It’s not always that easy to find your friends in a crowd of 60,000-plus people. Trust me, I have tried to do so — with limited success — for years at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. The main reasons: Our lack of a plan and our inability to get cell phone signals. With everyone trying to dial into limited-capacity networks, signals get jammed and service can be sporadic at best.
Back in the old days, meaning when I was a kid, the best way to find someone was to have a plan. At an amusement park, for example, my dad would say something like, “If we become separated, everyone meet in front of the fountain near the front ticket booth.” Or we’d all just agree to return to the last spot we were together. Good plans didn’t always work; when I was even younger, “Would Mrs. Henderson please come to the customer service counter to claim her daughter?” was heard over the loud speaker at Kmart on more than one occasion.
If you’d rather rely on modern technology to help you find your fellow music fans, family and friends at ACL 2011, here are some of your options:
As my husband would say, you can send a ‘tweety’ to let people know where to find you. You can do it directly from the Official ACL Festival App or the old fashioned way (directly through Twitter's site). You can also follow the ACL Twitter chatter from the App by hitting the ‘experience’ tab (by the way — the App is full-service, free and very useful).
Text (or old fashioned calling, if you must):
I’m more a fan of texting than some other methods, just because it’s simple, doesn’t require hearing over very loud music and I get a little vibration every time I get one!
Again, you can use Facebook to post status updates and/or messages directly from the ACL App. Just make sure you tell your friends to log on from time to time throughout the weekend.
If you're like me and your preferred method of communication is texting (I’ve also heard it’s easier to get a text out than a phone call when the wireless towers are really jammed), you can send text messages to groups of people using GroupMe.
Once you create a group, you are given a new phone number that you can text or call. If you send a text to that number, your text will go to everyone in the group you created. You can also call the number to initiate a conference conversation. GroupMe is free, but the text messages you send or calls you make count against your wireless plan. You can find GroupMe within the ACL App. Just go to the group text icon to get more information about how to set it up.
If you want something that falls between trusting fate and using a cell phone to connect during ACL, you could also give two-way radios (a.k.a walkie-talkies) a whirl. I’ve seen a few families (usually lead by overzealous moms wanting to keep tabs on their kids) using two-way radios at ACLs past. They seemed to work for them, but I do wonder how effective they are during the louder guitar solos. They don’t rely on the towers that cell phones do, but you may also have some other issues with them, including range and complications if someone else is trying to use the same frequency.
In case technology fails, having a backup plan ain’t a bad idea. Some people use flags to help others find them; if you don’t mind carrying around a 15-foot long pole all weekend, that’s an option. I actually used other people’s flags last year to help my friends find me. I’d park it by someone with a flag and tell my friends which one I was near so they could track me down from a distance. It worked for me, and I didn’t have to be the poor schmuck carrying it around all day.
Another strategy I’ve observed is having an anchor. I don’t mean a literal piece of metal, but a person who doesn’t mind staying in one place that everyone else can come back to to check in, have a rest or drop some things off. Most often, this is a 'grandmotherly' figure, a parent or someone who’d rather just sit near the same stage all day drinking beer rather than try to battle the crowds. You will find many of these people parked under the big tree near the main gates. If you get a spot under this tree, you’ve scored yourself some prime real estate and a central command post.
So in closing, have a plan, use a phone or bring a flag. Remember to keep your anchorperson well watered and fed, and if you do get separated from your friends and family, consider it an opportunity to make a musical connection with a new friend. It doesn’t even require eye contact — singing along or swaying in time to the same song will suffice. And if you are looking for me during ACL, I’ll be the one sitting beside the dude carrying around the flag with the green smiley face on it all weekend. Please don’t forget to bring me a beer!
More on the ACL App:
If you don’t want to be monkeying around with a bunch of different applications, you can download the free ACL App to your phone and use it to send texts, emails, tweets, update your Facebook status, pinpoint your location within the park and share your custom schedule with Facebook friends. The schedule can be created right on your phone.
New to the App this year is an interactive map that not only shows you where you can find everything from WiFi hotspots to misting stations, it also allows you to drop a pin in the map to indicate your current location and share it with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, email or text.