The Evolution of ACL
Examining the transformation of Austin City Limits Festival from 2002 to 2015
A Project By: Ben Slade

Austin City Limits Festival

Austin City Limits Festival was started in 2002 as an extension of the television show. ACL Live is the longest running music program in television history. Started in 1974 by KLRU (a PBS affiliate station) the first episode featured Willie Nelson. The show has since showcased all kinds of artists like B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn and The Foo Fighters. In the early 2000's the city wanted to capitalize on the success of the show. Initially organizers modeled the festival after The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival contained within Zilker Park. Organizers estimated they needed 30,000 people a day to break even and when the first tickets went on sale for only $20 two months before the festival they only sold 700. They thought about scaling back the festival and canceling about half of the artists but instead decided to take the risk. They stood to lose about a million dollars. The risk paid off however, 42,000 people showed up the first day creating lines stretching up to 500 yards to buy the $25 wristbands. ACL was an instant success and attendance nearly doubled in the next two years.

The company behind ACL, C3, was born when Lance Armstrong's agent, the tour manager for Sister 7 and the guy who booked shows at Stubbs were brought together by KLRU to put on a festival that would tap into the brand equity of the television show. Initially the festival was produced by Capitol Sports & Entertainment (CSE) and in 2007 when former live nation executive Charlie Walker joined Charles Attal and Charlie Walker they officially founded C3 Presents. From humble beginnings with ACL Festival C3 quickly grew and now produces 17 festivals all around the world, including Lollapalooza, Wanderlust Festival and Auckland City Limits Music Festival. In 2014 C3 was bought by Live Nation but it is still locally operated in Austin, Texas.


Explore ACL

Explore the major changes at ACL over the years. See how the festival's growth has changed the types of artists that perform, where they come from and the major genres targeted by the festivals organizers.

Yearly Breakdown
Take an in depth look at each year of ACL. View all 14 lineups and maps showing the origin of the artists. Also check out the posters from every year and video recaps.