One set stood out from the rest on Saturday (Oct. 5) during the first weekend of the 2019 Austin City Limits Music Festival, and that was largely thanks to the hundreds of young girls watching Billie Eilish from the shoulders of their chaperones.
The “Bad Guy” singer drew the biggest crowd the Honda Stage has seen yet in Austin’s Zilker Park, with tens of thousands of people — many of them fans who can’t buy a ticket to a PG-13 movie — cheering her on as she vaulted herself into the air and contorted her body into backbends. This was the first time Sabine, 10, got to see Eilish live, and she was adamant that she and her parents hit the merch tent the second they got on site on Friday (Oct. 5) so that she could cop a T-shirt from her favorite artist before they sold out. She and her 13-year-old sister introduced their parents to Eilish’s music, and their mom was blown away by the pop star’s writing chops.
“First of all, they can’t believe she’s 17,” says Maria Bergh, Sabine’s mom. “She’s a role model. You know, they listen to some music, and I’m like, ‘This is trash.’ Every other word is the f bomb, and that’s just absolutely lazy. When they first introduced us to Billie, they said, ‘She’s only 15! She wrote this song for her dance teacher! And then she played it, and she got famous on YouTube.’ [My husband] is seriously into indie music, and he was instantly taken over. We were both like, ‘We can’t write this off, this girl is talented.'”
Sabine wanted to get front and center to see her idol, but the massive crowd that had started to swell pushed the family back a ways. “We got here an hour early and we started out closer, and I went to go get a drink and came back, and I was like, what happened?!” says Bergh. “We had gotten swarmed. I was like, we have to move, so we moved further back. We sat down and I promptly got thrown up on by a drunk guy, not joking, on my foot. So it was actually a great lesson, because I got to tell my girls, ‘This is why, if you’re this close, this is what you’re exposing yourself to.’ They were like, ‘Okay, we can move back!’ It was like the universe was like, ‘I’m going to give you something so y’all can move back to somewhere comfortable.’ They really wanted to be way up closer, but look how little they are!”
Vomit aside, Sabine’s parents are big fans of ACL’s family-friendly initiatives: in addition to the Austin Kiddie Limits stage and its own kid-oriented music, children 10 and under get in free and a Tag-a-Kid RFID wristband program is in place to help if a child wanders off and gets lost. There’s an entrance for families that facilitates a speedy entry as well.
Megan Little and Liana Gonzales also got a crash-course in bringing their young daughters into a serious festival crowd. Little’s daughter, Stella, and Gonzales’, Mia, attend a performing arts-focused school in Austin, and they — along with a group of their friends — were bubbling over with excitement shortly following Eilish’s set. Many of the girls were seeing Eilish for the first time, or attending the festival for the first time as well. (Amelia, 10, is an ACL veteran at this point: her mom brought her to her first festival when she was merely two weeks old in 2008, making this her twelfth go at Zilker Park.) Like Sabine, Stella, Mia, Julep, Amelia and their friends all wanted to get as close to the front of the stage as possible, which proved a bit intense when Eilish encouraged the formation of some swirling mosh pits early on in her set.
“We were right up front, so they would do pits, and everyone would back up, and all of a sudden, the crowd would rush, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, my kid!'” says Gonzales. “At the end, it was the same thing: she was giving hugs, and everyone would rush the stage, and I was like, ‘My baby!’”
“You instinctively go a bit Mama Bear when you’re walking through the crowds, but it just seems that they’re there, and they know, and they stick with you,” says Little. (She technically brought Stella to her first ACL before she was even born, as she was pregnant with her daughter one year at the festival.) “You just have to be vigilant about looking behind you or in front of you and making sure that they’re next to you. I think they’re doing great, and they enjoy it.”
The moment that Eilish started embracing her fans was during the slow and soothing “Ocean Eyes,” and that song is a favorite of Sabine’s, and Mia’s, too.
“I like her because she became famous when she was like, my age,” says Mia. “I think that’s incredible… I used to not like her, actually, because I only heard ‘Bury Your Friend.’ And then I listened to ‘Ocean Eyes,’ and I was like, ‘Actually, I like her now.'”
The girls are all unanimous in giving Eilish a solid 10 on a 1-10 scale based on her ACL set — except for Stella, who loved the show, but docks a point on a technicality due to height constraints. “It would be a 9 — [a 10] if we could see more!”