Austin City Limits has evolved from a relatively humble festival headlined by Ryan Adams and Wilco—acts who would get no more than a late-afternoon slot now—to one of the powerhouses of the American music festival circuit. It’s gone from two days to six; from an experiment in the park to an event whose tail is so long that even bands that aren’t playing the festival come to town for official ACL events; and from Austin alllllllll the way to New Zealand.
If that last bit is a surprise to you, that’s fair—it was a surprise to everybody when C3 Presents announced the Auckland City Limits Festival this week. The festival, hosted in Auckland, New Zealand (naturally) is the company’s first attempt to expand the ACL brand outside of the “A” in its name—a tall order, but one that cements the idea that Austin City Limits has really out grown its small-time roots. We caught up with Charles Attal, a partner at C3 Presents, to find out what the deal is with New Zealand.
Texas Monthly: So where did Auckland City Limits come from? I can honestly say that we didn’t see this coming.
Charles Attal: We used to do the Big Day Out Festival in Australia and New Zealand, and we met Campbell Scott, who’s our partner over there. Auckland is a very strong music market, and it’s almost the same population as Austin—maybe a little bigger, but it’s hard to tell with Round Rock and the surrounding areas. But it was always one of the stronger markets for Big Day Out. So we got together with Campbell, and he came up with the idea of doing a festival that was the same sort of one that we do in Austin, because we have the same sort of music fans—they’re very eclectic, they’re very educated—and we have a great green space. It just kind of organically came into place.
It’s starting out as a one-day festival. We’re hoping to grow it like we did ACL, get it up to two days the year after and hopefully up to three the year after that. It’s a real vibrant music market.
TM: I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about Auckland until yesterday.
Charles Attal: It’s funny, I didn’t either until I started working there. It’s funny—you travel to these other markets, and it really feels like a sister city to Austin. Same population, same vibe, liberal, very chill scene, but very educated when it comes to music. You wouldn’t think that Auckland would have a bigger draw for Big Day Out than Sydney or Melbourne, but it did.
TM: So is that why it’s Auckland City Limits, instead of Lollapalooza New Zealand?
Charles Attal: It’s because of the vibe. Campbell has the same kind of vibe about Auckland that we do about Austin. So we both kind of decided that the Austin City Limits brand fit better for his market. It’s a little more eclectic sounding, maybe a little older demo, so it just seems like a perfect fit. We went to ACL, the television show, and KLRU, and they liked the idea, so it was real easy.
TM: Is Austin City Limits a brand that, at this point, can be exported without Austin?
Charles Attal: You have to be very careful, because I don’t think the Austin City Limits Festival brand will travel all over the world the way that Lollapalooza did. Austin is such a special place. But in Auckland, it’s about the eclectic vibe. I know this sounds cliché, but it all goes back to the eclectic vibe. There’s a very eclectic taste in Auckland. You can book anything there and it’ll resonate with the fans. It was just organic. We didn’t plan on doing it. We weren’t planning to move the ACL brand out of Austin, but if a really good opportunity arises, we’re gonna try it. It was really cool how it happened. The first year it’ll have some of the same bands we had at ACL, and year two, we’re gonna try to mirror what we do at ACL. We don’t want to take the ACL name and do something completely different. There’ll be locals for sure—there’ll be New Zealand bands and Australia bands, because it’s close by.
TM: Was launching in mid-March, when there’s something else going on in Austin musically with SXSW, something you considered?
Charles Attal: It was the best time of year to do it. What we found working in South America, Berlin, Austin, Chicago and everywhere else, is that there are always bands working. There might be bands playing SXSW who won’t be able to make it, but they might pop in for South-By and then pop over there later. It’s gonna always be about availability. And a lot of those bands don’t play South-By, or who are waiting to have a record cycle out. And our partner there will be producing most of the show. We come up with the look and the feel, but when it comes to the show day, it’ll be all their regional production. If you don’t have the right partner, this never would have come up.