. Skimpy women’s fashion hasn’t gone away altogether and Sparkles screamed at one point, “I CAN SEE HER BRA!!!” She saw another person light up a cigarette and she looked at him the same as if he were completely naked. Then there was Big K.R.I.T. on the Honda stage, just feet from the entrance to Austin Kiddie Limits.  As Sparkles and I left, the announcer for the band screamed, “DO YOU WANT TO HEAR SOME MOTHER F#$%#$% MUSIC!!!!!!!?!?!?!?!”

We were leaving because Sparkles was tired. We had been there for three hours, on a hot and humid day, and she was done. We called Blue Eyes and asked him to come get us. As we walked to the pick-up spot, Sparkles said, “I wish we hadn’t come.”

I picked her up and she leaned her head on my shoulder. I got my phone out of my bag and started to record my next interview. Sparkles must have felt a little better, not having to walk anymore, because she softened her stance.

[Carol] Sparkles, how did you like ACL this year?

[Sparkles] (In a soft, tired voice.) Good.

[Carol] What was your favorite part?

[Sparkles] Um, my hair getting dyed.

[Carol] What color is your hair right now?

[Sparkles] Pink.

[Carol] What was your least favorite part?

[Sparkles] My face getting a butterfly.

[Carol] (Confusion.) Did you like that part or not like it?

[Sparkles] I liked it.

[Carol] What was your favorite thing you ate?

[Sparkles] The frozen pop.

[Carol] What would you tell other kids who were thinking about going to ACL so they could have fun?

[Sparkles] I don’t know. (Her eyes are getting droopy.)

[Carol] Would you come back next year?

[Sparkles] Yes. (Eyes close.)

As I carried her across the pedestrian bridge at Mopac, I decided that our day felt like the weather, partly cloudy with a chance of rain, not the perfect day, but not too bad either. I wondered if I would like to come back next year with one or both of my girls. The type of things Sparkles enjoyed most could be found at a community festival or Nutty Brown Cafe‘s summer kids’ nights. Those events are much easier to get to and from and they don’t require an adult-priced ACL ticket for Mom and/or Dad.

In the end, I’m neutral. I might do it again and I might not. For other kids and parents, I think it depends on you and your kid and what y’all like and don’t like. It can be fun, but there are simpler, easier ways to have fun too.

The surprise ending to this day is that Blue Eyes offered to take Sparkles home and let me stay at the festival. Thanks, Blue Eyes! I connected with some friends, I escaped from the hardest rain under a tent and I got to see Jack White after all.

The stage was bathed in blue light. Jack White felt like equal parts of brilliance and crazy. He was backed by five strong, wicked-talented, female musicians. His show was why I love live music, when you feel it in your bones and you stop thinking about anything else.

That ending wouldn’t have happened at a community festival. Hmm, maybe I’ll split the day on purpose next year. We’ll have to wait and see.

 (Stay tuned for the Meredith Walker, Smart Girls at the Party interview, coming very soon!)

Austin City Limits With Kids: A Ten Point Plan

Austin City Limits Music FestivalHere at Growing Up Austin, we talk about grown-up live music in kid-friendly venues year-round at But I have never tried Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL) with my kids and I don’t even especially recommend it as a kid-friendly festival. This might be due to my hazy memories of near heat stroke when the festival was in 100 degree weather for several years in a row, when I would drink gallons of water and never need to pee because by body was sweating so much. But, I have nearly fully recovered now and the festival has since moved to October, so it is time to reconsider.

Sparkles and I are going to ACL next Saturday. Here is our plan. Maybe these ideas will help, if you are going with your kids too.

(Ticket Info: Kids 10 and under are free with a paying adult. If you don’t have a ticket yet, tickets are available on Craig’s List or StubHub. Check out the ACL website for details.)

1. Bring One Kid Per Adult, Each Kid Preferably At Least Five-Years-Old, In Sneakers. I’m the only adult, so I’m bringing only one kid. For me, a One Kid Per Adult ratio is more fun and less work. Also, I’m bringing the 5-year-old, not the toddler.  Babies are immobile and manageable and five-year-olds have a reasonable attention span and ability to reason. I’m not ready to try ACL with a toddler. The festival grounds are 46 acres big, so there is lot of walking and we’ll need practical shoes.

2. Pack Light. I’m bringing a backpack with sunscreen, 2 unopened water bottles (unopened is a festival rule), wipes, camera, wallet (you need cash for many vendors) and a cell phone. I’m also bringing a blanket instead of chairs or a stroller (wagons are not allowed), so we’ll be more mobile.

3. Arrive Early. My kids don’t let me sleep late anyway, so we’ll head out early and beat the crowds for parking and shuttle buses.

4. Tag Your Kid. We’ll do this first, so if we get separated later, festival staff can help us get reconnected.

5. Ditch the Schedule. If you were a big music fan when you were young and childless, then this might be difficult. But it I try to get Sparkles to follow a specific schedule of bands she might not like, it won’t go very well.

That sounds like all work, when is the fun going to start? Here it is…

6. Check Out Austin Kiddie Limits. This is a space built with kids in mind. There is the music stage with kids’ bands, but there is so much more: a sandy beach, video kareoke, drum workshops, action painting, a theater project, hair coloring and temporary tattoos.

7. Check Out Grown-up Music. This is our non-schedule approach – we are going to walk around and stay when something sounds good. It isn’t completely random, we’ll spend more time walking around the stages that are more kid-friendly. The Zilker Stage has gospel music, seating and shade and the BMI stage is small enough so you can see the bands up close without fighting crowds. We’ll avoid the largest stages, AMD and Bud Light, because people tend to stand and kids can’t see, unless you are far away from the stage.

8. Eat Something Fun. ACL does a great job of having local, interesting, tasty food vendors. They are more adult-friendly (crispy artichokes, spinach and mushroom pie, jalapeno brisket tacos) than kid-friendly sometimes, but they have pizza, hamburgers and lemonade too. I’m going to see if Sparkles will try something new, she probably will, if she can have Amy’s Ice Cream for dessert.

9. Dance. Sparkles dances in circles with her arms wide open, mixing in jumping, gymnastics and ballet moves. She is really fun to watch. I’ll dance with her too, in that way that is crazy fun but I hope doesn’t show up on YouTube.

10. Leave Early. Leaving early will not be easy. I will have gotten the ticket and arrived at the venue, then left on purpose, before seeing Jack White. You should hear me singing in my car to Jack White’s Love Interrupted, even though I’m happily married and this is quite possibly the most disturbing love song ever written. But Sparkles doesn’t have the stamina for an all-day music festival and the huge crowds in the dark would be hard to navigate. That is how it is with families some times. You can have it all, but not all at the same time and leaving early is better than not going at all.  The good news is that we will get to avoid the super long lines for shuttle buses at the end of the day and we’ll get some much-needed sleep.

Please share or tweet this post if you found it fun or helpful! Stay tuned for my post next week about Austin City Limits WITHOUT Kids and a five point plan for grown-up fun.