Warning: I am an unabashed fan of the Austin City Limits Music festival and the people who put it on.
It's one thing to create an event that's kind of fun and makes people money; it's another thing to create a festival simply because you are a huge music fan and want to do it right. Charlie Jones and Charles Attal are those people, and the ACL Festival reflects their love of music. It doesn't hurt that they are creative, imaginative businessmen, able build a company on the back of their passion.
In April, 2002, Austin City Limits called a news conference. No one particularly knew why, and no one knew who Charlie was — let alone whether he could pull off something of this size and scope. Even he was unsure that this million dollar gamble would pay off. But he had three incredible, magical things working for him: he loved music, he surrounded himself with talented people and he had the Austin City Limits iconic name attached to his idea.
Keep in mind, the destination music festival was not what it is today. Bonnaroo started the same year as ACL. Coachella was just three years old. Lollapalooza's first incarnation died in 1997, and its reincarnation was a twinkle in Charlie Jones' eye (to be born in 2003). Destination music festivals like ACL Fest were risky ventures.
Year one, in retrospect, wasn't all that compared to year ten. Would you really make all that effort to see two days of music with headliners Pat Green or String Cheese Incident, or Wilco, a relative unknown in 2002? Yeah, if you live in Austin, you would — and you did. 42,000 people braved the first day with hours-long waits for the buses, then an hour-long wait to get a wristband, in order to catch those bands in Zilker Park.
To their credit, Charlie (along with promoter Charles Attal and Marketing director Lisa Hickey) made adjustments. The transportation and ticketing issues were fixed by day two, and the festival was on its way to national prominence. The stage was set. Since that first day the Austin City Limits Music Festival has made the adjustments needed to create a better festival; better food, curated by superstar Chef Jeff Blank, cooling stations, more and better beer, better sound — whatever it took.
If there is one issue that continues grating on the organizers and fans it is the one thing no one has control over: the weather. From brutal heat to torrential rain, from dry dust storms choking the lungs to ankle deep mud pulling off shoes, it's almost always been something of a jinx for ACL. Want proof? Today, the first day of the 2011 Austin City Limits Music Festival, it rained — for the first time in four months, during the most intense drought in Texas history (at least it's cooler right?).
The years passed and the acts got bigger, but the intimacy of the festival remained. It is, in my opinion, the most "community"-oriented festival in the nation. ACL works because there is something deeper than just a bunch of great bands here. It works in the same way Bonnaroo and Coachella and Lollapalooza work, only better: for three days a community of diverse, disparate people who otherwise might not agree on anything come together celebrating their passion for music and for each other.
Over the course of 10 years, CSE, and then C3 Presents (the Charlies: Charlie Jones, Charles Attal and Charlie Walker, who created a new company out of CSE) have not shied away from their community obligations: They paid to install a sprinkler system in Zilker after the dust bowl, they planted new grass and they are right now collecting money for wildfire relief.