AUSTIN – Bring together country, blues, rock and gospel musicians. Add tens of thousands of eager fans. Spice it all up with Texas barbecue and wild sausage tacos. The result? The weekend-long Austin City Limits Music Festival, a party that has Austin making good on its self-proclaimed title “Live Music Capital of the World.” Only in its second year, the festival set for Sept. 19-21 has gotten plenty of notice in music circles. Part of the reason is its partnership with the long-running television show Austin City Limits, a popular music program aired on public television stations nationwide. “With the marriage of Austin City Limits and the festival, it was perfect,” said Charlie Jones, festival producer and principal of Capital Sports & Entertainment. “The word has spread really fast.” The three-day festival boasts more than 130 bands ranging from nationally known acts like R.E.M., Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakam, Nickel Creek, Ben Harper, Steve Earle and Rosanne Cash to up-and-coming musicians and regionally known bands. Making appearances this year are Spoon, The Derailers, Patrice Pike, W.C. Clark, Robert Earl Keen, Liz Phair and Los Lonely Boys. At least 26 bands playing at the festival have performed on Austin City Limits since the television show began in 1975, said Mary Beth Rogers, vice chair of the board at public television station KLRU, which produces the TV show. In its early years, the program was known mostly as a country music showcase. It has since branched out and in its 13 one-hour shows each season offers a variety of “roots” music. “It’s anything that really gets to the heart of American roots, whether it’s country, whether it’s blues, whether it’s jazz,” Rogers said. “That’s really given us a broad latitude in booking acts for the show.” The festival concept was in the planning stages for three years, but it came to fruition last year after Capital Sports & Entertainment united with Austin City Limits in the venture. Leaders of both organizations said it seemed to be just the right fit. As a bonus, Rogers said, the festival helps to satisfy the public’s desire to connect with the television show. The TV studio at the University of Texas seats only 400, and music fans constant lament that tickets for the taping are hard to get. “We saw it as an opportunity, as a gift to people in Austin,” she said. Aside from the musical acts, the event venue _ Zilker Park in the heart of Austin _ is a main attraction. The park is in a part of the city known for its laid-back lifestyle and live bands that play every night at clubs and coffee houses. Like the Austin City Limits show, with its trademark Austin skyline shown on the studio set, the festival scene is highlighted by views of downtown buildings, the Texas Capitol and the University of Texas tower. “It is wonderful to have the real city of Austin backdrop for the music of the festival,” Rogers said. In its inaugural run in September 2002, the festival drew an attendance of 43,000 on its first day, a Saturday, and 35,000 on Sunday. This year the event was expanded to include Friday, and Jones predicts a capacity crowd of 65,000 each day.
To accommodate the growth, more food vendors, music stages and entertainment for children were added. Grammy-nominated country musician Pat Green played last year’s festival and he’s going back for another dose this year. “We had a big crowd, had a lot of fun,” said Green, who lives in Austin and has a huge Texas following. Green views the festival as a chance for fans who may have come to see a particular band to roam around and check out other acts. For old and new fans alike, Green promises his usual high-intensity performance. “I don’t leave too much to doubt,” he said. “I’ll do the work.”