Buddy Guy gives ACL the blues

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits has been privileged to host many music legends on our stage, and we were thrilled to welcome back another: blues titan Buddy Guy. The Chicago bluesman has headlined twice before, bringing his signature guitar style and bottomless catalog for a pair of landmark episodes. This evening Guy returned to one of his favorite cities to show off those strengths once again, including songs from his latest LP The Blues is Alive and Well with a taping we live streamed around the world.

Taking the stage in his trademark polkadots, signature drill-through-a-concrete-slab Strat tone and no setlist, Guy and his four-piece Damn Right Blues Band took the stage with the classic “Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues,” a statement of purpose if there ever was one. The 82-year-old then brought out “Hoochie Coochie Man,” from the repertoire of his old employer Muddy Waters, engaging in some playful call-and-response with both the audience and keyboardist Marty Sammon. He stayed with the Waters catalog by segueing into “She’s Nineteen Years Old,” adding a snippet of “Somebody Done Hoodooed the Hoodoo Man” at the end in tribute to his late partner Junior Wells. Clearly just warming up, Guy sampled his latest record with “Cognac,” a savage blues celebrating the titular beverage in lyric and the British blues rockers Guy inspired in music, calling out Keith Richards and Jeff Beck in particular. He revisited his Grammy-winning 2015 album Born to Play Guitar for the title track, before indulging in some more blues history with Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Nine Below Zero.”

That didn’t last long, however, as he jumped back into his own catalog for his modern blues classic “Somebody Else is Steppin’ Out (Slippin’ Out, Slippin’ In),” for which he took his traditional walk into the audience, mic and stinging guitar solos in hand. That would be a hard song for anyone to follow, but Guy knew what to do, going back to 1992 and the elegiac John Hiatt-penned title track to Feels Like Rain, joined by his 19-year-old six-string protegeé Quinn Sullivan. As with “Steppin’ Out,” Guy invited – nay, expected – the crowd to sing the chorus, even requesting the house lights come up so he could playfully keep the people in line. His mentor egging him on, Sullivan stayed onstage for covers of Cream’s “Strange Brew” and Jimi Hendrix’ “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” the latter run straight into Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” Guy then decided to survey the guitar players that influenced him, touching on B.B. King’s “Sweet Sixteen” and John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” thanking the audience and joining them to pass picks out while the Damn Right Blues Band vamped behind him. Guy retook the stage for a couple of verses of his own “Meet Me in Chicago,” before ceding it back to Sullivan and the band for a couple of instrumental choruses of “Black Magic Woman” – proof you never know what to expect with a veteran artist working without a net. But Buddy Guy has earned the right to follow his muse into whichever corner it wants to explore. We can’t wait for you to see this remarkable show when it airs early next year on your local PBS station.    

Alessia Cara shines on debut ACL performance

photo by Scott Newton

Canadian singer/songwriter Alessia Cara shot to fame while still a teenager, scoring smash hits with collaborations with producer Zedd and rapper Logic as well as on her own, earning a coveted Best New Artist Grammy win earlier this year. The 22-year-old hit our stage not only to perform her hits, but also to preview songs from her much anticipated second LP The Pains of Growing.

Cara’s three piece band and trio of backup singers took the stage first for a mix of pre-recorded ambience and band warm-ups, before a voice offstage said “ACL, what’s up?” Wearing a loose suit that would make David Byrne proud, the Brampton, Ontario native arrived onstage singing the devotional pop tune “I’m Yours.” A freestanding tom appeared onstage for her to pound along with the band, the tribal rumble leading into the anthemic “Wild Things.” A funkier beat backed her as she sang “Four Pink Walls,” a tune about overcoming self-doubt and fulfilling dreams. Donning an acoustic guitar, Cara essayed the dramatic mid-tempo “Overdose,” then switched to a Les Paul for the soulful “Outlaws.” Once again axe-less, she recruited the audience on call-and-response for the beat-heavy “Seventeen,” a request the crowd was happy to fulfill.

Cara shifted gears for “Best Part,” a folky love song written by a fellow Toronto artist named Daniel Caesar. Her band quit the stage as she strapped on a guitar for “A Little More,” a new single from her forthcoming record that she mentioned having played only three or four times before. The crowd loved it, but that was nothing compared to the reaction to the next number. Her smash from the hit Disney film Moana, “How Far I’ll Go,” had the audience singing along from the first note. She followed that with her breakthrough hit, “Here,” her very first single and a song for everyone who doesn’t need to be part of the in crowd to feel alive – with a special bonus extra verse for a version distinct from what we’ve heard on the radio. Then came “Growing Pains,” the introspective but upbeat first single from the upcoming second LP due out this fall.

Cara’s second-to-last song carried a message about loving oneself and rejecting society’s attempts to disrupt that. “You should know you’re beautiful just the way you are,” she asserted in the pop anthem “Scars to Your Beautiful,” a huge hit and a song that really resonates. Then it was on to the final song “Stay,” another massive hit she shared with producer Zedd which erupted into an instant crowd singalong. Smoke bombs and streamers brought the tune and show to a close. It was a great debut, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall as part of our upcoming Season 44 on your local PBS station.

Sam Smith tops his previous ACL performance

photo by Scott Newton

When British sensation Sam Smith first visited the ACL stage in 2014 he was just beginning his U.S. rise, having already conquered his homeland. The soulful singer/songwriter returned as a fully-established worldwide superstar, showcasing his acclaimed sophomore LP The Thrill of It All and a hit parade of highlights in a dazzling, entertaining set.

As his five piece band hit the first notes, Smith, nattily-attired in a slim tan suit, and his quartet of backup singers took the stage for the doo-wopping “One Last Song.” The London native strode out onto the uniquely extended stage and had the rapt crowd sing the intro of the soulful “I’m Not the Only One,” letting the song become a call-and-response number by the end. After reminiscing about his first ACL appearance, which he called one of his favorite shows ever, he asked, “Can we beat that show?” The audience enthusiastically replied in the affirmative, leading into a standout “Lay Me Down,” the epic he described as the first song he wrote with longtime collaborator Jimmy Napes. Then most of the band members left the stage, leaving Smith with only piano and cello in support of the showstopping “Latch,” his hit collaboration with electronica duo Disclosure. The band and singers returned in full force for the sly gem “Money On My Mind,” followed by musician intros and a romp through “Like I Can,” which became a massive crowd sing- and clap-along. The charming and effervescent Smith wasn’t done with the audience yet, encouraging them to dance and sing with the sparkling pop/soul of “Restart.” “You guys, much love – that was amazing!” he smiled after the song concluded.

For the loping soul tune “Baby, You Make Me Crazy,” Smith generously threw the spotlight to his singers, letting them finish the tune. He returned for “Say It First,” a crowd-pleasing, widescreen pop tune about devotion. Smith and company went from romance to breakup, reclaiming the soul vibe for the heartbreak of “Midnight Train.” That was simply a warm-up, however, for “Him,” a stirring anthem for anyone refusing to be marginalized for being who they are. After that exhilarating emotional ride, he ended the main set with “Too Good at Goodbyes,” the jazzy top five single from Thrill that once again welcomed audience participation. The crowd went wild, unready for the show to end. Luckily, it wasn’t the end, as the band returned for the new album’s “Palace,” and Smith harmonized in an exquisite duet with knockout backup singer Lucy Jules. “It’s been four-and-a-half years since I released this song,” he grinned for the follow-up,” and I still love singing it as much as I ever have.” He meant the Grammy-winning breakthrough smash “Stay With Me,” of course, a perfect showcase for his massive vocals.  The audience accompaniment on the chorus worked the tune’s gospel feel and brought the house down.

You might think that’s how the show ended, but you’d be wrong. “I have to say – you’ve beaten my last Austin City Limits,” Smith remarked about the crowd’s enthusiasm. “That was incredible!” He ended the show with “Pray,” another gospel-flavored anthem that celebrated inclusion and the power of connection. Smith left the stage to a well-deserved standing ovation. It was a magnificent show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall as part of our Season 44 on your local PBS station.  

 

Miguel brings eclectic soul to the ACL stage

photo by Scott Newton

Standing proudly in the vanguard of contemporary R&B artists, Miguel has garnered massive critical acclaim since his emergence in 2011. The Los Angeles native describes his eclectic sound as  “fly, funkadelic, intergalactic-hip-hop-meets-sexy-orgasmic crazy, dope shit,” and that’s a fair approximation of the sonic waves Miguel brought to the Moody Theater stage for his debut ACL taping, which we streamed live around the world.

With his four-piece band (clad all in white), Miguel took the stage in a trench coat and launched into the rocking “Criminal,” from his latest album War & Leisure. He stepped back to his breakthrough LP Kaleidoscope Dream for the equally vibrant “The Thrill” and the bouncing “How Many Drinks?,” updating classic R&B sounds for the twenty-first century. Ditching his trenchcoat, he and the band went immediately into the poppy “Banana Clip,” keeping the groove and melody flowing. After that uninterrupted salvo, Miguel paused to hail ACL and the audience, who came out in force on a Sunday night. After explaining how his bi-ethnic heritage formed his perspective and how he writes songs about his experiences on the journey to his current success, he cheekily followed with the sardonic “Do You Like…” (drugs, that is), frosting it with reggae, his soaring falsetto and a quick snippet of Musical Youth’s “Pass the Dutchie.” Then the singer jumped all the way back to the beginning with “Sure Thing,” from his first LP All I Want is You. That set the stage for the Grammy Award-winning “Adorn,” his anthemic breakthrough hit that became a dynamic call-and-response singalong.

Miguel kept the widescreen feel going with the power chord-driven “Simple Thing,” taken from his wildly extolled third record Wildheart. Most of the band exited the stage, leaving just Miguel with guitarist Josh J. strapping on his acoustic for the stripped-down “Now,” a politically-charged tune about cultivating positivity in troubled times. “Now back to our regularly scheduled programming,” he said as the band returned. With his musicians laying down some atmosphere, Miguel talked about growing up with a foot in two different cultures and the lessons he learned from it. After instructing the audience in the song’s interactivity, he ripped into the blazing “Waves,” encouraging everyone in the house and on the web to ride their own wave. After that explosion, the only thing to do was to bring things down with the sexy ballad “Come Through and Chill.” “Nasty,” he smiled after the audience indulged in some provocative call-and-response. Miguel followed that with “Pineapple Skies,” a clear audience favorite. But that was merely a scene-setter for his current smash hit “Skywalker.” You gotta stay up!” he exhorted the eager crowd, and they did through the course of this powerhouse, show-closing anthem. The audience went nuts by the end, chanting “One more song” – to no avail, alas. Still, it was a hell of a show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on your local PBS station.  

Lukas Nelson expands on family tradition for his debut ACL

photo by Scott Newton

The great Willie Nelson has been a mainstay of Austin City Limits since the 1974 pilot  – indeed, many of us think of him as ACL’s patron saint. It was inevitable that some of Willie’s kids would follow in his footsteps, not only in music, but onto our storied stage. Lukas Nelson is not merely a chip off the old block, however. With his band Promise of the Real, the 28-year old singer, songwriter and guitar-slinger has regularly backed Neil Young and built his own legacy over the course of a decade with five albums and a handful of EPs. Nelson the younger recorded his debut ACL episode in support of his and POTR’s acclaimed 2017 eponymous album, which formed the heart of the show that we streamed live around the world.

“You ever watch that show Rick & Morty?” said Nelson as he strapped on his guitar. “I wrote a song after watching it and I want you to hear it.” With that, he and the five-piece Promise of the Real (plus special guest Micah Nelson, Lukas’ brother) launched into the unrecorded song “Entirely Different Stars,” a psychedelic anthem that included plenty of fireworks from Nelson and steel guitarist Jesse Siebenberg and a coda redolent of Nelson’s native Hawaii. The frisky country rocker “Die Alone” revved the engines back up, while “Fool Me Once” took the same tack with a choogling tempo and sardonic lyrics. Nelson and company visited the other side of the law with “Runnin’ Shine,” with the scion really showing off his vocal resemblance to the father. “Caroline” showed an affectionate debt to the Texas singer/songwriter tradition, while “Lil Girl” incorporated reggae into the band’s rocking Americana.

“Four Letter Word” married clever wordplay with an expanded Nelson guitar solo, including a quick snippet of the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” The band brought the rock back for “Something Real,” including more six-string magic. Then the Real quit the stage, leaving the Austin-born Nelson alone with an acoustic guitar for the crowd-pleasing “Just Outside of Austin,” a song destined to be a mainstay in his set for decades. Nelson underscored the Austin connection by soulfully covering Willie’s “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” garnering an audience reaction as loud ‘n’ proud as that for “Austin.” Nelson then sang Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” paying tribute to his sometime employer, for whom he and the rest of Promise of the Real have provided backup for the last few years. He wasn’t done with other folks’ tunes yet, though, as he then went into Tom Petty’s “Breakdown,” connecting his father’s distinctive vocal style with the late classic rocker’s.

P of the R returned to the stage for “Forget About Georgia,” a melancholy country song that bespeaks driving all night and thinking too much about the love left behind. Nelson left heartbreak behind for the skanking kiss-off “Find Yourself,” which became an enthusiastic crowd singalong. A faithful cover, complete with a cappella intro, of Paul Simon’s “Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes” was a surprise, giving bassist Corey McCormick and percussionist Tato Melgar chances to show their stuff. The spotlight then turned to steel guitarist Jesse Siebenberg, who provided an extended intro to “Set Me Down On a Cloud,” returning the band to the kind of elegiac anthemry with which they began. Nelson reclaimed his acoustic guitar for the gentle ballad “Turn Off the News,” before sending the appreciative audience into the night with the Southern rock singalong “The Awakening.” It was a great show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs in ACL’s forty-fourth, only on your local PBS station.       

Anderson East brings heavy soul to his debut ACL taping

photo by Scott Newton

Singer/songwriter Anderson East hails from Alabama and resides in Nashville, and he brings serious firepower to every note he sings. Armed with his acclaimed new album Encore (produced by Dave Cobb, who’s helmed records by Zac Brown Band, Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, John Prine, Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell and others who’ve been on the show in the last two years), East gave the audience a strong shot of soul on his debut Austin City Limits taping, which we streamed live around the world.

Taking the stage in a snakeskin jacket, East and his eight-piece band immediately paid tribute to the ACL legacy by opening with Willie Nelson’s “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces,” giving it a funky soul ballad reading. Putting his acoustic guitar aside, East dug into the songbook of the late, great Ted Hawkins for the raucous stomper “Sorry You’re Sick.” That Southern soul energy kept running for “Surrender,” featuring fireworks from East and singers Whitney Coleman and Kristen Rogers. Donning his guitar and welcoming a four-piece string section (led by Nashville’s Kristin Wilkinson, here a couple of months ago with Brandi Carlile), East sang a song “about how I feel tonight” – the mid-tempo charmer “King For a Day.” Guitarist Scotty Murray donned an electric dobro for the lighter-waving ballad “Devil in Me,” while keyboardist Philip Towns powered the gospel groover “Learning” with some seriously funky organ.  

After that tour-de-force, East went back to ballad territory for “If You Keep Leaving Me,” which sounded like a vintage Otis Redding cover. The strings returned for “Without You,” another heartbreaker that filled the room with sound. The musicians revved up again for the swaggering “Girlfriend,” which segued directly into the funky “All On My Mind,” both of which showed off the band as much as East’s prodigious pipes. The singer went back to his Southern soul roots for his hit “Satisfy Me,” which could have been a long-lost gem from the Stax catalog of the sixties and was a clear crowd favorite.

“I’ve been watching this show for a long time, and I never thought I’d be on it,” remarked East, before launching into the set-closing “This Too Shall Last,” a widescreen ballad highlighted by Murray and East trading guitar solos that brought the cheering crowd to its feet. After that reaction, more was required, and East, band and strings returned for “House is a Building” (“then home is a feeling”), which built on Towns’ jazzy piano to East’s powerhouse vocal climaxes. “Thanks for making us feel at home tonight,” East said, and the audience made sure he knew the feeling was mutual. It was a great show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs as part of our forty-fourth season on PBS.

Wild Child brings upbeat energy to the ACL stage

photo by Scott Newton

When Austin City Limits first hit the air in the mid-70s, it was all about showcasing the burgeoning Austin music scene. So it always makes us happy to welcome another rising star from our own backyard. In support of this year’s fourth album Expectations, Wild Child hit our stage with youthful energy and an eclectic, genre-spanning performance, which we streamed live around the world.

Taking the stage to pre-recorded disco, the band went into “Fools,” a midtempo folk popper. Perpetually smiling singer/violinist Kelsey Wilson and cellist Sadie Wolfe brought their instruments forcefully to bear on “The Tale of You & Me,” a more rocking tune. Wilson and co-writer/singer/ukelele player Alexander Beggins brought their voices close on the playful “Alex,” before the tempo dropped and the emotion rose for the lush ballad “Eggshells.” Wilson welcomed a three-piece horn section and her singing younger sister Skylar to the stage for another ballad, the undulating “Rillo Talk.” The sibling harmony continued on the sweetly rolling “Break You Down” and the peppy “1996.” Beggins took the lead vocals for “Stitches,” a tune inspired by too much time away from home.

The band and the horn section quit the stage, leaving Wilson and Beggins by themselves onstage to duet on the sweet ‘n’ sour, asides-filled romance of “The One.” Beggins then moved to the piano for “Break Bones,” the best showcase yet for Wilson’s pretty voice. The rest of the duo’s compadres returned for “My Town” and “Follow Me,” more ballads for Wilson to make her own. “Take It” brought the energy level back up, and the funky “Back & Forth” rode the wave. The energized piano pop of “Crazy Bird” set the stage for the radio hit “Think It Over,” as sweet a tune as the airwaves can receive.  

The band stripped down to guitars and vocals for the harmony-laden, shimmering fan favorite “Sinking Ship.” Beggin switched from uke to guitar for the closing “Expectations,” a funky, melodic charmer that got the crowd roaring. The group quit the stage, but of course, that didn’t mean it was over. Wild Child returned to the stage for “Bad Girl,” a frisky folk/pop number dedicated to Wilson’s niece, who was in the house. It was a nicely upbeat way to end the show, which we can’t wait for you to see when it airs in our 44th season on your local PBS station.

Kacey Musgraves tapes expansive, special ACL

photo by Scott Newton

When Kacey Musgraves first visited our stage in 2013, she was a year into the breakthrough success brought to her by Same Trailer, Different Park, her first major label release. Now, a few years and several major awards later, the East Texas native returned on the heels of Golden Hour, an album that’s earned her even more kudos than her breakthrough. That album formed the backbone of her second ACL performance, with some of her previous gems sprinkled in along the way.

With Beatles harmonies playing over the P.A., Musgraves and her band took the stage and gently rolled into “Slow Burn,” the lushly poppy opening track to Hour. The melodic “Butterflies” followed, its affirmation of true love floating on sparsely plucked banjo, brushed drums, quiet synth and Musgraves’ rhythm guitar. “Let’s get a little bit weird, freak your neighbor out, cross a few lines,” she said, before going into “Love is a Wild Thing,” a gentle anthem proclaiming the triumph of love over hate. She kept to the new album for the sly pop tune “Velvet Elvis,” another ode to a strong relationship, before hitting up the 70s soft rock of Golden Hour’s title track and the self-explanatory “Happy & Sad.” Taking a break from the new record, Musgraves revisited Same Trailer for the placid kiss-off “Keep It to Yourself,” then it was back to the Hour for the pretty, catchy “Lonely Weekend.”

The band got a quick showcase to itself on the Santo & Johnny-like instrumental “Western J,” as Musgraves had her hair and makeup – her “Texas look,” as she earlier explained – refreshed. Then the musicians segued into “High Time,” her whistling-enhanced, countrified ode to letting stress go. After introducing her bandmates, she dedicated the “Family is Family” to “all the weird members of your family,” letting drummer Scott Quintana drive the rhythm with his spoons. “Happy Pride Month,” she then declared, “so I think we should sing this one together real loud!” It was her individuality anthem “Follow Your Arrow,” of course, and the crowd did indeed sing along at top volume, including an a cappella section all to themselves. “Space Cowboy” came next, a break-up ballad to leaven the palpable happiness powering most of the Hour songs. Musgraves ended the main set on a stool, crooning the beautiful ballad “Rainbow,” the same song that ends Golden Hour.

“Kacey! Kacey!” chanted the audience, welcoming her back. Alone onstage, she played her Grammy-winning hit “Merry Go Round,” a tribute to stifling small towns everywhere. Her band returned for a loping cover of Brooks & Dunn’s “Neon Moon,” another crowd singalong. She and the band ended the show on the dancefloor with the disco pop of “High Horse,” Musgraves, guitarist Kyle Hurlbut and bassist Adam Keafer hoofing the show to a close. Except that it wasn’t quite over, as Musgraves decided to redo “Love is a Wild Thing,” “Family is Family” and, appropriately, “High Horse,” a situation the audience didn’t mind at all. It was an expansive, special show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs as part of ACL’s Season 44 on your local PBS station.