FESTIVAL REPORT: Austin Shitty Limits

A father and son go through AC hell on the hottest weekend of the year

Aerial viewpoint of ACL Festival / Photo by Keenan Hairston

I trudged across a steaming, treeless hellscape, alienated, alone, and miserable. Why had God cursed me so? Truly, I was the most wretched of all his creations.

That’s right, I was back at the Austin City Limits Festival.

Every year, I keep coming back, and I wonder, why do I do this to myself? I basically only like three kinds of music: classic soul, snarky, off-key gutter punk, and novelty rock. Occasionally, one of those types of music will represent at ACL. I’ve seen Solomon Burke and Iggy and the Stooges in that park, both pretty memorable. But mostly, ACL refuses to cater to my tastes. It’s just so damn popular.

No one will say that Lizzo and Billie Eilish don’t deserve their massive audiences. But I am old enough, very old, really, to remember when culture in Austin wasn’t about mainstream tastes. It was about watching grown men in diapers scream about how the mainstream sucks. I don’t need to go to ACL to see bands. I can just watch YouTube videos of their recent Saturday Night Live performances.

Maybe I’m not the target audience. My entire ACL was about wandering around, feeling like a used piece of road trash. Not only that, I was sober. And I realize that the drugs may have had a lot to do with the fact that I used to enjoy seeing music live.

For a somewhat less jaded perspective, or at least one that’s jaded in a different way, let’s summon my son Elijah, who turns 17 later this month. In other words, he’s the ACL target audience. It’s the highlight of his social calendar. This year’s fest didn’t disappoint, except for when Lil Uzi Vert canceled.

Elijah, tell us an ACL story.

My friends and I were kind of upset that Lil Uzi Vert cancelled. Some of them wanted to get a really good place for Tame Impala. I didn’t. So I was standing in the back, watching the DJ that I had replaced Lil Uzi, listening to his very mediocre music.  I noticed this girl. She’d been dancing to my right for a while. I didn’t care, we’re at ACL, of course she’s dancing.

Tame Impala at ACL / Photo by Pooneh Ghana

At one point, I’m staring at the stage, and this girl puts her head on my shoulder and whispers into my ear, in the most slurred voice possible, do you…do you have any Xanax or Alprazolam?’ Whatever the hell that drug is called. And I said ‘Huh?’ And then she said ‘For head?’  And I looked at her and said ‘WHAT? NO! WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?’ What kind of question is that? I’m just standing here listening to music, she comes up to me, she kinda hugs me, and she offers to give me a blowjob for drugs. I’m like, ‘Get away from me, you crackhead.’ I didn’t have any Xanax on me. I don’t know where she got the impression that I was the man who had the Xanax at that music festival.


VIDEO: Tame Impala at Austin City Limits 2019 (full set)

Well, that certainly sounds like the kind of thing that used to happen to me in public. What else went down at ACL, Elijah?

Last year at ACL, I passed out, and I did not want that to happen this year. So I stocked up on water before 21 Savage. I had cans of water in my bag, I had three plastic bottles full of water, I had this extra-large Gatorade bottle. I was ready for this concert. I was not going to pass out during it. Me and some of my friends went to get a really good spot, because 21 Savage is one of our favorites.

We got in the middle and watched some weird, terrible rock show.  My friends were all dying of thirst and heat, but I had 120 fluid ounces of water in my bag. So I’m just sitting there sipping my water, waiting for the concert to start and I feel great.

The whole time coming up to the concert, everyone is getting hotter and hotter and getting more and more angry that they’re waiting. I could tell the anger was building up in people. The second 21 Savage sets foot on the stage, he doesn’t even say anything, and the entire crowd falls over. Everyone is falling on top of one another. I pull my friend out from under someone and I say, Dude, get ready.’

21 Savage at ACL / Photo by Pooneh Ghana

21 Savage starts playing music, and everything immediately goes to shit. People are running into each other. They were throwing punches. It was not a fun little pushing in a mosh pit. It was like all-out war. And no matter you went in that concert, there was a crazy mosh pit going on. I saw some huge dude just totally body some 10-year-old kid.

It was so hot throughout the whole concert. Just insanely hot. People were constantly running out of the concert covering their mouths. People were throwing up on other people’s shoes, there was probably blood and broken bones at some point. It was absurd. I got separated from all my friends I went with immediately. There wasn’t even a chance to see them. I was just trying to stay alive. Even though I had all this water, it was still hot as hell. I kept pouring water on myself, but I was dying.


VIDEO: 21 Savage at Austin City Limits 2019

At the second to last song, 21 Savage says, ‘now I want everyone to open the mosh pits.’ I was like, ‘Oh, shit, what’s about to happen?’  So everything goes even crazier. At this point, I’m so out of energy and so done trying to stay alive, and I’m starting to feel nauseated, so I’m like, OK, I’m done with this concert.

No matter where I go, I can’t get past the mosh pits. There are more and more mosh pits and crazy shit going on. I’m like, I need to be in the air at this point. I see this little open patch of grass finally. There are some girls standing there, and I just all of the sudden vomit all over the ground. It’s all water because I’ve just been waterlogged. The girls looked and me and I said ‘that’s kinda gross, right?’  And I just walked away. I felt great.

While Elijah was doing that, I was having my only redemptive hour of the entire day. I went to see Metric, from Toronto, Canada, one of the six bands in the world I actually like. They delivered a scorching set in front of a medium-sized, but very enthusiastic, crowd. Afterward they took a bow in front of us, looking thrilled. A woman next to me, grinning, said, “they saved the day!”

Emily Haines of Metric shakes the tambourine at ACL / Photo by Jackie Lee Young

I took the bus home feeling great. Then I stripped down to my underwear and watched Mindhunter with my wife while eating half a pint of salted caramel ice cream, a totally appropriate activity for a man my age. Elijah showed up a couple hours later, looking pale and drained.

“Did you have fun?” I asked.

“Dude,” he said. “It was the fucking best.”


VIDEO: Metric live backstage at Austin City Limits 2019 for Austin’s 101X






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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of ten semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. He's written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

2 thoughts on “FESTIVAL REPORT: Austin Shitty Limits

  • October 13, 2019 at 10:23 pm

    I get why the experience wasn’t much fun. At my age (Not to mention bands I know nothing about) I’d have a lousy time too.

    But when it sounds like you have very limited tastes, and you say you like about six bands in the whole world, why the f*** are you even going to a place like ACL and why are you writing for a music blog?

  • October 13, 2019 at 11:30 pm

    I do not typically write for a music blog. I am the editor of RRG’s sister site, Book and Film Globe. And I did this for my son, who, unlike me, hasn’t given up on life and enjoys going to ACL. Maybe I like closer to a dozen bands.


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