Festivals

ACL Music Festival 2014 Preview: Double Weekends, Cashless Wristbands and a Golden Porta Potty

Photos: Austin City Limits 2012

A general view of atmosphere as seen during during day one of the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park on October 12, 2012 in Austin, Texas.

When the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Texas expanded to two consecutive weekends in October 2013, Austin-based producer C3 Presents proved that Coachella wasn’t the only North American festival that could sell out back-to-back weekends with all-star lineups.

“We’ve had ACL festival pretty zipped up for a while,” Lindsay Hoffman, festival marketing manager at C3, tells Billboard. “So expanding to the two weekends was almost a matter of, ‘Oh my God, can we do this twice?’”

ACL 2013 Highlights

C3’s Hoffman says that all of he general admission passes to this year’s ACL Music Festival are now sold out, with only a handful VIP, platinum and travel packages available for purchase. She says the 2014 event will draw 450,000 people over six days (about 75,000 per day).

Billboard caught up with Hoffman in the days leading up to the ACL Music Festival to discuss the weather forecast for this year’s event, the story behind the Golden Porta Potty, why some artists aren’t playing both weekends, and much more.

Billboard: Last year was the first time ACL Music Festival expanded to two weekends. Do you feel that each weekend had its own identity or were their vibes pretty similar?

Lindsay Hoffman: Weekend two felt a little more mellow than weekend one. Weekend two getting so rainy on Saturday and being rained-out Sunday definitely set the tone for that, which hopefully will not happen this year.

Weather is always a major concern for festival producers. How’s the forecast looking for this year’s ACL?

It looks like weather is going to be really good. I knock on wood. We’ve had so many years of ACL where it’s been in the 100s or rainy. This year looks like it will be in the 80s and probably sink down a little bit at night. So looking from here, it’s probably going to be one of the best ACL weather situations we’ve had.

After announcing the Sunday cancellation in 2013, C3 promptly gave ticket-holders instructions on how to get refunds. Did it run as smoothly as expected or were there things that could’ve been done differently?

Looking back, everybody did the right thing. It was a very heartbreaking moment, because you work all year around to execute this festival. On the other hand, it was really inspiring to see how some of the bands got out and played shows around town. I don’t know if that would happen everywhere, because Austin is pretty spectacular like that. It sort of reinforced the spirit of the festival.

The first ACL Music Festival launched in 2002. Are there any new features this year that long-time ACL festivalgoers should be on the lookout for?

We’ve always had a great food scene at ACL and brought in local chefs to reinvent festival food. This year, one of our Austin Eats booths is being taken over by the Austin Food & Wine Festival doing a chef showcase. So we’re going to have a different great chef in the region hosting that booth every single day. The livestream is going to be really great this year, too. We’ve partnered with Red Bull to livestream the second weekend. There are some to-be-announced special editions to that -- different artist premiers and things like that. We’re also bringing back the Barton Springs Beer Hall, which we introduced last year. It’s a great chill space at the festival. They have 16 different special drafts and there are big screen TVs so people can watch the game. It’s Texas and people don’t want to be too far from their football.

Did the deadly crash at South by Southwest in Austin earlier this year have any impact on the way C3 and city officials view security at ACL?

I would say they’re two very separate things. But we work year around on our planning and we always take whatever the current events are into consideration. That’s such a different animal -- South by Southwest takes over the entire downtown area, whereas ACL is just in Zilker Park.

Cashless wristbands are becoming a trend at music festivals. C3 offered them at Lollapalooza in August and they’re being pushed again at ACL. What’s the benefit?

C3 tried it out at Lollapalooza and it was really successful, in terms of the fan experience. It’s really great because they can tap and go. It makes the lines move faster and fans get receipts emailed directly so they can keep track of their spending directly at the festival. On the production end, it really streamlines things and it’s less cash on site. We hear about probably 50 things per year about things that are launching, but their ideas aren’t fully baked or able to execute on the level of a Lollapalooza or ACL. So it’s exciting when there’s a new technology we can actually integrate and will work and be a benefit for the fans.

ACL has quite a few big sponsors attached, including Honda, Miller Lite and Samsung Galaxy. How has brand involvement at music festivals changed in recent years?

Brands want to get more out of the experience. We really try to make sure all the different sponsors are participating in the fan experience so it’s not just a name on a stage or a booth where they’re trying to sell their product. They’re doing some sort of activation or activity that gives people more to do on site and adds to the experience, rather than just being a marketing platform.

There are a handful of artists on this year’s ACL lineup that are only playing one weekend of the festival. Lorde, for example, is only appearing during the second weekend. What’s the reason behind that?

We have a beautiful Golden Porta Potty for some of our winners that’s all souped-up with air conditioning and a television. We did [the contest] in tandem with when we released single-day tickets. You had a chance to win passes and then one-day access for 10 of your friends. There are six different winners sharing this one very special facility. We had a lot of fun with it. Our creative and ticketing teams made special wristbands. I would not be surprised if you see some interviews in the Golden Porta Potty this year.