Kacey Musgraves and Dale Watson: two sides of modern country music

For our final taping of our current season, ACL paid tribute to its roots, with country music both old-fashioned and new-fangled. First we welcomed Austin honky-tonk legend Dale Watson back to the ACL stage, and then CMA Best New Artist winner and Texas native Kacey Musgraves.

For Dale Watson’s set, the studio was transformed into a substitute for his regular haunt Ginny’s Little Longhorn, with a room full of dancers two-stepping in the time-honored manner. Indeed, Watson drove the point home with a shout-out to the eponymous founder of the Austin favorite as he delivered his Ginny’s tribute “Honkiest Tonkiest Beer Joint in Town.” Not that he needed to – he and his band the Lone Stars gave us plenty of danceable tunes. “Honkiest” and “Hey Brown Bottle” provided the prototypical Texas shuffles, while “My Baby Makes Me Gravy” and “Runaway Train” trucked in Johnny Cash’s chickaboom. The Lone Stars brought Western swing back to the ACL stage with “Give Me More Kisses” and lilted into a pretty waltz with “Your Love I’m Gonna Miss.” Classic honky-tonk reigned supreme on “Cowboy Boots” and “I Lie When I Drink,” while the set-ending “Exit 109” barreled down the highway with a classic trucking song. Watson soared over it all with his amazing voice that sounds genetically engineered to sing C&W. It was a gloriously fun set that celebrated old school country.

From the traditional to the contemporary: Kacey Musgraves took the stage with her talented band and a fresh sound that highlighted her Texas twang and original songs. “Stupid” and “Back On the Map” revolved around stomping beats and memorable guitar riffs, putting rock through a country wringer. The exceptionally melodic “Silver Lining” and “Merry Go ‘Round” incorporated as much folk and pop as C&W. The cheeky “The Trailer Song” and countrypolitan-flavored “High Time,” both new songs as yet unrecorded, proved the Golden, Texas native’s sure hand with the traditional stuff. Her self-described “depressing country music” gave the ballads “Keep It to Yourself” and “It Is What It Is” extra heart and soul. Best of all were her twin anthems: “Mama’s Broken Heart,” written by Musgraves but recorded by her friend and champion Miranda Lambert, and “Follow Your Arrow,” an empowerment anthem that, mark our words, will become her signature tune.

It was a lovely night of modern country music for our final taping of the 39th season. Look for this show to air on PBS early next year.