ACL Presents: Americana Music Festival 2015

Lee Ann Womack Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Austin City Limits heads to Nashville for a special broadcast featuring performance highlights from this year’s Americana Honors & Awards. ACL Presents: Americana Music Festival 2015 delivers sparkling performances that represent the genre’s diversity and excellence. The music-filled special features many of the night’s Lifetime Achievement Honorees, award-winners, next-generation stars and icons who helped define the genre; among them: Don Henley, Los Lobos, Ricky Skaggs, Lee Ann Womack, Shakey Graves, Keb’ Mo’, Jason Isbell, Rhiannon Giddens, Robert Randolph and John Hiatt.  

“The Americana Honors & Awards showcases one of the biggest and brightest lineups of talent seen all year,” raves NPR. Recorded live at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium in September, The Americana Music Association’s 14th Annual Honors & Awards ceremony is a best in show reflecting the spirit of Americana: American roots music that incorporates elements of country, rock ‘n’ roll, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues.

Robert Randolph, The Fairfield Four, The McCrary Sisters Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Hosted by Americana kingpin Jim Lauderdale, the show opens with steel guitar sensation Robert Randolph joining with two legendary gospel groups, The Fairfield Four and the McCrary Sisters, for a rousing rendition of “Rock My Soul.” Highlights include show-stopping performances by the night’s Artist of the Year nominees: Rhiannon Giddens showcases her powerful vocals in a stunning performance of “Waterboy” from her Album of the Year-nominated Tomorrow Is My Turn. Acclaimed singer-songwriter Jason Isbell, who captured top honors at last year’s awards, offers the anthemic title track of his new album, Something More Than Free. Country queen Lee Ann Womack performs from her critically-acclaimed The Way I’m Livin’, also nominated for Album of the Year.  

Another of the night’s top nominees, Emerging Artist of the Year winner Shakey Graves, is joined by Esmé Patterson for a playful duet of his nominated single “Dearly Departed.” Duo/group nominees The Lone Bellow, an indie-folk trio, make their first appearance, singing their standout “Then Came the Morning.”  

Marc Ribot & Buddy Miller Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images

In true Americana style, the broadcast is loaded with musical moments and collaborations from the music’s forebears, including ovation-worthy turns from musical legend Don Henley, awarded a Lifetime Achievement Honor, performing from his acclaimed new album Cass County and veteran singer-songwriter and Song of the Year nominee John Hiatt. Bluegrass master Ricky Skaggs—the night’s Lifetime Achievement Honoree for Instrumentalist—performs with his wife and collaborator Sharon White alongside fellow legend Ry Cooder; and Americana icon Buddy Miller and celebrated guitarist and songwriter Marc Ribot present a stripped-down acoustic version of the Hank Williams classic “Cold, Cold Heart.”   

Blues titan Keb’ Mo’ pays a heartfelt tribute to the night’s President’s Award Honoree B.B. King, with a soulful interpretation of one of the late legend’s signature songs, “How Blue Can You Get,” (alongside King’s beloved guitar “Lucille”). The night’s Lifetime Achievement Award honorees for Performance, East L.A. stalwarts Los Lobos, validate their honor with a blistering, show-closing rendition of their classic “Will the Wolf Survive.”

Jim Lauderdale Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Throughout the broadcast, performers are backed by an all-star house band—led by Buddy Miller—and featuring legendary musicians: Dominic Davis, Chad Cromwell, Fats Kaplin, Ian Fitchuk, the McCrary Sisters and Little Feat founding member Bill Payne.

“This event is a musical celebration that brings together the finest musicians in the world, with legendary acts and the next generation of stars,” says Jed Hilly, Executive Director of the Americana Music Association, adding “it’s about great songs and the appreciation for the authentic sound of American roots music.”

The show was co-produced by High Five Entertainment and its President Martin Fischer and ACL Executive Producer Terry Lickona.

ACL 41 welcomes the legendary James Taylor

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits presents a Season 41 highlight: the first-ever appearance of legendary singer-songwriter James Taylor in a heartwarming, hourlong performance. The musical icon shines in a career-spanning set that features beloved classics and selections from his chart-topping, acclaimed new album Before This World, his first collection of original music in 13 years.  

As one of the best-selling singer-songwriters of all time, James Taylor’s warm baritone is among the most recognized voices in popular music. A masterful lyricist and celebrated performer, Taylor sings songs of love, family, recovery and everyday passions that resonate with listeners worldwide. “Finally on ACL — this is great,” says the personable musician, grinning throughout. He delights the ACL audience with a hit-laden 12-song set featuring vintage favorites such as his first #1 single, 1971’s “You’ve Got A Friend,” and new originals from Before This World, which debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Top 200.  

photo by Scott Newton

Taylor switches midset from acoustic to electric guitar for the slow-burn blues number “Steamroller” from his landmark 1970 album Sweet Baby James, giving his star-filled 10-piece band a chance to showcase their bona fides. He brings out Austin’s own Shawn Colvin for a beautiful duet version of “You Can Close Your Eyes” from his 1971 album Mudslide Slim. The ecstatic crowd is on its feet for the set-closing gems “Your Smiling Face,” and “How Sweet It Is,” with Taylor so energized he tips his trademark cap in response to the repeated ovations and powerful applause, singing “How sweet it is to be in Austin City tonight.”  

photo by Scott Newton

“Finally! How sweet it is indeed,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “There is nobody quite like James Taylor, and he is one of the most genuine persons and artists on the planet. He is universally loved and applauded, and it was inspiring to see fans from across the generations react so emotionally to his presence on the ACL stage.”
Tune in this weekend for this episode, and, as always, check your local PBS listings for the broadcast time in your area. Go to the episode page for more info, and don’t forget to click over to our Facebook, Twitter and newsletter pages for more ACL info. Tune in next week for Americana Music Festival 2015.

TV On the Radio and The War On Drugs debut in ACL’s 41st season

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits showcases left of the dial faves TV On The Radio and The War On Drugs, splitting the bill in a brand new installment. Two of today’s most critically-acclaimed indie rock bands, both acts make powerful debuts in their first-ever appearance on the ACL stage.  

First up is TV On The Radio, formed in Brooklyn in 2001 and considered one of the most influential bands of the decade. The quartet showcase tracks from their latest and widely-acclaimed album Seeds. TVOTR’s originality and eclectic musical spirit—encompassing psychedelia, soul, electronica and urgent punk rock—is evident in their masterful five-song set, opening with the hard-driving “Lazerray” and grappling with pain and loss in the soulful, emotional closer “Trouble.” Witness an act that continues to make music boldly on their own terms, always pushing forward to become one of the best bands of its generation.

Philadelphia band The War On Drugs perform songs from their 2014 breakthrough Lost in the Dream, which earned widespread praise and landed the top spot on many critics’ album-of-the-year lists. Kicking off a gorgeous set with “Under the Pressure”, the song Spin declared record of the year, the rock outfit build momentum creating lush soundscapes filled with musical craft and intricate instrumentation. Bandleader Adam Granduciel’s Dylanesque vocals, cathartic lyrics and grand-scale guitar solos unfold to reveal expansive, dreamy atmospherics for a memorable debut.

photo by Scott Newton

“Indie music has been an important part of ACL’s musical legacy over the past two decades, but it’s a big umbrella that covers a vast musical landscape,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona.“ Both TV On The Radio and The War On Drugs stand out as virtuoso live musicians, but their songs and vocals are what caught my ear. They are personal yet accessible to anyone who is a fan of great music.”

Tune in this weekend for this episode, and, as always, check your local PBS listings for the broadcast time in your area. Click over to our FacebookTwitter and newsletter pages for more ACL info. Tune in next week for the ACL debut of the legendary James Taylor.

Gary Clark Jr. returns and Courtney Barnett debuts in ACL’s Season 41

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits showcases two of today’s most original and exciting live acts: Grammy-winning songwriter, vocalist and virtuoso guitarist Gary Clark Jr. in a triumphant return to the ACL stage, and singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett making her ACL debut. Two talked-about artists worthy of the buzz, both rising stars are gaining recognition around the globe for their dynamic live shows.  

Austin’s Gary Clark Jr. arrives on ACL’s stage at the top of his game for his second headline performance, this time showcasing songs from the acclaimed new top-10 album The Story of Sonny Boy Slim. The young Texan has had a whirlwind ascent from the Austin club scene to earning slots on festival stages, on the road with superstars Foo Fighters and his own sold-out headlining tour. The LA Times recently hailed him “the most exciting blues-based experimentalist since Jack White.” Clark writes another chapter to his story with this appearance, firmly establishing himself as a sonic force of nature in a confident, blazing five-song set filled with searing, soulful new songs.  The guitar phenom opens with a new album highlight “Grinder” and demonstrates his astonishing musical chops with scorching renditions of the deeply personal originals. Closing the thrilling set with the uplifting, gospel-infused anthem “The Healing,” Clark sings with newfound passion, owning the ACL stage and receiving a heartfelt standing ovation.

Australian singer/songwriter and guitarist Courtney Barnett released one of the most arresting music debuts in years, 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, and is receiving critical acclaim in spades: Rolling Stone hails Barnett “one of rock’s most beguiling young stars and deftest lyricists,” calling the album “2015’s sharpest debut.” Paste says she’s “one of the most charming, whipsmart performers currently touring the world,” and NPR raves “the new album will thrill any fan of smart, biting guitar driven rock,” calling her “the best lyricist in rock music today.”  Spin calls it “one of the most thrilling albums you’ll hear this year,” and hails the garage rocker a “goddamn rock star.”  Riding the wave of media acclaim, Barnett proves she has the talent to match in her standout ACL debut. The six-song set is a great introduction to her signature style: mixing straightforward, four-chord crunch with witty, often hilarious, occasionally heartbreaking observations with unflinching self-assessment. Aided by her tight band featuring bassist Bones Sloane and drummer Dave Mudie, she brings the ACL set to a crashing close with the crowd-favorite single “Pedestrian at Best,” proving she’s nothing of the sort, but one of the most distinctive and compelling new voices in modern rock.

photo by Scott Newton

“Gary Clark Jr. and Courtney Barnett are the rock stars of tomorrow, if not today, and they’re doing it the old-fashioned way – with their guitars,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona.  “They are both blazing different trails, but they are totally original, and that’s why this makes for such a great double bill!”

Tune in this weekend for this episode, and, as always, check your local PBS listings for the broadcast time in your area. Go to the episode page for more info, and don’t forget to click over to our Facebook, Twitter and newsletter pages for more ACL info. Tune in next week for the ACL debuts of TV on the Radio and The War On Drugs.

Sturgill Simpson and Asleep at the Wheel keep ACL Season 41 twanging

photo by Scott Newton

Season 41 of Austin City Limits kicks into high gear with breakout country artist Sturgill Simpson sharing the bill with legendary Western swing institution Asleep at the Wheel.  Two acts steeped in old-school tradition but beamed through a contemporary prism, the must-see episode features rising star Simpson making his full set ACL debut while Texas swing veterans Asleep at the Wheel return for their 11th appearance. Asleep at the Wheel, newly-minted ACL Hall of Fame members, are joined by guest stars The Avett Brothers, Amos Lee and the Quebe Sisters in a special tribute to musical forebear Bob Wills, the King of Western Swing.   

Forty years after Willie Nelson made his iconic debut on ACL on October 14, 1974, country rebel Sturgill Simpson arrives at the top of his game in a standout ACL debut.  With his acclaimed breakthrough Metamodern Sounds In Country Music topping Best of 2014 Album lists and a stack of accolades to call his own—including a Grammy nomination, top honors at this year’s Americana Awards, slots at the year’s biggest music festivals, including Bonnaroo, Coachella and ACL Fest—ACL captures Simpson on the verge of full-blown stardom.  Playing an acoustic guitar, the Kentucky native and his ace four-piece band launch into a scorching seven-song set that makes a believer out of everyone.  He pays tribute to the outlaw country scene that inspired him, acknowledging his debt to Willie, and to Austin cosmic cowboy Steve Fromholz, with an impassioned rendition of “I’d Have to Be Crazy,” a Fromholz song Nelson made famous in the ‘70s, and a perfect showcase for Simpson’s rich baritone.  The full span of Simpson’s influences is evident with the inspired set-closer, a brilliant crossbreed of the Osborne Brothers’ bluegrass classic “Listening to the Rain” to glam-rock band T-Rex’s “The Motivator.”

A national as well as Texan treasure, the nine-time Grammy Award-winning Austin supergroup Asleep at the Wheel has kept the Western swing flame burning for forty-five years.  Still led by larger-than-life founder Ray Benson, AATW appeared in the first official episode of Austin City Limits in 1976, and returns for a remarkable eleventh appearance to perform selections from their recent Bob Wills tribute album Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, a salute to the great bandleader.  Wills’ music, born in the 1920s and ‘30s, continues to inspire younger generations, and AATW is joined on the ACL stage by some very special guests, including soul singer Amos Lee, fiddle trio the Quebe Sisters and Americana sensations The Avett Brothers, who put their own spin on Western swing classics.  A highlight of the set comes when two former Texas Playboys—singer Leon Rausch, 88, and 92-year old saxophonist Billy Briggs—take the stage.  The entire ensemble returns for a crowd sing-along of the signature “Texas Playboys Theme,” winding “Happy Trails” into the old chestnut for a perfect close. 

photo by Scott Newton

“This show goes back deep to the roots of where Austin City Limits began,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona.  “Sturgill would’ve fit perfectly into the Austin music scene of the ‘70s, and it speaks volumes that his own progressive country sound resonates so strongly and stands in contrast to much of the country pop today.  Asleep at the Wheel appeared on the very first episode of our very first season, and they’re still kicking it 41 years later – just like ACL!”

Tune in this weekend for this episode, and, as always, check your local PBS listings for the broadcast time in your area. Go to the episode page for more info, and don’t forget to click over to our Facebook, Twitter and newsletter pages for more ACL info. Tune in next week for the ACL debut of Don Henley.

Cassandra Wilson salutes Lady Day on ACL’s 41st season

photo by Scott Newton

Acclaimed jazz star Cassandra Wilson makes her Austin City Limits debut celebrating the music of “Lady Day” by performing songs from Coming Forth by Day, a tribute to jazz and blues legend Billie Holiday for the centennial of her birth.

Hailing from Jackson, Mississippi, multiple Grammy-winning artist Cassandra Wilson has been named “America’s best singer” by Time Magazine. Coming Forth By Day, Wilson’s nineteenth studio album, was released in 2015 to wide acclaim, with the Associated Press calling the jazz innovator a “masterful interpreter of songs,” and The New Yorker writing, “Cassandra Wilson, jazz’s reigning diva, puts a post-modernist spin on classic Holiday performances.”

Joined by a six-piece band, and an eight-piece string section, Wilson digs into the Holiday songbook in her first-ever ACL appearance, taking viewers on a spellbinding journey through lush soundscapes that conjure the spirit of “Lady Day.” “The idea was to find her essence, the sacred center of her spirit and bring it through our treatment of her songs,” says Wilson. She chooses songs that span Holiday’s abbreviated career to probe beyond her personal tragedy and honor her beauty, genius and craft. Beginning with a traditional take on “The Way You Look Tonight,” the singer steps off the path for “Don’t Explain” and “You Go To My Head,” putting her distinctive spin on classic material. Wilson masterfully manipulates the dynamics of “Good Morning Heartache,” taking a seat as the band swirls around her in collective improvisation. A set highlight is “Last Song (for Lester),” an original tune penned by Wilson for Holiday’s musical soulmate, saxophonist Lester Young, imagining the song Holiday might have sung at his funeral had it been possible. It’s a beautiful tour de force, blending sadness at opportunities lost and joy for a special bond.

Wilson closes out the breathtaking set with a sardonic, defiant romp through “Billie’s Blues,” exiting the stage to rapturous applause. A tribal drum beat and the sound of chains hitting the ground signals her return for “Strange Fruit,” Holiday’s bitter ballad about pre-civil rights era lynchings. The song’s already haunting atmosphere bristles with a new tension, a sudden surge of strings and a dramatic vocal from Wilson, capped by the singer’s feedback-drenched solo wrung from her shrieking Telecaster, channeling the howling ghosts of victims from beyond and invoking the struggles of today.

“I’ve been a fan of Cassandra’s magical vocal stylings since her first record, and I’ve always dreamed of the day when she would grace the ACL stage,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona.  “The fact that she chose to come honor Billie Holiday on our show made it that much more special – lending her own unique voice to Billie’s remarkable repertoire.”
Tune in this weekend for this episode, and, as always, check your local PBS listings for the broadcast time in your area. Go to the episode page for more info, and don’t forget to click over to our Facebook, Twitter and newsletter pages for more ACL info. Tune in next week for the ACL debut of Sturgill Simpson and the return of Asleep at the Wheel.

ACL’s new season launches with the Hall of Fame 2015 special

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits kicks off Season 41 with an opener featuring musical highlights and tributes from the 2015 Austin City Limits Hall of Fame. Hosted by Dwight Yoakam on June 18, 2015, this unique special showcases one-of-a-kind performances and collaborations from the ACL Hall of Fame celebration, honoring the artists who’ve helped make the award-winning tv series an American music institution.  An all-star line-up including Lyle Lovett, Jason Isbell, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Dwight Yoakam, Gillian Welch and more come together for one night to perform in honor of the newest class of inductees: Asleep at the Wheel, Guy Clark, Flaco Jiménez, Loretta Lynn and Townes Van Zandt.   

ACL reaches back to its roots with a show-opening tribute to country trailblazer Loretta Lynn, who first appeared on the series in 1983. Country singer Patty Loveless, also a coal miner’s daughter, pays tribute to the living legend, and is joined by Vince Gill for a spirited duet of the Conway Twitty/Loretta Lynn classic “After the Fire Is Gone.” Lynn accepts her honor saying “Texas has always been so good to me. They fed me when my kids was hungry. They fed me when I was hungry.” Lyle Lovett takes the stage to honor Texas songwriting legend Guy Clark, saying “He is my friend.  He is my hero,” with a stunning reading of the first song Clark ever wrote: “Step Inside This House.” Acclaimed singer-songwriter  Jason Isbell performs a moving solo rendition of a Clark classic, “Desperados Waiting For A Train.”  

Superstar Tex-Mex accordionist Flaco Jiménez makes a joyous show-stopping cameo during his own tribute, joining Dwight Yoakam, Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and conjunto masters Los Texmaniacs to show off his nimble accordion style. The late, great Texas troubadour Townes Van Zandt, who first appeared in ACL’s debut season in 1975, is honored beautifully in acoustic performances by roots outfit Gillian Welch and British singer-songwriter Laura Marling. Austin’s own Asleep at the Wheel, who performed on the very first episode of ACL in 1975, are inducted by longtime fan Vince Gill, who joins the Western swing institution for a lively take on their early recording “Take Me Back to Tulsa.”

photo by Gary Miller

The special comes to a perfect close with the night’s entire cast returning to the ACL stage for a grand finale, trading verses on a Townes Van Zandt classic, “White Freightliner Blues.”
“We created our own Hall of Fame as part of our 40th anniversary last year to recognize and celebrate those artists who were there in the beginning and helped make Austin City Limits what it is today,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona.  “The annual event is a unique showcase for some amazing performances and emotional moments, and we’re thrilled to be able to capture it all to bring to our fans at home.”

Tune in this weekend for this episode, and, as always, check your local PBS listings for the broadcast time in your area. Go to the episode page for more info, and don’t forget to click over to our Facebook, Twitter and newsletter pages for more ACL info. Tune in next week for the ACL debut of jazz great Cassandra Wilson.

ACL announces Season 41 broadcast schedule

photo by Gary Miller

Following four decades as a music institution with more unforgettable performances as it gets ready to write its next illustrious chapter. Providing viewers with a front-row seat to the best in live music, ACL unveils Season 41’s stellar line-up of legendary artists, trend-setting innovators and many highly-anticipated debuts. ACL airs weekly on PBS stations nationwide (check local listings for times) and full episodes are made available online for a limited time at immediately following the initial broadcast. Select tapings are also live streamed to enable music fans everywhere to experience the performances as they happen, live and unedited. Viewers can visit for news regarding future tapings, episode schedules and live stream updates. The show’s official hashtag is #acltv.

The program returns on October 3rd with the 2015 ACL Hall of Fame Special, a special hour showcasing unique collaborations and tributes from this year’s induction ceremony and celebration, held June 18, 2015. Artists Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, Gillian Welch, Jason Isbell and more perform in honor of the newest class of inductees: Asleep at the Wheel, Guy Clark, Flaco Jiménez, Loretta Lynn and Townes Van Zandt.  

The upcoming season is filled with musical highlights, as a number of acts make their long-awaited ACL debuts. Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson appears for the first time in a dazzling hour featuring the songs of Billie Holiday. Music legend Don Henley makes his ACL debut, armed with his first solo release in 15 years. Iconic singer-songwriter James Taylor is also set to make his Austin City Limits debut in a career-spanning, hour long showcase that will feature songs from his latest release, his first collection of original music in 13 years.

Country music’s range is exemplified in a double-bill with modern country rebel Sturgill Simpson making his full set debut and Western swing veterans Asleep at the Wheel returning for their 11th appearance. Asleep at the Wheel, newly-minted ACL Hall of Fame members, are joined by guest stars The Avett Brothers and Amos Lee in a special tribute to forebear Bob Wills, the original Texas Playboy.  

Hometown hero Gary Clark Jr., now a Grammy-winning global sensation, returns to the program for his second headline appearance, in support of a highly anticipated new release. A number of genre-bending rock acts make their ACL debuts this year: indie rock breakout star Courtney Barnett showcases her compelling live set, while left-of-the-dial faves The War on Drugs and TV On The Radio split an episode, both gracing the ACL stage for the first time.

“With our 40th anniversary in our rearview mirror, we’re back to doing what we do best: showcasing awesome music whether it’s classic or contemporary, familiar or groundbreaking,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “As usual, we’ll give our viewers the chance to rediscover old favorites or discover new artists who are making their own mark.”

Season 41 Fall Broadcast Schedule (additional episodes to be announced)

October 3 2015 Hall of Fame Special

October 10 Cassandra Wilson

October 17 Sturgill Simpson / Asleep at the Wheel

October 24 Don Henley

October 31 Gary Clark Jr. / Courtney Barnett

November 7 TV On The Radio / The War on Drugs

November 14 James Taylor

November 21 ACL Presents: Americana Music Festival 2015

The complete line-up for the full 14-week season, including seven new episodes to air beginning January 2016, will be announced at a later date. Check the news section of for additional episode updates.

For the fifth consecutive year, the producers of Austin City Limits, in conjunction with High 5 Productions, and the Americana Music Association, are proud to present a special ACL Presents—featuring the best music performances from this year’s Americana Music Association Honors and Awards Ceremony held September 16th at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN.