AUSTIN (KXAN) — Friday marks two weeks until the scheduled start of Austin City Limits Music Festival, but its COVID-19 safety requirements remain largely unclear. The event hasn’t released details on whether masks will be required, nor do ACL’s current COVID-19 rules match the ones required by the Austin Center for Events, which is in charge of permitting the event.

Recently, the city denied the permit for the 40th annual Pecan Street Festival, which was scheduled for Sept. 18-19. Bat Fest 2021 last month was also canceled for the same reason. A permit has not yet been approved for ACL, though a spokesperson for the Austin Center for Events says that’s common practice — they didn’t approve the permit for ACL in 2019 until Sept. 26.

As of right now, ACL, which draws swarms of people from all over the country to gather in our Zilker Park, appears to be pressing forward. On Thursday ACL sent an email saying “wristbands shipping this week!” Three-day passes for both weekends of ACL sold out in a record-breaking three hours in May.

People who have tickets are now wondering what COVID-19 safety protocols will look like, and some are even calling for the event to be pushed back or canceled altogether.

Alicia Flores, a Texas mom of two immunocompromised kids under the age of 12, is one of those people.

Flores says she felt comfortable buying tickets in May, but as the delta variant hit, and she experienced her son being turned away from a local hospital because they were full, Flores and her husband decided they would not being attending ACL.

Flores has reached out to ACL and other vendors to try and get her $9,000 worth of tickets forwarded to next year or get a refund but hasn’t gotten anywhere. She feels the same way about the festival’s communication on COVID protocols, which have been a factor in her decision.

“Festival-goers have a lot of questions that are going unanswered, and so that’s really, really concerning and surprising that ACL is continuing to post about after shows and after parties and yet not answering really serious questions that we have and concerns,” she said.

Flores also says so many people are selling tickets, she’s been unable to find someone to buy hers.

Caleb Wiesenhutter at concert
Caleb Wiesenhutter at an AEW show in Austin in July (Photo courtesy: Caleb Wiesenhutter)

Meanwhile, Caleb Wiesenhutter, a 22-year-old concert regular, is also waiting to hear what the protocols will be, because if wearing a mask is required, he is prepared to sell his wristbands.

He has tickets for the first weekend of ACL, specifically with the hopes of seeing Billie Eilish or George Strait, who are among his favorites.

Just like Flores, he is frustrated with the lack of communication about protocols as well.

“It worries me that two weeks prior to the festival we have no updates, and that policies were changed,” he said. “I don’t mind at all that they’re requiring the negative test, proof of vaccination, but if masks are required I’d be extremely worried about people passing out in the large crowds.”

Wiesenhutter says he would rather the festival be delayed than for the organizers to require face coverings. He says he’s worried if a mask requirement is announced, he will struggle to sell his tickets.

“I’ve already looked into selling my ticket as a precaution if masks do end up being required. Would prefer the festival to be delayed if they feel it would be unsafe to have it without having the mask requirements.”

-Caleb Wiesenhutter

Austin City Limits has a health policy posted on its website, which says policies are subject to change “in accordance with state and local guidelines and changing circumstances.”

It also says procedures will be updated as necessary as we get closer to Oct. 1. Organizers have been updating that guidance on their ACL Festival website or social media accounts.

That city recently updated its special events criteria at the start of the month to add the following to existing event rules:

  • Screening at event entrances by requiring in-person attendees to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours prior to the event. Austin Public Health will accept a plan that requires attendees to show a negative test 72 hours before the 1st day of the festival weekend.
  • Developing strategies for maintaining at least six feet of social distancing. 
  • Including “mask zones” in outdoor event areas where social distancing is not possible.

Right now, ACL guidance allows guests to skip the testing by showing up with a vaccine card. That doesn’t match with the city’s criteria.

KXAN has reached out to ACL several times asking about both the permit process and whether guidance surrounding masks and testing will change, to match the city’s guidance. We have not heard back as of the writing of this article but will provide updates as we get them.