Known for live music, tacos, and maddening traffic, Austin, Texas has long been an incubator of sounds that run all over the sonic spectrum. With ample green space, temperate climates, and a serious party mentality, it's no wonder the Little Big City has become such a music festival mecca and testing ground for new events.
The last five years alone have seen some major changes in the Austin festival scene. Beloved festivals have crossed the rock-n-roll-rainbow bridge, new ones have sprung up, and others have evolved, re-configuring themselves into events that put more money into the city's smaller venues and bars. Even in all the ebb and flow of Festival City, U.S.A., several festivals have strengthened their hold on this incredibly rich music scene.
From the pinnacle of mainstream pop to the gods of the underground, from hip-hop's illest to Americana's crunchiest, Austin has a place for everyone. And if not, we'll make room. Here are five Austin-based music fests we think best represent the city's increasingly diverse music scene. — Taylor Wallace
Austin City Limits
The pilot episode of Austin City Limits aired on March 22, 1975 with a talented Texas songwriter named Willie Nelson.
Since then, the show has won the National Medal of the Arts, a Peabody Award and become the longest running music series in American Television history in its 45 years. And in 2002, it inspired a festival of the same name which has since expanded into a two-weekend long event that brings approximately 450,000 people into Austin each year.
In its early years, the original show focused on Texas singer/songwriters, country and folk performers, and instrument specialists, but the festival has attracted musicians from every corner of the musical world (The most recent ACL's headliners were Travis Scott, Metallica, and Paul McCartney). ACL has grown into an internationally-recognized event, but it still doesn't forget it's roots. There's always a healthy amount of Texas artists, and much of the extra-musical fun and food is from local businesses.
Dive into the ACL experience with tons of festival photos, artist portraits and exclusive backstage performances captured by the incredible KUTX multimedia team. This year's festival runs from Oct. 4-6 and Oct. 11-13, 2019. — Ryan Wen
Named after the Round Rock, Texas park where it started in 1988, Old Settler's has turned out to be a fairly fitting name. Famous for a vibrant campground atmosphere and performances from big names in traditional and Americana music, Old Settler's left its long-term home at Camp Ben McCullough in Dripping Springs a couple of years ago for new festival grounds in Tilmon, Texas. Despite the recent move, festival organizers continue to recruit bigger and bigger names — Brandi Carlile and Jason Isbell headlined this year — all while maintaining the fun, family-friendly campground vibe that makes it such a unique festival.
We tried to capture some of that quirky campground experience by setting up a small studio backstage and recording some of our favorites from the festival. Imagine these performers gathering around a campfire and swapping songs and you'll get a pretty good idea why people keep coming back year after year. Next year's festival runs from Apr. 16-19, 2020. — Peter Babb
In the home of SXSW, and the Live Music Capital of the World, you'd expect events like music festivals would be a common thing, and they are. With hip-hop being the number one genre in the music industry, you'd think Austin would be home to one of the premier hip-hop festivals around. And it is. The once Austin startup music promotion company Scoremore took things a step further in 2013 when they held the first ever JMBYLA, in Houston, Dallas, and, of course, Austin.
Since 2013, JMBYLA has grown into one of the premier rap festivals to date. Hosting some of the hottest artists out every year, from Chance The Rapper, Rae Sremmurd, Future, DaBaby, Lil Wayne, J. Cole and so many more. Scoremore and JMBYLA has kept their finger on pulse of today's rap scene showcasing some of today's rising artists like Sheck Wes, Gunna, Houston's Maxo Kream, and Austin's very own WhooKilledKenny.
In the last six years, the festival has spanned across four cities in Texas, with each year being bigger than the last. JMBYLA is the springboard festival for Scoremore to do more festivals like Mala Luna, Astroworld, and Dreamville Fest. It's clear that JMBYLA is still Scoremore's crown jewel in it all and continues to be the go-to festival in Austin as well as Texas. The 2020 festival dates will be announced later this year. — Aaron "Fresh" Knight
At this point, it's probably easier to list everything the annual SXSW Conference & Festival doesn't cover. Since the first music conference took over a few downtown hotel lobbies in 1987, SXSW has added Film, Interactive, Environmental, Education, Comedy, and Gaming components to create one of the largest entertainment and industry events in the world.
A quick scan of this year's lineup shows just how international the music festival has become. 2019 saw some 60+ countries represented among the 2,000-plus official performers. And the genres represented are just as diverse.
In an effort to capture some of the amazing talent in our own backyard we invited a handful of artists to KUTX multimedia producer Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon's East Austin home to perform stripped-down sets for our cameras. Over the course of three days, we recorded more than 20 bands from Cuba, Taiwan, Canada and everywhere in between. Enjoy this video playlist of everyone that paid us a visit during the 2019 SXSW Music Festival! Next year's festival runs from Mar. 16-22, 2020. — Peter Babb
Named to honor the patron saints of Austin Psychedelic rock, 13th Floor Elevators, Levitation was originally called something more straightforward: Austin Psych Fest. Since its beginning in 2008, Levitation has situated itself in a myriad of locations, from a Barn to a decommissioned power plant, and finally settling on what was meant to be their forever home at a ranch located on the Colorado River.
In hindsight, the final festival at Carson Creek Ranch had a serendipitously romantic silver lining as it featured the first performance by 13th Floor Elevators in 45 years, but the Ranch proved to be a doomed location nonetheless. Outdoor festivals are at the whims of weather, and mother nature seemed to have a personal vendetta against Levitation. Even the final festival looked like Woodstock '99 — minus the trash fires. Severe weather canceled the 2016 event at the last minute, but Austin rallied and every space with a stage booked the stranded musicians on a days notice and saved the festival.
Levitation ended up a befitting rebrand as it rose from the ashes of 2016's events and has grown beyond Austin's city limits. Now, there's Levitation in France but it still calls Austin home. This year's festival runs from Nov. 7-10, 2019. — Ryan Wen