Before music, frustration filled the air at ACL festival

But once they got inside, the music soothed the souls in crowd of more than 40,000

By Michelle M. Martinez and Michael Corcoran


Sunday, September 29, 2002

Sweat and frustration filled the air as people waited — some for more than an hour — to get into the first day of the inaugural Austin City Limits Music Festival on Saturday.

But inside the giant gathering in Austin's Zilker Park, the mood was driven by the music from such acts at Los Lobos, Wilco, Gillian Welch and Nickel Creek.

"It's a real laid back atmosphere," said Rachel Carlson, a student at Southwest Texas University. "There's just a lot of different sounds you can go to."

Blankets and collapsible chairs dotted the park's rolling landscape as people relaxed and listened to the acts. Some swayed to the music, among them Maryanne Chessy, who was in a crowd of around 2,000 people listening to Los Lobos perform on one of the festival's six stages.

"I like all the acts here," Chessy said. "I just moved up here from San Antonio in June, and one of the big draws was the music."

While long lines were a topic among many of the more than 40,000 people, the waits for transportation and entrance were far shorter for some, largely based on timing and luck.

"The lineup is great, so it's worth it," said Glen Greer, who lives in New Mexico. "But the wait in line and the parking . . ."

Organizers had expected 30,000. But they said they were quickly trying to make adjustments to accommodate the crowds. They also reported few emergencies. Tannifer Ayres, who was staffing the medical tent, said early in the day, more people had been treated for blisters on their feet than heat exhaustion. As the afternoon wore on, about 30 fans had been overheated. City emergency medical personnel made four trips to the festival, the most serious for a woman complaining of heart problems and overheating. Saturday's high temperature was 92 degrees at Camp Mabry, just north of the festival at Zilker Park. Today's high is expected to be 93 degrees.

Big crowds want in

One of the earliest signs that the crowd would be bigger than expected came when two dozen bike racks quickly filled and another ten were added just after noon. Another was the waiting line for bus service from parking garages near the Capitol. The service began at 11 a.m., but a line began forming around 9 a.m.

"One-thirty was the worst time," said Lisa Suchlike of Capital Sports & Entertainment, which promoted the event. "It was like everybody decided to come at the same time."

Around that time, Michelle Hittner was stuck in a snaking line waiting to trade her tickets — which she bought in May — for a two-day wristband.

"A friend of mine who only bought her ticket yesterday is already inside," Hittner said. "Here I bought my tickets in May, and I'm still in line."

Hittner waited 45 minutes before organizers dispersed volunteers to speed up the process.

"Since it is the first year, there are a few little kinks here, but the minute they came up, they were immediately taken care of," said Keith Hagan, publicist for the festival.

About the same time, a peeved Jeffrey DeMouy stood in a line with about 500 people as he waited to pick up his tickets. At one point, organizers gave everyone in line a bottle of water to help beat the heat.

"There are no signs or no organized lines," said DeMouy, who is from New Orleans. "They are just stringing people along the grass."

Austin City Limits Music Festival organizers could take a lesson or two from the people who run the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, DeMouy said. For the long-running Louisiana festival, there are multiple off-site locations where people can buy tickets and catch a shuttle to the event.

Hagan said organizers plan to make more adjustments today.

"There's certainly going to be more people at the box office, and if there is a huge walk-up, we're going to be ready for it," he said.

DeMouy was just as upset about the hour it took him to catch a shuttle from 14th Street and San Jacinto Boulevard. People reported waits as long as two hours, but Capital Metro officials say the longest wait was 45 minutes. Capital Metro increased a stable of 25 buses that started the day at the parking garages to 45 to accommodate riders.

Catching a taxi to the festival wasn't much easier. During the early afternoon, telephone lines for Austin taxicab companies were constantly busy, and getting through was as likely as finding the toy of the year the day before Christmas.

"The only time I have ever seen it like this is when we have the South by Southwest music festival," said Tommy Oliver, a driver for the American Yellow Checker Cab Co. "And even that's nothing like this."

Inside the festival, queues for food and beer were just as frustrating for some people — the wait for food was as long as 1 1/2 hours around dinner time — but most took it in stride.

"We've been in line for 50 minutes, but now we've gotten to be friends," said Cindy Ems of Houston, who was standing in line next to Joanna Garcia of Austin. "Hey, it's all relative," Ems said. "We're having a good time and we're about to get our food."

Fun for all ages

None of the kinks, however, kept most of the crowd from enjoying the music or the atmosphere. Some played frisbee or hackey sack, and one man read a book under the shade of a tree.

People perused artisan booths stocked with necklaces, purses, colorful skirts and artwork.

Jason Clark and his wife, Marigold enjoyed bands such as Gillian Welch, Wilco and Nickel Creek throughout the day.

The couple, who brought along their son, Jackson, said they liked the child-friendly environment.

"It's great that kids Jackson's age got in for free," Jason Clark said. "Kids can be just as big live music fans as adults. Jackson is under two, and he already know what he likes."

The milling masses were in constant motion, with the field getting a workout during competing 5 p.m. sets from Wilco and Patty Griffin.

Others in the audience clung to precious shade, even if it meant hearing music overlap from two or even three stages.

When Griffin opened with "Chief," her red hair aflame in the sun, hundreds of fans chose to stay under trees, far away from the stage.