ACL Presents: Americana Music Festival 2016

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 21: William Bell and Bonnie Raitt perform onstage at the Americana Honors & Awards 2016 at Ryman Auditorium on September 21, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. at Ryman Auditorium on September 21, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for Americana Music)

Austin City Limits returns to Nashville for a special broadcast featuring performance highlights from this year’s Americana Honors & Awards. ACL Presents: Americana Music Festival 2016 premieres November 19th on PBS and delivers dazzling performances that represent the genre’s diversity and excellence. The music-filled hour features many of the night’s award-winners and honorees, including buzzed about newcomers and icons who helped define the genre; among them: George Strait, Margo Price, Jason Isbell, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Weir, Alison Krauss, Steve Earle, Parker Millsap, Dwight Yoakam, William Bell and Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell.

Recorded live at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium on September 21st, The Americana Music Association’s 15th Annual Honors & Awards ceremony is a celebration of music that is authentic, diverse and original from many genres, both traditional and contemporary. “If you can taste the dirt through your ears, that is Americana,” says Americana Music Association Executive Director Jed Hilly. “It is music that is derived or inspired by American roots traditions.”

Acclaimed singer/songwriter Jason Isbell, who took top honors for Album of the Year and Song of the Year, gives a captivating performance of his “If It Takes A Lifetime,” accompanied by his wife, fiddler Amanda Shires, and band The 400 Unit. Roots giants who died in 2016, Merle Haggard, Guy Clark and Ralph Stanley are honored with one-of-a-kind performances: the show opens with the night’s Lifetime Achievement Award Honoree for Performance, Grateful Dead founder Bob Weir, in tribute to Merle Haggard, performing a rendition of the country outlaw’s iconic “Mama Tried.”  Steve Earle delivers Guy Clark’s classic “Desperados Waiting For A Train,” calling out “See you when I get there, Maestro,” at the song’s close. Roots titan Alison Krauss performs a stunning a cappella version of bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley’s “Gloryland,” joined by stalwarts Buddy Miller, Melonie Cannon and Stuart Duncan.

NASHVILLE, TN – SEPTEMBER 21: Stuart Duncan, Melonie Cannon, Alison Krauss, and Buddy Miller perform onstage at the Americana Honors & Awards 2016 at Ryman Auditorium on September 21, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. at Ryman Auditorium on September 21, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for Americana Music)

In true Americana style, the broadcast is loaded with musical moments and collaborations. Legendary duet partners Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, awarded Duo/Group of the year, perform a stirring “Bring It On Home.” Bonnie Raitt, a 2015 Lifetime Achievement honoree, offers a new track, “Gypsy in Me,” backed by gospel greats The McCrary Sisters. She returns to join Stax soul legend William Bell, the night’s Lifetime Achievement Award Honoree for Songwriting, on the slow-burn “The Three of Me,” accompanied by producer John Leventhal on guitar. Honky-tonk maverick Dwight Yoakam delivers a blistering gem from his acclaimed new release Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars… alongside Stuart Duncan on fiddle.

The genre’s breakout newcomers give show-stopping performances, including the Emerging Artist Award-winner, Nashville rebel Margo Price with her “Tennessee Song.” Americana sensation Parker Millsap performs a powerful “Heaven Sent” from his critically-acclaimed Album of the Year-nominated release, joined by standouts Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan on backing vocals.  Chart-toppers The Lumineers light up the stage with a new song, “Angela.” Emerging Artist nominees Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats perform “Wasting Time,” showing the full range of the Americana spectrum.  

King of country music George Strait, performs his signature, “King of Broken Hearts,” alongside the songwriter, Jim Lauderdale, for a thrilling close. The hourlong broadcast is hosted by Americana kingpin Lauderdale, and performers are backed by a first class house band led by Nashville mainstay Buddy Miller and featuring it-producer Dave Cobb, with Stuart Duncan, Fred Eltringham, Steve Fishell, Matt Rollings, Chris Wood and The McCrary Sisters.

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

Freddy Powers 1931-2016

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits was saddened to learn of yesterday’s passing of the great Freddy Powers at the age of 84. His name may not be immediately familiar, but his songs are. The Oklahoma-born/Texas-raised “country jazz singer” wrote or co-wrote hits for George Jones (“I Always Get Lucky With You”), Willie Nelson and Janie Fricke (“A Place to Fall Apart”) and, most prolifically, Merle Haggard (“Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Star,” “Natural High,” “Amber Waves of Grain,” “Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room”). He also co-produced Nelson’s platinum album Somewhere Over the Rainbow, hosted the CableACE nominated talk show Rogers and Hammerhead and appeared with Haggard frequently as opening act and special guest, as well as releasing his own albums. On top of all that, he served a stint in the Marines, was a staple in 1970s Las Vegas and appeared on both The Tonight Show and The Today Show. Having already accomplished more than most in one lifetime, Powers was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2004, which slowed down his productivity. But he continued to write and perform as long as he was able to sit in front of an audience and entertain. Along with his buddies Nelson and Haggard and co-author Jake Brown, Powers completed his memoirs, entitled The Spree of 83 and due to be published in February 2017.

“Freddy might not have been a household name, but most of his musical buddies were,” says ACL Executive Producer Terry Lickona. “Willie & Merle were two of his closest friends, and they were kindred spirits, musically and personally. He had an infectious passion for what can best be called country jazz, and he had a direct hand in bringing Willie and Merle together for one of the most memorable songwriters shows we ever did, in Season 9. He was also a remarkable songwriter; my favorite was ‘I Always Get Lucky With You,’ which became part of Merle’s repertoire for many years. Freddy’s spirit lives on!”

Powers appeared on Austin City Limits four times: in 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1996. Here he is in 1984 with his pals Willie ‘n’ Merle with “After You’re Gone.”

Merle Haggard 1937-2016

photo by Scott Newton

We at Austin City Limits were shocked and saddened to learn of the death of the great Merle Haggard on his 79th birthday, due to complications from pneumonia. An American original often cited as the greatest country singer of all time, Haggard made an incalculable contribution not just to country music, but American music in general. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t know at least a handful of his many classics. “Mama Tried,” “Big City,” “Silver Wings,” “Workin’ Man Blues,” “Okie From Muskogee,” “Daddy Frank,”  “If We Make It Through December,” Mama’s Hungry Eyes,” “Sing Me Back Home” – these songs are essentials threads in the fabric of the American musical tapestry. 

Haggard appeared on our show a total of nine times, in 1978, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1991, 1994 and 1996 (twice). “Other than Willie, Merle Haggard was the first major country artist to appear on Austin City Limits in its early years (season 3), and he appeared many times since,” said ACL executive producer Terry Lickona.” He told me once that he was so proud of his ACL performances that he considered them ‘a scrapbook’ of that time in his career. He was a maverick and a true original.”

Below is Haggard from his first appearance on ACL in Season 3, 1978. May he rest in peace.

Darrell K. Royal – in memoriam

Darrell K. Royal, published in the book Austin City Limits by Clifford Endres. Photographed in Studio 6A by Scott Newton.

We here at ACL were saddened to learn that legendary University of Texas football coach Darrell K. Royal passed away this morning at the age of 88. Not only was Royal the “winningest coach in University of Texas history,” as noted by the Austin-American Statesman, but he was also a longtime friend of Austin City Limits. He helped us grease the wheels with the many artists he knew personally, including Merle Haggard and George Jones. The “guitar pulls” at his house that featured his buddy Willie Nelson and veteran and up-and-coming writers inspired our Songwriters Specials. And we also remember him as being one of our most loyal fans. His friend Terry Lickona, ACL executive producer, had this to say:

“Darrell Royal – or just Coach, as we called him – was one of the best friends Austin City Limits had back in its early days. He would come to many, if not most, of the tapings in the original Studio 6A. In fact, we saved a special seat for him at practically every show, ‘just in case.’ It was in the corner of the back row of the middle bleacher, where everyone entering could see him and he could greet the fans as they came in. In fact, he actually helped us book Merle Haggard during Season 3, at a time when most major artists had never even heard of the show. He had a passion for music, especially songwriters, a quick wit, an iron-grip handshake and an ear-to-ear smile. There are few, if any, Austin icons like him left.”

Goodbye, Coach. May you rest in peace.

Coach and Willie Nelson at the Austin Opry House, 1977. Photo by Scott Newton. Copyright 1977 Scott Newton.