As the festival director of Austin City Limits Music Festival, Lindsey Sokol is a show of force, dedicating her time, her career and her passion to ensuring this city’s most popular and successful live-music event is the experience of a lifetime – every time.
Lindsey Sokol may be the hardest-working woman in Austin. But you’ve probably never heard of her. Maybe that’s because she’s an extraordinarily private person. Maybe it’s because if you don’t hang at her regular creature-comfort haunts, you’re not likely to bump into her. Maybe it’s because she spends so many hours on the job that she doesn’t have much time to casually schmooze at happy hours and networking events. Maybe you don’t know Lindsey Sokol, but you definitely know her passion project, the massive annual homegrown affair that sends countless locals into a frenzy at a mere mention: the Austin City Limits Music Festival.
SETTING THE STAGE
A true champion of the Austin music scene, Sokol has been long involved in an impressive lineup of local music-focused organizations, working as a commissioner for the Austin Music Commission and as a founding director of Austin Music People, even getting her start in the festival industry as a part-timer for the first-ever Latino-music-centric Pachanga Fest the summer after her freshman year in college.
But it’s her work with C3 Presents, the formidable concert-promotion, event-production and artist-management outfit, that has arguably made the most impact in the Live Music Capital of the World. For the past 12 years, Sokol has worked her way up the C3 Presents corporate ladder, one rung at a time, from college intern to becoming the festival director of the Austin City Limits Music Festival by the age of 27. It was a career trajectory she hadn’t planned or even known was attainable, but one she has wholeheartedly embraced with unparalleled exuberance.
Sokol grew up in Plano, Texas, just north of Dallas, the youngest of three children. While she didn’t harbor the types of aspirations many young girls do, she has nevertheless always had an abundance of ambition.
“There was no aha moment for me,” Sokol says. “There was no kind of story of that one concert that I went to [that made me want a career in music]. That wasn’t there for me. I never had that.”
What Sokol did have were older siblings who were drawn to the capital city and often brought their little sister along on their excursions, inviting her to visit when they attended the University of Texas and perhaps unknowingly encouraging what would become Sokol’s enduring love affair with Austin.
Sokol eventually became a Longhorn herself, settling into a public-relations major, but within a year, she realized the PR industry wasn’t for her. She later added an international-business minor, which enabled her to study abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. But concerned about completing her degree within four years, she stayed the PR course.
She got her chance to prove her mettle when Elaine Garza, the founder and principal of Austin PR firm Giant Noise, made a presentation about entertainment PR during one of Sokol’s classes. After the class, Sokol approached Garza, saying she’d like to get involved in the company any way she could.
“The next thing you know,” Sokol says, “I was working that summer for Giant Noise.”
Sokol helped out with the company’s representation of the first Pachanga Fest, getting involved with everything from artist relations to ticketing.
“She’s so smart,” Garza says. “One of the greatest things about her is nothing ruffles her. That first Pachanga Fest was hard. … But she was up for absolutely anything. Her attitude was just unbelievable.”
By that fall, in 2008, Sokol applied for and landed an internship at C3 Presents.
“I think, in a weird way, I almost idolized so many things here in Austin,” she says. “I remember ACL being one of those things. It was such a big to-do. And next think you know, here I am, this young girl in college, working for this company that puts on ACL, and I was a little star-struck, thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, I could actually have a chance to work for the festival,’ not realizing how much work that actually was.”
Before she could reach that pinnacle, Sokol had to apply her determination and earn—and learn—her way through the C3 system.
“For my first ACL, I was passing out meal tickets to staff, which sounds worse than it actually was because it allowed me to work back of house of the festival, but then they also gave us freedom to explore the festival, and I was really able to see a side of ACL that I’d never seen before,” she says.
Eventually, Sokol landed in the special-events department at C3, working for Autumn Rich. Her internship led to a part-time position, and under Rich’s tutelage, Sokol expanded her experience, working on planning and coordination for such C3 events as the White House Easter Egg Roll and aspects of Lollapalooza.
“Lindsey knew what questions to ask and when to get the information she needed to get the job done,” Rich says. “In her early years, we did an event in New York City with All Saints and Florence and the Machine. It was freezing cold—like 15 degrees—and she ran all over a town she didn’t know, getting random items for the event. [She] never complained, always said yes and was fabulous. That was when I knew she was really something special.”
Before long, Sokol became eager to get into production, a dream she admits was driven by the Austin City Limits Music Festival. She spent most of her evenings at local club The Parish, learning the logistics of audio and lighting. And when the production coordinator at C3 moved on, she jumped at the chance to apply for the position. It was a promotion that moved her from literally working in the hallway to working under the festival director.
Her new boss, Dirk Stalnecker, the longtime festival director who helped ACL Fest become the triumph it was in the early days, didn’t make Sokol’s job particularly easy for her. She craved more knowledge from him, but didn’t often get it. So, she got creative.
“I was learning by listening to his phone calls,” Sokol admits. “And I was learning by digging into the different invoices. … My whole 12 years with the company, it’s been a learning process. I found myself having to ask many questions along the way. And you have to, but I think that’s something that can be intimidating at times, or maybe frowned upon. But it was the only way I was going to learn.”
Her persistence paid off, and once Stalnecker left the festival-director position in 2015, Sokol took over, exhilarated if not slightly terrified.
“I questioned if I was the right person for the job. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted it, but I think because of my age—I was 27—I was worried that people would think that I was too young to take a role like that, both people in the company and in the industry,” she says. “It was scary…because I was taking over something that was so valuable and precious to the company.”
While Sokol had her doubts, the C3 partners, Charlie Jones and Charles Attal among them, were confident in her skills and her passion.
“[Lindsey] is organized, as well as a people person. That combination goes well for working an operation of this scale,” Attal says. “She is patient, organized, thorough and has the ability to see the bigger picture.”
THE BIG SHOW
At the age of 30, Sokol is nearly four years into her position as festival director at C3 Presents. Her key responsibilities revolve around the ACL Music Festival, which takes nearly a full year to coordinate and plan. The scope of her duties is mindboggling, including managing the physical layout and budget for the multimillion-dollar annual event, conducting regular meetings with every city department affected by the festival, meeting with area neighborhood groups, organizing vendors and coordinating internal conversations about possible changes and improvements to the festival.
She takes time for herself when she can, usually in the early part of the year before the festival season gets particularly hectic. She enjoys daily Pilates, trail runs and bike rides, cooking (Her go-to dish is the Indian specialty saag.), hitting up her favorite Austin establishments—June’s All Day on South Congress Avenue, usually for breakfast, regardless of the time of day, and Caffe Medici on West Lynn Street, an old favorite, where she opts for decaffeinated tea—and spending time with her puppy, an Australian shepherd-poodle mix named Winston, a nod to Winston Churchill and her history-buff tendencies. And she’s never one to turn down a nap when she can squeeze one in.
But when it comes to her job, Sokol is relentless, putting in a nearly unreasonable amount of work to ensure the Austin City Limits Music Festival goes off without a hitch. And for her, the No. 1 goal is to make certain the patrons, the fans, have an enjoyable experience year after year.
“Fan experience really drives what we’re planning and what changes we make each year,” she says. “We ask why you buy the ticket and why you come back. And the why you come back—it’s the experience. It’s always close between the talent, but experience is always above [everything else]. That’s unique to Austin and to ACL. That’s something that we’re very aware of and something we have to continue to improve on every year.”
Though the festival has grown, originally bringing in 65,000 fans per day, and now gathering some 75,000 a day during the course of a two-weekend event, Sokol insists the core values that made ACL such a success remain, and that she and the C3 team take great strides to keep the event as locally focused as possible, bringing in an array of Austin vendors, sponsors and artists.
“We know that this town cares so much about how we’re keeping the festival authentic,” she says. “We still do everything we can to keep ACL what it was and where the roots were with the festival. … The percentage of people coming to ACL—Austin is the majority. This festival is for Austin. Is the festival getting bigger? Yes. But can we still make sure that Austin is our priority in everything that we do at the festival? Yes. And we do!”
Though this year’s festival is still months away, and the lineup won’t be released until late April or early May, planning is in full swing for Sokol. While she admits that as the months wear on, she will get less of her prized sleep, have to forsake her hobbies, spend less time with friends and family, and meticulously manage time with her adorable Winston, it’s all worth it—just for Austin.
“If I were to die tomorrow, I would be most proud that I feel like I’ve given back to this city a certain way,” Sokol says. “I really do love this city so much. I wasn’t born and raised here, but it’s a really good feeling that if I did pass tomorrow, I feel like there would be a little piece of me that I left behind, that I left Austin better than when I came.”
GUARANTEED TO WRINKLE As if Lindsey Sokol weren’t busy enough bringing joy to the entire city of Austin through the ACL Music Festival each year, she’s also working to ensure the women of Austin have a way to connect in a positive way through community events focused on causes and issues women care about. Based on the four pillars of support, making a change, creating and inspiring, Guaranteed to Wrinkle is an organization Sokol started with friend and C3 Presents co-worker Margaret Galton that aims to connect Austin, one woman at a time. Launched in 2018, the organization hosted five events last year, and is already off to a flourishing start in 2019, having hosted its Guaranteed to: Prioritize Yourself event in February, which focused on realistic conversations about women and self-care. Upcoming events include Guaranteed to: Reduce Food Waste and Guaranteed to: Clean Beauty.
Lindsey Sokol On…
SUCCESS “I think I’ll always be chasing something. That’s how I am. … I’m 30, so I hope I’m not at the top of my career. I think it would be very sad if I was—because I was clearly taking too many naps! I’m not wired to stop. Something inside of me will never let me slow down.”
MENTORSHIP “I’ve had many amazing people shape where I am today. I’ve been very lucky, whether it’s past bosses that I’ve had or close friends that I’ve been able to lean on through the years. I guess I have a team that I’m lucky enough to be able to turn to when I need them.”
UNFULFILLED DREAMS “After studying abroad in Copenhagen, I’ve always wanted to live abroad again. … If I could pick a hobby, it would be travel. I’d love to pick a place and then go too many times. Maybe it’s Paris and I force myself to learn French, which I’ve always wanted to do.”
HER FAVORITE ASPECT OF THE JOB “Why do I still love this when it drives me to the ground? I love seeing it all come together, to be able to put all the logistics and so many moving pieces together and then see something like a festival like ACL come together, and come together well. … Being a part of something that means so much to so many people here, it’s special. I never want to take for granted that I’m able to be a small part of something that means so much to so many people. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a chance in this town to do something as significant as that.”
HER ADVICE FOR OTHER YOUNG, AMBITIOUS WOMEN “Start at the bottom. There’s no shame in starting in a beginner position. That is how you learn. That’s the only way that I think you grow, when you can really dissect a certain type of information or industry. It has to start at the bottom. … Your parents might be real concerned at first, but it will get you somewhere eventually.”
THE STATE OF THE AUSTIN MUSIC COMMUNITY “There are so many amazing organizations in Austin that were started solely to keep music alive and to focus on the needs of musicians. It’s taken years for all of us to really start having kind of one conversation rather than multiple conversations, but finally, we’re all coming together and really trying to figure out how we can keep music alive in this town.”
THE ONE ITEM SHE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT “I will never go anywhere without this stack of rings. They were my aunt’s, who passed away a few years ago, and she was essentially a second mom to me. As silly as a piece of jewelry may sound, it reminds me of her every single day. That’s the one thing I always have, no matter what.”
THE WEIRDEST THING IN HER PURSE “I don’t know if it’s weird, by I definitely have dog treats in there.”
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN LIFE “[It’s] to be happy. Life is very short. I always felt that you shouldn’t waste a minute on something that doesn’t bring you happiness, that doesn’t bring you joy. Life is too precious. I know it’s not possible all the time to find happiness in everything I do. I mean, I hate cleaning my bathroom. That does not bring me joy, but it needs to get done. But I think it’s so easy to get caught up in money and status. It can really blur people’s vision. If there’s not happiness at the core of all that, I don’t think it’s worth it, at least not for me. So, the hours that are spent on the festival, if I didn’t love it, then I would stop tomorrow. I always said if I woke up and I’m not happy doing what I’m doing anymore, then I’m just done. Thank goodness that hasn’t happened!”
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