Story by Brent King and Lene Saint-Orens. Photos by Tor Hyams/Austin Kiddie Limits
For The Live Music Capital of the World, nothing’s bigger than the three-day musical feast served up by the Austin City Limits Festival. More than 60,000 wristband-clad people descend daily on Zilker Park carrying in their arms blankets, hats, sunscreen, and sometimes children.
It’s a wonder-world of entertainment, an amusement park for your ears, but is it really a place to bring children? In a word, yes. Thanks to Tor Hyams, Sarah George, and their team.
Tor Hyams is an entertainment veteran, having written and performed his own music, produced musical acts, and composed scores for both film and television. He’s also a father, and it was this part of his life that changed ACL.
Tor knew that parents his age weren’t ready to trade in a rocking festival for a rocking chair, but there wasn’t an easy way for them to go and enjoy the time with their children. That’s when he conceived of the idea of a having a stage just for families, and Austin Kiddie Limits was born.
What began in 2003 for some 700 people is now in it’s 9th year and draws several thousand fans dancing to the sounds reverberating from the AKL stage. Each year Tor chooses a theme for the music; this year it’s “Roots Music”(back to basics). Although the target audience is between the ages of 4 and 8, the music deftly fills the generational gap. Acts include the Verve Pipe, Elizabeth Mitchell, the Jellydots, Frances England, Okee Dokee Brothers, Tom Freund, the School of Rock All-Stars, and more, including special surprise guests.
Austin Kiddie Limits is more than just jumping, dancing and moving to the beat with the kiddos. Tor and his co-producer Sarah George want the kids to feel a part of being in a rock-and-roll universe. They’ve created a whole world of interactive family entertainment. Essentially it’s a venue designed for families tohave a good time while participating in workshops and playing together. They can learn to write songs in the School of Rock lyric workshop, or rap and scratch with the Q Brothers in the hip-hop workshop. Grab a prop and rock out in the Rock Star Video Karaoke or make some noise in one of Michael Macionetti’s workshops in the Drum Zone.
Families can take a breather and create their own Rockin’ Magnet with Café Monet’s Paint Your Pottery and Mosaic Studio or get a new punk hair color and a temporary tattoo. Then it’s back to the music with the African Drum and Dance workshop or they can take a stroll down to H.E.B’s Zilker Beach where the sandcastle possibilities are limited only by the outer reaches of the imagination. There’s also has the H.E.B snack shack Growing Healthy Texans, where you can get a healthy snack and drink, or stop by Alex’s Lemonade, which is fundraising for childhood cancer research.
Tor and his staff believe strongly in organic sustainability and walk the walk by avoiding bottled water as much as possible and offering numerous recycling bins. Tor is hoping to get a Green Stage built like those by Sustainable Waves, and he hopes to help ACL become the greenest festival in the country.
Along with all the fun there are family restrooms located in the AKL area and a Tag-A-Kid station where the little ones get a bracelet with their parents phone number on it in case they get lost. With numerous police and EMS staff on hand, AKL is one of the safest place in town that weekend; in fact there hasn’t been one accident since AKL began all those years ago.
It’s an impressive world that he’s created, and one that the music-loving people of Austin certainly needed. Although Tor is amazed by how AKL has grown, for him personally, the greatest satisfaction is seeing the sharing that takes place between parents and the children. That’s what Austin Kiddie Limits is all about.