ACL Festival Parent Survival Guide

Raquel is a homeschooler, work-at-home mom and all around crafty broad. She has blogged about her adventures in Austin since moving here in 2005 and loves exploring Austin fun with her 5-year-old son. Find her at

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If you are a parent, and you scored tickets to the Austin City Limits Festival, be cool and take your kids. It's free for kids 10 and under and, with Austin Kiddie Limits tucked away in the corner, it really is a separate little festival just for them. Festival organizers have gone out of their way to make this festival fun for families, so take advantage of it!

When it comes to whole family enjoyment at the festival, here is our breakdown of how to share the time. A 3-day pass translates into one morning/afternoon at Austin Kiddie Limits, one whole day split between Austin Kiddie Limits and the ACL stages, and one afternoon/evening for adults only. That way the whole family gets a fair amount of fun and entertainment as well as a fresh crop of crowd pleasing stories to tell around the water-cooler or on the playground about that one time at ACL fest...

A successful ACL Festival weekend with kids is impossible without serious planning. My tips are proven effective whether yours are factory model kids or kids tricked out with few bonus features including a kinetically charged engine, slow response breaks and a highly sensitive anti-food system. The festival has done it's part by being as family friendly as possible. Here are a few awesome tips to help you do your part by having a kick-ass time.

What To Pack

  1. Empty reusable plastic water bottles (or two factory sealed ones). Free water refilling stations are all around the park. Let your kids hold the bottle while volunteers fill 'em up--never a dull, dehydrated moment at ACL. I have seen young people with camel-backs on, but would bet money that it wasn't water they were sipping through those wrap-around straws.
  2. MomGyver (or DadGyver) Travel-size Kit.
    Stuff the following items into a gallon-sized zip lock bag and you're ready for anything:
    - Chewing gum
    - First Aid kit
    - Sunscreen
    - Antibacterial wipes
    - Insect repellant wipes
    - Cortizone
    - Kleenex
    - DIY porta potty for boys (see #10) 
  3. Your kid's favorite book. What? Yep. The paper kind. Mainly if you plan to split your time between Kiddie Limits and the main stages. All the sights, sounds and smells at the festival can be overwhelming to a normal adult human. By the time we're adults, we learn how to cope with all the stimulation overload by smoking, drinking, becoming bitchy, or taking ourselves home. Kids, on the other hand will either go to sleep or straight-up melt down and make everyone miserable. Books calm their brains in ways Angry Birds does not. I carry an illustrated book of Hot Wheels with feature descriptions with me everywhere. Comic books and graphic novels are awesome choices as well.
  4. Small camera and extra memory card just in case. Cameras with detachable lenses are banned, so leave your fancy DSLR at home. You don't want to depend on your cell phone because you don't want to run out of charge. Use cells for Instagram, but not for all your photos. I learned first hand that event volunteers are very nice young people who are happy to let you use their cell phone to call your husband to work out logistics within the park, but don't put yourself in that position.
  5. Handheld mister fan. ACL Festival happens in October, which is still summertime-hot in Austin. Mister fans are great for a bit of distracting amusement for the kiddos and for keeping cool.
  6. Festival bag. Limit your load to one small backpack (large backpacks are prohibited) or cross-body bag big enough to hold all the items listed above with room leftover for any items you might pick up at the festival. 
  7. Sun hats. There is no shortage of tented areas in Austin Kiddie Limits, but if you plan to make the rounds to the stages with your kids, sun hats are just a good idea.
  8. Stroller. If you have a kid under the age of 7, consider a stroller. You know your kid. If you're one of those lucky parents who has a child who generally goes with the flow and never complains, you might survive without a stroller. If your 5 year old is anything like mine and has mastered the fine art of whining and trying to convince you that his legs are about to fall off and that he is parched beyond re-hydration and seconds away from melting from the direct sunlight,  you might be glad you have a stroller to banish him to. Our BOB stroller holds kids up to 70lbs, is narrow enough to navigate crowds and, with the top cover down, is an ideal place for a quick nap. One time we stayed at the festival until night to see Stevie Wonder's closing performance and we were all glad I brought that stroller. 
  9. A blanket. Use it to sit on. Have a picnic. Use it to cover the stroller at nap time. Use it for time-out. You might even use it as a pee tent (see #10). A blanket at a festival is never a bad idea. 
  10. DIY porta potty. For parents of big boys. Stuff a gallon-sized zip lock bag full of Bounty paper towels. Put the stuffed zip lock bag into a plastic grocery bag. Bounty paper towels are the most absorbent and when you get stuck outside of Austin Kiddie Limits and are too far away from the porta potties, you'll be glad you have your own. Find an off-the-path spot, use the blanket and yourself as a privacy screen while he does his business in the bag. Zip the bag, tie it up in the grocery bag and find the nearest trash can to discard it. If anyone gives you a bad eye, screw them. One time...well two times...last year, the only thing that saved my son from wetting himself in line outside The Louvre in Paris and in the middle of The Prado in Madrid was an empty water bottle. The first time we had fortunate proximity to litter. The second time, we had unlucky proximity to the public restrooms. Both times, we did not have a blanket, and I didn't give rat booty if anybody had a problem with it. At ACL festival, you want your empty water bottles for actual water, so trust me on the DIY porta potty. You're welcome.
Bonus Things--If your kid has allergies: Letter from doctor, list of allergies, prescription (bonus if on EpiPen box), Benadryl and snacks. At ACL, outside food is prohibited, but event staff aren't heartless. You've spent at least $225 to attend ACL and they get that you're not trying to scam them to bring $10 worth of snacks in for your kid. ACL Festival provides a great list of food vendors and their event menus for the weekend, so study the offerings so you have an idea of what you can actually buy there. It helps to minimize how much food you have to bring yourself, particularly if you plan to be there through a couple of mealtimes.

Want to see pics from our first time at the festival in 2001? Click HERE.

There you have it. Are any of your must-haves missing from the list?

Enjoy the festival!

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