Winners And Losers From The First Two-Weekend ACL Festival
The rain—always a rarity in drought-addled Central Texas—that stole the final day of the second go-round of the Austin City Limits Festival also stole the narrative on Sunday. Headlining sets from Lionel Richie and Radiohead/Red Hot Chili Peppers-based supergroup Atoms For Peace were canceled, as were anticipated afternoon and early evening spots from artists like The National, Phoenix, and Neko Case.
But the rain on Sunday wasn’t the biggest story of the festival. After more than a decade of being a once-a-year event, this was the first year that ACL duplicated its lineup for two consecutive weekends at Zilker Park. The change had long-reaching ramifications, benefiting some (hotels, full for a second weekend, were psyched) and bumming out others (two weekends of traffic woes wasn’t fun for people who live near the park). Let’s take a closer look at who the winners and losers of the new Austin City Limits Music Festival format were—after all, it’ll be back as a double-header next year, as well.
The two-weekend format afforded a few opportunities to the indecisive. For one, fans who didn’t intend to go to the festival but who were made jealous after hearing friends at the first weekend gush about Kendrick Lamar’s “steaming hot” set got a second chance to check it out. Perhaps more importantly, that opportunity came cheap: The aftermarket for festival wristbands crashed hard in 2013. The original ticket price of $225 wasn’t anywhere near what the Craigslist/Stubhub price for passes. The first weekend’s tickets, before the gates opened, were going for around $120. As time passed and supply well outstripped demand, that price dipped even further. By Saturday morning of the second festival, a person who posted an ad on Craigslist offering $40 for a chance to enjoy the final two days of the festival would find himself inundated with responses from people just looking to recoup some of their losses.
Loser: Ticket Scalpers
Obviously, if tickets going cheap to fans was a benefit to the latecomers, it was a bummer for people who snatch up tickets at face value to resell for a profit later on. While that’s long been complained about by festival fans, people who speculate on ticket prices should be a lot more cautious next year. Of course, a market crash like this claims innocent victims, too: If you had to cancel your ACL plans to attend a baby shower, there was no chance you were going to be able to recoup the cost of tickets. Still, if the speculators get out of the market, keeping tickets from selling out prematurely every year, even fans who lost some money this year because of they had to change their weekend plans would probably consider that a fair trade.
Winner: C3 Presents
Before the rain forced C3 Presents, the promoter of the festival, to cancel on Sunday, they had little to complain about. Even despite the crash of the secondhand market became clear before the start of the first weekend, tickets for weekend two sold out via official channels at full price in the off-week. So from one perspective, C3 was sitting pretty: They still produced a sold-out festival, but with crowds that were more comfortable than in years past, making for a better fan experience. Happier fans + twice as many tickets sold = a big win.
That said, it’ll be hard to know how the crashed secondhand market affects the festival in years to come. Will people hesitate to pay full price for tickets because they’re expecting to pick them up for $50 on Craigslist? Will they learn that ticketbrokers were actually a huge driving force behind the early sell-outs that ACL has long boasted? It’s possible that the fluctuating ticket prices will have a negative impact on the festival in the future, but for the 2013 festival, they produced two weekends of a sold-out music festival that left people feeling pretty good about the new format.
Loser: C3 Presents
All that would have been true, anyway, until the rain forced Sunday’s shutdown. C3 is issuing partial refunds to ticketbuyers—surely a relief to people who lost money in the re-sell market—and the acts booked for Sunday got paid. Between the refunds and the money paid to acts who didn’t play, that could cost them as much as $7 million, according to some tweets from Austin reporter Michael Corcoran. We’ll assume they were insured, but still, nobody puts on a festival hoping that they’ll have to cancel the final day.
Winner: Central Texas lakes
The Lower Colorado River Authority reported more than twelve inches of rain on Saturday night and Sunday morning, which is great for a part of the state suffering from an ongoing drought. What’s a day of music compared to much-needed rainfall?
Loser: People who traveled for ACL
Well, it depends how much else it cost you to come to Austin for the weekend. Locals who got a refund can take a no-harm, no-foul approach to being refunded for the canceled day. If you flew in from Boston and booked a hotel because you had a dream of seeing Phoenix and Lionel Richie play back to back, then you’re probably a bit less easygoing about the cancelation. Getting angry with the weather is futile, but people who found themselves in Austin for the day with nothing to do, when they expected to see Franz Ferdinand or Atoms For Peace, have a reason to be disappointed.
Winner: People who got to see bands play intimate shows on Sunday night
If you had no other plans for Sunday, and you were savvy on Twitter, you had some cool opportunities that night. The 2,750-capacity Moody Theater at ACL Live secured a performance from Atoms For Peace, while downtown punk rock club Infest snagged Franz Ferdinand for a night show. Ticket prices on both were shockingly reasonable—both shows cost $10 to get into—and those were only the highest-profile of the makeup shows. Divine Fits played The Parish, The Mowglis played at Lambert’s, The Lone Bellow played the Belmont, Noah and the Whale played the Empire Control Room… Some artists struggled to find a venue, and the lines for Atoms For Peace and Franz Ferdinand were long and required an investment of time (and presumably disappointed people who found out too late), but for the people who did get in to those shows, it was an experience that might be a little more special than just another day at a festival.
Even some early beef between Franz Ferdinand and ACL Live booker Jack McFadden got squashed. The band’s frontman, Alex Kapranos, tweeted that the band had been booked at the venue before the Atoms For Peace announcement was made; after learning that the venue would be booking the festival headliner instead, he tweeted an angry response full of words we won’t reprint here (but which presumably sound a bit less harsh in Kapranos’ Scottish accent). Kapranos calmed down after his band was set up at Infest, and the two were ready to bro-down by the end of the day.
Winner: The days of the festival that didn’t get canceled
As the saying goes, you can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather. And for the days when the weather was pleasant, the picnic sure was pretty. Zilker Park held up well for weekend two—the grounds were in good shape, even despite intermittent light rain and a previous weekend of tens of thousands of people walking on the grass—and capping off the festival with headlining sets by Kings of Leon and The Cure seemed like a pretty appropriate way for the festival to end. The rain started an hour and a half into The Cure’s set, and wouldn’t end for 24 hours. A downpour during The Cure is actually kind of nice (“the way the rain falls down hard, that’s the way I feel inside“), and most of the concerns about a two-weekend festival turned out to be overblown. Not a bad result for the weekend.