AustinKidsDance.com recommends grown-up live music in kid-friendly venues year-round, but it doesn't especially recommend the Austin City Limits Music Festival as a kid-friendly festival.
I might have been biased when I wrote that, 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 fully recovered now and the festival has since moved to October, so it is time to reconsider.
I'm going to ACL with my five-year-old daughter. Kids 10 and under are free with a paying adult. Check out the ACL website for details.
Here is our plan. Maybe these ideas will help, if you are going with your kids too.
1. Bring One Kid Per Adult
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 the ability to reason. I'm not ready to try ACL with a toddler.
2. Pack Light
I'm bringing a backpack with sunscreen, two 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, this might be difficult. But if I try to get my daughter 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 karaoke, 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 that 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.
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 my daughter will try something new, she probably will, if she can have Amy's Ice Cream for dessert.
My daughter dances in circles with her arms wide open, mixing in jumping, gymnastics and ballet moves. She's 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. But my daughter doesn't have the stamina for an all-day music festival and the huge crowds in the dark would be hard to navigate. That's 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.
Originally posted at GrowingUpAustin.com, a blog and set of websites that encourages Austin family experiences with hiking, live music and art.