New taping: Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals

Austin City Limits is delighted to announce the return of an ACL favorite: Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals. Revered singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Harper is set to return to the ACL stage on Thursday, September 1st, 2016. Harper will be joined by The Innocent Criminals, who recently teamed with Harper to release, Call It What It Is, their first record together in nine years.

Since his 1994 debut, Ben Harper has amassed worldwide acclaim as a genre-spanning singular talent with an unmatched ability to blend the personal and political. The Innocent Criminals – percussionist Leon Mobley, bassist Juan Nelson, drummer Oliver Charles and keyboardist Jason Yates – reunited with Harper for a tour in 2015, but quickly discovered that he had more in mind than simply revisiting the group’s prodigious collection of hits. In fact, Harper had been quietly amassing material for a new record with his long-time band mates. “I thought we would be more energized and revitalized by thinking outside the box and starting with new material in the studio before we dug into the old stuff,” explains Harper. “It was meant to be a signpost that we’re here to forge new ground musically and personally. Because of that, the older material started to sound brand new too.”

Released via the legendary Stax Records in April 2016, Call It What It Is explores themes of deep cultural and emotional resonance. Plaudits have poured in from around the world. Uncut called the album “a well-honed primer in what Harper does best, fusing blues, rock, folk, country, R&B, gospel and reggae with politically conscious lyrics into a dynamic stew.” And Entertainment Weekly raved, “A welcome homecoming…his most diverse collection in years. Grade: A-.”

“I gave everything I could to it,” says Harper. “To be able to say that we’ve left no stone unturned just feels great.”

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.

Grupo Fantasma and family’s delirious groove

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.

New tapings: Band of Horses, Margo Price and Foals

Austin City Limits is pleased to announce three new tapings from artists featured at this year’s ACL Music Festival: indie rock staples Band of Horses on Oct. 2, rising country queen Margo Price on Oct. 3 and British alt.rock sensations Foals on Oct. 6.

Returning to our stage for the first time since 2010, Band of Horses is riding a wave that saw their latest album Why Are You OK hit the Billboard 200 chart at #9. The sixth album from the Seattle, WA-born/Charleston, SC-based quintet, Why Are You OK was written in leader Ben Bridwell’s garage in Charleston and recorded with producer Jason Lytle (Grandaddy). The result is a record informed by experience and at the same time retaining the vulnerability that birthed their greatest songs. Creating capsule worlds populated by the strange but true cast of characters from Bridwell’s hometown, Why Are You OK‘s songs combined universal sentiments with Bridwell’s patented knack for storytelling—all wrapped in the lush melodic textures that have long been the bedrock of Band of Horses’ signature sound. Putting a finer point on it, Record Collector calls the album “a shimmering thing of beauty; a fresh summer breeze blowing in full of character and heart,” while The Guardian calls it “beautifully moving…the place where wistfulness and euphoria collide.” Following a triumphant set at Bonnaroo, BoH is taking their intimate show back on the road, playing crowd-pleasing sets that perfectly showcase a band that, as Rolling Stone says, “always find[s] a way to make the mythic feel down to earth.”  

photo by Angelina Castillo

A staple of East Nashville’s thriving music scene, Margo Price has made one of 2016’s biggest splashes with her debut album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. Price grew up in Aledo, Illinois, and after dropping out of college, moved to Nashville in 2003. She soon met bass player/future husband Jeremy Ivey, and formed a band called Buffalo Clover. They self-released three records and built a local following, but it was personal tragedy that brought Price’s calling into even sharper focus. “I lost my firstborn son to a heart ailment,” Price says, “and I was really down and depressed. I was drinking too much. I was definitely lost. I thought, ‘I’m just going to write music that I want to hear.’ It was a big turning point.” Recorded at Memphis’ legendary Sun Studios and funded by Price pawning her wedding ring and selling her car, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter (released on Jack White’s Third Man label on his personal invitation) adds fresh twists to classic Nashville country, with a sound that could’ve made hits in any decade. From the honky tonk comeuppance of “About To Find Out” and the rockabilly-charged “This Town Gets Around” to the weekend twang of “Hurtin’ (On The Bottle)” and the hard-hitting blues grooves of “Four Years of Chances,” “Price’s sensibility is modern, turning these old-fashioned tales of heartbreak, love, loss, and perseverance into something fresh and affecting,” says All Music. “Price’s excellent debut wastes absolutely no energy trying to address her place in the country-music ecosystem,” says Exclaim, “and gets right to telling us who she is, rather than who she ain’t.” “I hope that the record helps people get through hard times or depression,” explains the artist herself. “That’s ultimately what music did for me in my childhood, and especially in my early adult years. It’s about being able to connect personally with a song, and hopefully, it makes you feel not so lonely.”

Foals have become one of the U.K’s most acclaimed rock acts. Hailing from Oxford, England, also home to Radiohead and Ride, the band formed in 2005, and released their first single the following year. Enlisting Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio as producer, Foals released its full-length debut Antidotes in 2008. The band’s widescreen alternative rock sound reached full flower on the follow-ups Total Life Forever (2009) and Holy Fire (2013), both nominated for the Britain’s prestigious Mercury Prize. All of the band’s success and experience has led up to its biggest and best LP to date, last year’s What Went Down, featuring the hit “Mountain At My Gates.” Uncut called it “their most fully realized yet,” while Exclaim marked it as “a varied and textured offering that will add depth to their high-energy live shows.” “Foals consolidate their position here by continuing to do what they do best,” noted Mojo,”namely expressing big emotions loudly through fizzing rock anger or unbridled, danceable joy.” “It’s unfettered communication,” says singer and songwriter Yannis Philipakkis. “Before, there’s always been that gap between the imagination, the romance and fantasy about what we wanted to create, and the actual reality, and that disparity has been difficult. But on this record, we’re the closest we’ve ever been to the vision in our heads. One thing that we really take pride in is that, through a series of beautiful accidents, we’ve got to the position where there’s no tethering to any preconceived idea of what we should do. So it feels like we can do anything.”

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.

Ralph Stanley R.I.P.

Austin City Limits mourns the loss at 89 of a true musical giant: Ralph Stanley. The Virginia native was not only a bluegrass titan as a performer, but as an innovator. Along with Flatt & Scruggs, his brother Carter and Bill Monroe, Stanley could lay claim to helping create one of America’s most distinctive musical forms. His high, lonesome singing, virtuoso clawhammer banjo picking and vast repertoire had a tremendous influence on bluegrass, folk, country, gospel and Americana. Though he didn’t write them, Stanley’s renditions of old-timey tunes “Little Maggie,” “Pretty Polly,” “O Death,” “Angel Band” and “Man of Constant Sorrow” (re-popularized by the film O Brother Where Are Thou) made them standards in the American songbook.

“Ralph Stanley was the last of the living bluegrass legends, after Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs,” remarked ACL Executive Producer Terry Lickona. “Like the others, he invented his own sound, his clawhammer banjo style came straight out of the hills, and his voice sounded like it had been around since the beginning of time itself. He was a gracious gentleman, with a gentle spirit. His appearance on ACL with Bill Monroe in 1986 was historic, a rare performance by the two bluegrass giants. Another important part of America’s musical past is gone.”

Here is Stanley with his Clinch Mountain Boys in 1980 with his signature song “Little Maggie.”

Freddy Powers 1931-2016

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.”