5th annual ACL Hall of Fame ceremony airs on New Year’s Eve

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Austin City Limits rings in the new year with an annual tradition, highlights from the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame Inductions & Celebration, hosted by Chris Isaak. This fifth annual all-star celebration features music luminaries and more sharing the stage for one epic night to perform in honor of the newest class of inductees: Ray Charles, Marcia Ball and Los Lobos. The special hour, taped October 25, 2018 at ACL’s studio home, ACL Live at The Moody Theater, in Austin, Texas, honors the musicians who have played an instrumental role in the evolution of the iconic series. The broadcast airs Monday, December 31 at 10pm C/11pm E on PBS check local listings for times.  

Master of ceremonies Chris Isaak opens the special noting that Austin City Limits, now in its 44th season, is the longest-running television music program in history, outlasting American Bandstand, Soul Train and—even—Hullabaloo. Isaak introduces honoree Marcia Ball, the Texas-born pioneering blues pianist who debuted on ACL’s first season in 1976, saying “when she sings the blues she makes you dance.” Inducted by her longtime friend and collaborator, New Orleans soul queen Irma Thomas, Ball accepts the honor saying of ACL “I was lucky enough to get here first, stay longer, go farther and have more fun than I ever, ever imagined possible.” An all-female line-up of blues all-stars pays tribute to her 50-year strong career in a sparkling three-song salute with Ball herself on piano, joined by Thomas and powerhouse vocalists Tracy Nelson, Lou Ann Barton, Carolyn Wonderland and Shelley King, celebrating a shared lifetime of friendship and music.

The late Ray Charles made two seminal ACL appearances in the 1980s and is honored following an induction by John Burk, president of Concord Records and producer of the music titan’s final studio album in 2004. Norah Jones salutes the Genius with a sterling rendition of “What Would I Do Without You,” saying “this is one of my favorite Ray Charles songs.” Blues great Ruthie Foster brings the house down with a powerhouse reading of Brother Ray’s signature “Georgia on My Mind” and blues-rock star Gary Clark Jr. puts down his guitar for the occasion and steps up to the mic to pay vocal tribute, delivering a radiant “Nighttime Is the Right Time” while vocalists Ruthie Foster, Shelley King and Carolyn Wonderland do The Raelettes proud with show-stopping backing chorus.

photo by Scott Newton

Acclaimed filmmaker Robert Rodriguez inducts his longtime compadres Los Lobos into the ACL Hall of Fame calling the East L.A. band “Endlessly inventive, unbelievably groundbreaking, masterful with all kinds of instruments, peerless musicians, and just truly great people.” Los Lobos’ musical kinship with ACL includes six appearances on the series, and they take the stage to perform a trio of back-to-back classics from their forty year-plus career. Joined by director Rodriguez on guitar, steel guitar ace Robert Randolph, Boz Scaggs and guitarist Adrian Quesada, the brothers in arms dazzle with a jubilant eight guitar heartbeat, and the celebration of music comes to an epic close, ushering in the New Year with a Feliz Año Nuevo! and a buoyant “La Bamba,” the 1987 classic.

Austin City Limits Hall of Fame New Year’s Special setlist:

I WANT TO DO EVERYTHING FOR YOU – Marcia Ball with Tracy Nelson, Irma Thomas
FOOL IN LOVE – Marcia Ball with Lou Ann Barton, Tracy Nelson, Irma Thomas, Carolyn Wonderland, Shelley King
SHINE BRIGHT – Marcia Ball with Tracy Nelson, Carolyn Wonderland, Irma Thomas, Shelley King  
WHAT WOULD I DO WITHOUT YOU – Norah Jones
GEORGIA ON MY MIND – Ruthie Foster
NIGHT TIME IS THE RIGHT TIME – Gary Clark Jr. with Ruthie Foster, Carolyn Wonderland, Shelley King
DON’T WORRY BABY – Los Lobos with Robert Randolph
LA PISTOLA Y EL CORAZON – Los Lobos
ALL-STAR FINALE: LA BAMBA  – Los Lobos with Robert Rodriguez, Boz Scaggs, Robert Randolph, Adrian Quesada, Marcia Ball, Tracy Nelson, Ruthie Foster, Carolyn Wonderland, Shelley King & Chris Isaak

The 5th Anniversary Austin City Limits Hall of Fame Inductions and Celebration is presented by NetApp and is sponsored in part by American Airlines, AXS, Brown Distributing, Cirrus Logic, Cousins Properties Incorporated, Dell, Keller Williams, Stratus Properties and Texas Monthly.  

ACL Hall of Fame 2018 taping an emotional, exciting evening

Marcia Ball and Irma Thomas, HOF 2018; photo by Gary Miller

It goes without saying that an ACL Hall of Fame taping is something special. The combination of ACL greats being saluted by their peers and fans always makes for an emotional, exciting evening. For the HOF’s fifth anniversary, we were privileged to honor Austin blues icon Marcia Ball, East L.A. rock pioneers Los Lobos and the late American music giant Ray Charles. With an all-star roster of talent to celebrate these tremendous artists’ work, it’s no wonder the Hall of Fame is something we look forward to every year.

Following a delightful set of tunes from Austin’s own Mariachi Los Toros and remarks from KLRU-TV CEO Bill Stotesbery and ACL executive producer Terry Lickona, host Chris Isaak took the stage to introduce the first honoree: singing/songwriting/piano-pounding ATX veteran Marcia Ball. Inducted by her longtime friend and collaborator Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans, Ball gave a lovely speech that paid tribute to her inspirations (including Thomas), her family and band, and music charities HAAM, HOME and SIMS. She took her seat behind the piano and introduced Thomas and singer Tracy Nelson. Together the trio reprised their 1998 appearance on ACL with the joyful “Sing It,” the title track from their Grammy-nominated collaboration of the same name. The threesome went back to the blues for the shuffling “I Want to Do Everything For You,” from the same record. Ball then brought up her old friend and Austin treasure Lou Ann Barton, along with next-generation blues singers Shelley King and Carolyn Wonderland. Together the sextet paid tribute to Dreams Come True, the 1990 album Ball and Barton made with the sadly absent Angela Strehli, rolling through Ike Turner’s classic “Fool in Love.” Ball, King, Wonderland, Nelson and Thomas closed out the segment with the funky, uplifting “Shine Bright,” the title tune to Ball’s latest record, and proof that she’s as vital an artist now as she’s ever been.

Gary Clark Jr., Shelley King, Carolyn Wonderland and Ruthie Foster pay tribute to Ray Charles at HOF 2018; photo by Gary Miller

One quick set change later, Chris Isaak returned to introduce the next inductee, “one of the most important music artists in American music history,” the late, great Ray Charles. The genre-defiant musical giant nicknamed the Genius was inducted by Concord Records president John Burk, who produced Charles’ final album Genius Loves Company and told the story of proposing that album to Charles in his office. Valerie Ervin, president of the Ray Charles Foundation, accepted the award as the house band and Norah Jones took the stage. Joined by former Ray Charles Orchestra keyboardist and musical director Dr. James Polk, the ivories-tickling singer opened with the quietly dramatic ballad “Seven Spanish Angels,” originally recorded in 1984 as a duet between Charles and Willie Nelson. Jones then reached back three decades to the mid-fifties for the blues ballad “What Would I Do Without You,” one of her favorite Charles tunes. Host Isaak came on to gracefully sing one of Charles’ iconic recordings: Don Gibson’s classic country tune “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”

Two of Austin’s own rounded out the tribute. Equally genre-agnostic singer and songwriter Ruthie Foster put her remarkable voice to the service of “Georgia On My Mind,” Hoagy Carmichael’s immortal standard that will forever be associated with Charles – though Foster’s gospel-influenced reading gave the master a run for his money. Foster remained onstage, joined by Carolyn Wonderland and Shelley King, to back up blues rock star Gary Clark Jr., eschewing his trademark guitar slinging for a swaggering take on the sizzling “(Night Time is) the Right Time.” Isaak returned to praise house band director Lloyd Maines, who introduced the ACL All-Stars: guitarist David Grissom, organist Red Young, hornmen John Mills, Jon Blondell, Eric Burnheart and Adrian Ruiz, bassist Bill Whitbeck and drummer Tom Van Schaik.

Following an intermission, Isaak returned to introduce the night’s final honoree: one of America’s greatest, most versatile rock & roll bands, Los Lobos. Austin filmmaker Robert Rodriguez inducted the band, telling the story of how they scored his movie Desperado. Accepting the award, David Hidalgo talked about how the Austin musical royalty of the early eighties welcomed them to town. Then it was time for Los Lobos to do what it does best, as they picked up their instruments and launched right into “Will the Wolf Survive,” the song that took the rock underground by storm in 1984. Steel guitar master Robert Randolph then came on stage for “Don’t Worry Baby,” the blazing blues rocker that opens Lobos’ first album and a standard of their shows since. The band donned acoustic instruments for one of their catalog highlights – the title track of La Pistola y El Corazón, the group’s tribute to its Mexican-American roots. Then came what may have been a surprise to Los Lobos’ fanbase, as singer/songwriter Boz Scaggs arrived to join the band to add vocals and guitar to “Hearts of Stone,” a groovy, soulful Lobos classic.

Los Lobos, Boz Scaggs, Robert Rodriguez close HOF 2018 with “La Bamba”; photo by Gary Miller

Of course, Los Lobos couldn’t leave the stage without playing their biggest hit. But they didn’t do it alone, inviting all the night’s performers, plus Rodriguez and guitarist Adrian Quesada, up for a rousing “La Bamba,” with a big rock ending and plenty of streamers. You couldn’t ask for a better ending than that, and we can’t wait for you to see it when the ACL Hall of Fame 2018 Special airs on New Year’s Eve on your local PBS station.

Grupo Fantasma and family’s delirious groove

photo by Scott Newton

Few bands on Earth bring the party like Grupo Fantasma. The Austin-based Latin funk orchestra throws down its irresistibly danceable grooves like no other, as evidenced by a lively global fanbase that included the late genius Prince, who often jammed with the band. The music icon wasn’t Grupo’s only famous friend, however, as evidenced by this second taping for our hometown heroes. Jam-packed to the tune of twenty-two musicians with special guests, family and alter egos, the show, which we livestreamed around the world, never let up on delirious groove.

Taking the stage to enthusiastic applause, the nine-piece Grupo Fantasma kicked things off with a surprise – a cleverly salsafied take on Led Zeppelin’s groover “Immigrant Song,” with the horns subbing for Robert Plant’s iconic wail. The band then hopped into its own catalog for “Nada,” an acid-dipped cumbia that’s a highlight of its latest acclaimed album Problemas. The first of the group’s guests, Los Texmaniacs accordionist Josh Baca and former Grupo founding member Adrian Quesada arrived to add rippling squeezebox and crackling guitar to the conjunto-flavored “Esa Negra.” “Ausencia” put the rhythm back in salsa time, the groove augmented by Beto Martinez’ psychedelic guitar solo. The rubbery cumbia “Otoño” followed, as did the roiling salsa “Descarga Pura Y Dura,” with dueling trombone licks and ringmaster Jose Galeano’s skittering timbales.

Jazz/funk guru Karl Denson joined the band on stage, adding his flute to the infamous Grupo Fantasma horns for the slinky funk rock of“L.T.” With Denson still onstage, a barrage of polyrhythmic handclaps from band and crowd signaled the beginning of the ambitious, multi-faceted “Solo un Sueño,” which added Afrobeat and a Sweet Lou conga solo to the groovy stew. After that triumph, Galeano and fellow singer Kino Esparza left the stage and Quesada rejoined, allowing Grupo Fantasma to transform into its funk alter ego Brownout. In that configuration, the band laid down some serious jams. Bassist Greg Gonzalez powered the soul-inflected “Aguilas and Cobras,” as Sweet Lou rocked the congas and Martinez and Quesada their guitars. Percussionist Alex Marrero took the mic for a new song, the hard rocking “The Blade,” an outgrowth of Brownout’s well-received covers of Black Sabbath.  “You didn’t expect me to stay back there all night,” joked Marrero as he came to the front of the stage for another new Brownout tune, the free-flowing “ThingsYou Say (Denver Funk).”

Galeano and Esparza returned and the band transmuted back into Grupo Fantasma. Joined by Austin’s preeminent mariachi ensemble Mariachi Estrella, the group essayed the gorgeous “Porque,” a Spanish cover of the Beatles’ “Because.” As Estrella exited, Denson and Los Lobos saxist Steve Berlin, who produced Problemas, came on for the flute-enhanced “Cayuco.” Berlin remained, manning the keyboard for the Esparza-crooned cumbia “Roto.” Grupo then launched into the title track of Problemas, with Galeano giving dance instructions to the front row and Mark “Speedy” Gonzales laying down a powerhouse trombone solo. The high-energy salsa of “Montañozo” got hips swaying hard before running directly into the hyperspeed of “Caña Brava,” a song going all the way back to the band’s first album in 2002.

Berlin, Denson, Baca and Quesada came back for the final song, a tribute to the band’s friend and champion Prince. Galeano was at a loss for words – “There’s not much we can say. We’re just gonna play.” And so they did, 15-strong across the stage, with Denson joining in on vocals for the Purple One’s discofied early hit “Controversy.” Solos were traded all around, with the guitars going to the accordion going to the saxophone and the groove burning a hole in the stage. The crowd went appropriately nuts, yelling for more. Grupo answered the call, returning with Baca in tow for “Salsa Caliente,” a  favorite that had the audience dancing and singing along. After bringing the house down and the show to a close, Grupo Fantasma quit the stage and the lights came up. It was a marvelous show by one of Austin’s best bands, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on PBS.