Leonard Cohen 1934-2016

photo by Scott Newton

We at Austin City Limits are greatly saddened to learn of the passing of the great singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen at the age of 82.

Transcending genre, the Montreal native was one of the most unique figures in all of popular music. Many songwriters are credited with bringing literary acumen to their work, usually without any real justification. But for Cohen it’s true – he’d already had a career as a poet and a novelist before turning to music as his main artistic outlet, and he brought his full authorial weight to the songs he recorded. His lyrics reveal a craftsman’s eye, knowing exactly what words to include and what to leave out, and his melodies strip down to support the libretto without becoming forgettable backdrops. While often accused of dwelling too often in the darkness, his songs travel a wide range of emotional terrain, from anger to joy to confusion to, yes, depression, exploring them all with an intellectual’s wit and a poet’s sensitivity. Cohen had a special affinity for navigating that mysterious space between the sacred and the secular – unsurprising for this grandson of a rabbi and follower of Buddhism. His ability to blur the lines between the sensual and the divine highlighted the truth in unbridled passion and the grace in a sense of wonder – not for nothing did Cohen once claim he “Came So Far For Beauty.”

Cohen had a special connection to Austin. On the 1979 tour captured on the live album Field Commander Cohen, he used the Austin jazz fusion group Passenger as the core of his road band, and guitarist Mitch Watkins, keyboardist Bill Ginn, saxophonist Paul Ostermayer and, especially, bassist Roscoe Beck would be off-and-on staples of his backup groups from then on. (Longtime backing singer Julie Christensen also did time in Austin prior to joining Cohen’s troop.) Perhaps it was this connection that led to his decision to make his major U.S. television debut on Austin City Limits. Recorded on Halloween night in 1988 and broadcast in 1989, Cohen’s hour-long episode was and is one for the ages, a tour-de-force of songcraft and performance that has become one of our most beloved and requested shows.

“Leonard was not much aware of ACL until his Austin friends and cohorts convinced him to do the show,” remarks Executive Producer Terry Lickona. “The band played a late show in L.A. the night before and took the red-eye straight to Austin, arriving just in time for rehearsal. They were all wearing the same clothes (Leonard never did change), and his only request was for a bottle of tequila, which the band easily dispensed with. The show was mesmerizing, as was the reaction from viewers who had never heard or seen anything quite like him. Leonard told me some years later that that Austin City Limits performance ‘saved his career in America’ at a time when he had all but been forgotten.”

Cohen returned in 1993 in support of his trailblazing record The Future. The maestro was so pleased with the results he included two of the songs on his 1994 concert record Cohen LiveWe’re honored to have these two classic appearances to document his unforgettable legacy.  You can watch the first one below. 

 

My Morning Jacket and Ben Harper bring big rock to ACL’s Season 42

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits showcases two of modern rock’s best live acts: My Morning Jacket and Ben Harper.  The longtime fan favorites make return appearances armed with new material in a must-see installment as part of ACL’s Season 42.

My Morning Jacket return for the first time in nearly a decade for their third Austin City Limits appearance, highlighting songs from their last two studio albums, The Waterfall and Circuital.  The Kentucky indie-rockers, five-time Grammy Award-winners, kick off a blissed-out 4-song set with the title track to 2011’s Circuital.  Charismatic leader Jim James dazzles in a colorful kimono and big sunglasses as the band builds their signature soundscapes, including a tune from The Waterfall, a 2016 Grammy nominee for Best Alternative Album.  Their psychedelic textures expand into a glorious wall of sound for the set-closer “Victory Dance,” as the shape-shifting James prowls the stage with a towel on his head and an electronic sampler around his neck for an epic close.

Ben Harper reunites with his longtime backing band the Innocent Criminals after a seven-year hiatus for his first ACL appearance since Season 35.  Harper and crew deliver a powerful, six-song set featuring classics and new songs from 2016’s acclaimed Call It What It Is.  Opening with the ever-catchy “Steal My Kisses,” the frontman gets the crowd on its feet, then segues into soulful new gems, showcasing his trademark lap steel guitar bona fides.  The socially-charged title track from his latest release has Harper reciting the names of gone-too-soon young black men.  Harper’s show-stopping performance of the take-us-to-church gospel burner “Where Could I Go” leaves both singer and audience overcome from the power of the moment, exposing the painfully honest and self-reflective lyrics that have made Harper a fan-favorite for 20-plus years.

photo by Scott Newton

“Jim James has appeared on the ACL stage in many musical guises, as befits his wildly eclectic virtuosity,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona.  “But My Morning Jacket brings him back to ground zero where he is most at home. He’s one of the best at engaging a live audience, and it shows.  Ben Harper is another perennial favorite, always in tune with the times, his fans and his musical muse.  It’s very much like a homecoming for both of them, but more akin to two old friends coming home from long musical journeys to show us what they’ve learned.”

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 an ACL Presents special, featuring the Americana Music Festival 2016.

Parker Millsap sets ACL on fire

photo by Scott Newton

Singer and songwriter Parker Millsap tears it up on our upcoming ACL Presents: Americana Music Festival 2016 special, airing November 19th, and that standout performance was enough for us to ask him to come do his own appearance on our show. The young Oklahoma native has set the Americana world on fire with his songs, his voice and his live show, and this taping – which we streamed live – showed exactly why.

Taking the stage with his backing trio, Millsap mentioned how he used to watch ACL with his father on Thursday nights on OETA in Oklahoma. He then launched into the title track of his latest album The Very Last Day, a jumpy tune about nuclear annihilation. The rocking, Steve Earle-esque “Hands Up” chronicled a gas station stick up, starring a robber more desperate than diabolical. Following band introductions, Millsap introduced the bluesy “Palisade,” the title tune from his 2012 debut and a showcase for Daniel Foulks’ gypsy fiddle. The quartet then dug into the repertoire of old-time banjoist Charlie Poole for a blues-soaked take on the classic “Hesitation Blues,” a great showcase of Millsap’s gritty howl. He followed with the Bo Diddley-beat of “Pining,” another tune from The Very Last Day. Then it was time for a show-stopper: the NPR favorite “Heaven Sent,” a heart-wrenching ballad about a young gay man in Oklahoma struggling for his Christian father’s acceptance.  The audience justifiably applauded wildly.

Millsap and company followed that heavy tune with “Truck Stop Gospel,” a frisky rocker that garnered cheers as soon as he announced it. His band then quit the stage as Millsap donned an acoustic guitar for “A Little Fire,” a folk ballad that showed off his fingerpicking skills. Another guitar switch and the return of his backup musicians led into “Your Water,” a new country-pop song he wrote with Wimberly native and ACL two-timer Sarah Jarosz. Millsap then gave us another brand new song, the midtempo 70s-style pop/rock tune “Other Arrangements.” which pushed his voice into a winsome falsetto. “Morning Blues” followed a similar, if bluesier, tack. “Quite Contrary,” however, added a shuffling rock beat as Millsap subverted nursery rhymes in telling the stories of Oklahoma meth addicts. Foulks then switched out his fiddle for a guitar on “Wherever You Are,” a bluesy folk rocker. Millsap and band ended the main set with a cover of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “You Gotta Move,” the classic blues song that served as another showcase for both Foulks’ ragged lyricism and Millsap’s remarkable voice. That one-two punch brought the house down.

But of course it wasn’t over. Millsap and the trio returned to the stage for “Hades Pleads,” a choogling rocker in which Death tries to get laid via Millsap’s Plantesque wail. After that triumph, the band took its bows to well-deserved applause. It was a breakout performance by a young artist deserving of all the kudos coming his way, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year as part of our Season 42 on your local PBS station.

ACL Season 42 brings Latin grooves with Natalia Lafourcade and Grupo Fantasma

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits presents the contemporary Latin sounds of two of music’s best in show, Natalia Lafourcade and Grupo Fantasma. Mexican superstar Lafourcade performs songs from her Grammy-winning album Hasta la Raíz and powerhouse Latin funk orchestra Grupo Fantasma deliver show-stopping grooves.  

As one of Mexico’s biggest music stars, Natalia Lafourcade’s infectious mix of pop, rock, folk and bossa nova has earned the singer-songwriter multiple international chart-topping albums.  In her Austin City Limits debut, Lafourcade and her backing quintet perform selections from her sixth studio album, the acclaimed Hasta La Raíz, which won universal accolades, culminating in four 2015 Latin Grammys, including top honors of song and record of the year for the title track, and a 2016 Grammy Award (her first) for Best Latin Rock album.  Opening with the title track, an intimate, melodic anthem about holding on to one’s roots, the set showcases her sweet, airy vocals.  Lafourcade reaches back to the catchy “En El 2000,” her 2003 breakthrough radio hit and a song she explained that she’d come to hate due to constant requests for it, but now “we’re friends again.”  She closes out the captivating set with the pretty, bossa nova-influenced gem “Para Qué Sufrir,” a clear fan favorite.   

“I was hooked as a fan when I saw Natalia Lafourcade perform at the Latin Grammys,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona.  “She may seem an unlikely Latin superstar, but her sweet voice and personal songs have a way of connecting with her fans and the world around her.”

Austin originals Grupo Fantasma deliver a white-hot, delirious blend of big-band samba, merengue and Latin jams in a powerhouse five-song set.  Formed in 2000, the 9-piece funk outfit first-appeared on ACL in Season 33.  The Grammy-winning funksters continue their decade and a half of magic with danceable, irresistible songs from their new, acclaimed album Problemas, produced by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin.  Opening with the slow-burning cumbia “Nada,” the crowd is on its feet.  The band is joined by special guests Steve Berlin and renowned saxophonist Karl Denson for “Cayuco,” a sultry mambo torn from the horns and heat of Cuban dance halls.  The group welcomes Los Texmaniacs accordionist Josh Baca and former Grupo founding member Adrian Quesada for the conjunto-flavored “Esa Negra.”  Performing the title track of Problemas, Grupo’s charismatic bandleader Jose Galeano gives dance instructions to the front row.  For the final song, a tribute to the band’s late friend and champion Prince, the 9-piece orchestra swells to 17-pieces. Galeano, at a momentary loss for words, simply remarks “There’s not much we can say.  We’re just gonna play.”  And so they do, 17-strong across the stage, lighting the room aflame with the Purple One’s disco-fied early hit “Controversy.”

photo by Scott Newton

“Kick-ass Latin funk might not be a music genre, but it defines what Grupo Fantasma does,” says Lickona.  “There were 20 musicians blasting and riffing their way through the night, shaking the stage if not the balcony high above! Austin is not usually known for its Latin grooves, but Grupo could change that!”

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 another brand new episode featuring the return of longtime ACL friends My Morning Jacket and Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals.

Giveaway: Parker Millsap 11/9

photo by Laura Partain

UPDATE: Giveaway is now over

Austin City Limits will be taping a performance by Parker Millsap on Wednesday, Nov. 9th, at 8 pm at ACL Live at The Moody Theater (310 W. 2nd Street, Willie Nelson Blvd). We will be giving away a limited number of space available passes to this taping. Enter your name and email address on the below form by 9 am on Monday, Nov. 7th.

Winners will be chosen at random and a photo ID will be required to pickup tickets. Winners will be notified by email. Passes are not transferable and cannot be sold. Standing may be required.  No photography, recording or cell phone use in the studio. No cameras or recording devices allowed in venue.

ACL livestreams Parker Millsap taping 11/9

photo by Laura Partain

Austin City Limits will livestream the highly-anticipated ACL debut of Americana sensation Parker Millsap on November 9.  The taping will be livestreamed in its entirety directly from the Austin City Limits stage, powered by Dell.  Fans everywhere can watch the concert on November 9 at 8pm CT/9 pm ET on ACLTV’s YouTube channel as it happens.  

With a triumphant appearance on our upcoming Americana Music Festival special, singer/songwriter Parker Millsap makes his full-set Austin City Limits debut in support of his widely-acclaimed third album The Very Last Day.  The 23-year-old grew up doing congregational singing in church and listening to old blues albums in his room, not realizing that howling like a Delta blues ghost readying the world for rock & roll isn’t how a skinny white boy from Purcell, Oklahoma usually sounds.  Nominated for the top honor of Album of the Year at this year’s Americana Music Awards, The Very Last Day proves an ideal vehicle for Millsap’s message, delivered via gospel-tinged rock & roll poetry. In the midst of a world fond of condemnation as entertainment, Millsap offers open-armed love of people and their stories. Whether he’s singing about the experience of a gay friend, longing for his evangelical father’s acceptance, or as the King of the Underworld wild with passion, his character-driven songs mine deep wells of joy and despair to create gut-punching narratives that are sometimes hellish, sometimes heavenly, and always human. We’re happy to welcome Parker Millsap to his first Austin City Limits taping.

Please join us November 9 on our ACLTV YouTube channel as we welcome Parker Millsap. The broadcast version will air early next year as part of our current Season 42 on PBS.

ACL 42 rocks on with the one and only Iggy Pop

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits presents a Season 42 highlight: an hour with the one and only Iggy Pop. The larger than life icon gives a king-sized performance in his ACL debut, performing a mix of classics and songs from his acclaimed 2016 release Post Pop Depression, his first career solo #1 album.

Bringing new songs to life alongside classics that bookend his storied career, Iggy is joined by the all-star team behind Post Pop Depression: Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme and Dean Fertita and the Arctic Monkeys’ Matt Helders, augmented for the stage with Queens’ Troy Van Leeuwen and indie-rock mainstay Matt Sweeney. Hurtling onstage to open the eleven-song set with “Lust For Life,” the godfather of punk bares his soul and torso in this memorable hour. Shirtless by the second song, the Detroit native performs selections from his first two solo albums, the late 1970s pair of collaborations with David Bowie, The Idiot and Lust for Life, including rarely performed gems “Some Weird Sin” and “China Girl”. A raucous “Funtime” features Josh Homme taking the vocal sung by co-writer Bowie on the original version. Iggy launches into new classics fitting perfectly into his solo catalog, featuring tight, punchy marvels that embellish his earlier work. Displaying his uniquely animated stage presence, the veteran rock ‘n’ roll warrior thrills with several trips deep into the crowd, saying “This is a pretty good job.”

“There’s never been another show quite like this one, and that’s saying a lot!” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “Iggy is an ageless, timeless, human dynamo, and he took command of the stage, the cameras, the whole building. This show captures the essence of what makes Iggy Pop the godfather of punk rockers.”

photo by Scott Newton

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 another brand new episode featuring Latin rock and pop powerhouses Natalia Lafourcade and Grupo Fantasma.

New tapings: Parker Millsap, CeCe Winans and Alejandro Escovedo

photo by Laura Partain

Austin City Limits closes out a remarkable Season 42 on a high note with the final artist tapings: Parker Millsap on November 9, CeCe Winans on November 20 and Alejandro Escovedo on November 30.  St. Paul and the Broken Bones will also tape a show on November 20, as previously announced.

Following a triumphant appearance on this year’s Americana Music Festival special, singer/songwriter Parker Millsap makes his Austin City Limits debut in support of his third album The Very Last Day. The 23-year-old grew up doing congregational singing in church and listening to old blues albums in his room, not realizing that howling like a Delta blues ghost readying the world for rock & roll isn’t how a skinny white boy from Purcell, Oklahoma usually sounds. The Very Last Day proves an ideal vehicle for Millsap’s message, delivered via gospel-tinged rock & roll poetry. In the midst of a world fond of condemnation as entertainment, Millsap offers open-armed love of people and their stories. Whether he’s singing about the experience of a gay friend, longing for his evangelical father’s acceptance, or as the King of the Underworld wild with passion, his character-driven songs mine deep wells of joy and despair to create gut-punching narratives that are sometimes hellish, sometimes heavenly, and always human. We’re happy to welcome Parker Millsap to his first Austin City Limits taping.

Part of gospel’s first family the Winans, CeCe Winans is the best-selling female gospel artist of all time. The Detroit native made her performing debut with her brother BeBe in 1982 as part of the PTL Singers. The pair launched their career as a duo in 1987, releasing bestselling albums that earned them gold and platinum albums, three Grammy awards, nine Dove awards and numerous hit singles on the R&B charts. CeCe began her solo career in 1995 with the Grammy-winning platinum album Alone in His Presence, scored a top 10 single in “Count On Me,” a duet with close friend Whitney Houston, and has continued to have an impact on gospel and R&B music ever since. She comes to the ACL stage bearing latest single “Never Have to Be Alone,” as well as new songs from a forthcoming record to be released in 2017. We’re thrilled to welcome the great CeCe Winans to her first Austin City Limits, where she will share the stage with dynamic Alabama soul outfit St. Paul & the Broken Bones.  

photo by Nancy Rankin Escovedo

Veteran Austin singer/songwriter Alejandro Escovedo returns to our stage in support of Burn Something Beautiful, his twelfth solo album. Recorded in Portland with R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and the Minus 5’s Scott McCaughey as co-writers and producers, Burn Something Beautiful is at once a celebration of the rock & roll life, a contemplation of mortality and a tribute to the healing power of love. The project coalesced beautifully with the help of an esteemed group of musicians who give the album a band feel, including ACL vets Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), Kelly Hogan (Neko Case), John Moen (the Decemberists) and Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney). Connecting repeatedly with his soulful heart and voice at its core, Burn Something Beautiful is Alejandro Escovedo at his very best. The San Antonio native is, of course, no stranger to ACL – he has been on the show four times previously, starting as a member of Rank & File when they appeared on the show in 1983. We’re thrilled to welcome back Alejandro Escovedo.

Want to be part of our audience? We will post information on how to get free passes about a week before the taping. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for notice of postings.