AUSTIN (KXAN) — After being cancelled last year due to COVID-19, Austin City Limits Music Festival is officially back in 2021. Tickets for the event sold out in record time as music-goers scrambled to get back to live shows.

KXAN’s Grace Reader went to the festival on day one of weekend one, here’s what she saw that worked and didn’t.

Shuttle struggles

If this is a good, bad and ugly list, riding the shuttle from Republic Square to ACL was the ugly. After getting in line at Republic Square around 2:15 Friday afternoon, I waited for a shuttle until roughly 4:30, arriving at the park closer to 5:00.

It would have taken less time to walk, by about an hour and a half.

“I guess this year, the line got backed up. I guess there’s not as many shuttles, or they’re just not coming as often,” Seth Dunnam, who was waiting behind me in line, told me. “It’s honestly the easiest way to get in, but this time around, I guess not.”

Dunnam has ridden the shuttle to ACL years prior and says it usually streamlines the process for getting through the gates because it drops you off close to the entrance and you don’t need to stand in line to be re-checked when you get there. That was not the case for 2021.

CapMetro said they aren’t running those shuttles this year, as they have in the past. They recommended taking the 3, 4, 30 and 803 routes instead. Austin City Limits tweeted that they had “limited shuttle bus availability” and also recommended taking other forms of transportation.

They sent that tweet late Friday night after thousands of people had already stood in line to try and catch that shuttle.

COVID-19 protocols in place…in theory

On the shuttle to ACL, every single person on the bus wore a mask, as is required, but once we got to the gates that was not the case.

Packed like sardines to get into the festival, some people chose to wear masks but most didn’t.

Once you get into the park, there’s plenty of space to spread out and remain distanced from people, if you choose to do so, but in front of the stages, in lines to get drinks and food and in the shaded areas where people were working to stay out of the heat, there was hardly a mask in sight.

Austin City Limits
Fans pack in near the Miller Lite stage at Austin City Limits (KXAN photo/Grace Reader)

“It does feel safe in the sense of like they’re requiring vaccination cards, or like a negative COVID test,” Nahom Fissaha who was at ACL Friday to see Tyler, the Creator, told me.

“I wish they were using Clear so that we could have quick and rapid access in,” one of his friends, Sally Todd, chimed in. “Because then you don’t have to be in a crowd waiting to get in.”

Still, some people reported not having to show their vaccination card or negative test at all to get into ACL. I was asked to show my vaccine card to get to the shuttle, but was not asked to show it at the west gates of the festival.

Only a little muddy, which was impressive

Digital reporter Grace Reader's boots after day one of ACL
Digital reporter Grace Reader’s boots after day one of ACL (KXAN photo/Grace Reader)

Despite an inch of rain coming down Thursday night into Friday morning, creating puddles we could see from our Austonian camera, the grounds at ACL Friday night were only a little muddy.

Of course, that came at the expense of several bands like Darkbird, an Austin band, who had their sets scrapped when gates opening was delayed from noon to 3 p.m.

Crews appeared to have put mulch down in places where the ground had turned to mud, making it much easier to walk on and much less likely to get worse as people walked through it.

Even in front of the stages where there was a significant number of people, the ground was surprisingly dry and well taken care of.

Happy to be here

Even as I stood in line waiting for a shuttle at Republic Square, in the heat, in rubber rain boots, it was hard to be too impatient. The atmosphere was contagious.

“Regardless of this experience (waiting hours for a shuttle), last time I came it was definitely a load of fun so I wouldn’t trade this for anything,” Dunnam told me. He was with his mom, Diana, who was going to her first ever ACL.

Even Miley Cyrus talked quite a bit during her set about how great it was to be back in front of crowds. She talked about how hard COVID-19 was on the music industry and on people who were stuck at home.

That was the sentiment of everyone I talked to, sure there were hiccups, but the show goes on. Many were just excited to see a return to watching music live, in-person and around people.

“We’re so happy to be here,” Todd said.