Angelique Kidjo brings energy and joy to ACL’s 41st season

Austin City Limits presents a joyous, irresistible hour with international superstar Angélique Kidjo making her highly-anticipated ACL debut. A two-time Grammy Award winner, the world-renowned African singer-songwriter delivers a high energy performance celebrating the universal power of music.    

Hailing from the West African country of Benin, Kidjo has been a major force in world music since the early 1990s. Her extraordinary musical achievements span a 25-year discography and thousands of concerts around the world. TIME Magazine has called her “Africa’s premier diva” and The Guardian named her one of the Top 100 Inspiring Women in the World.  Kidjo has enjoyed a long history of notable collaborations with greats from the jazz and pop worlds, including Bono, John Legend, Josh Groban, Peter Gabriel, Carlos Santana, Branford Marsalis, Vampire Weekend and Alicia Keys. In addition to her music she is known as a powerful advocate for women’s rights, education and public health issues in Africa. She is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002 and a 2015 recipient of the prestigious Crystal Award given by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, honoring individuals “who not only excel in their art, but also help to improve the world around them.”

In her ACL debut, Kidjo performs a buoyant, career-spanning, eleven-song set including songs from her 2015 release Sings, a 2016 Grammy nominee for Best World Music Album. Backed by her four-piece band, the spirited artist takes the stage resplendent in colorful dress, letting her powerful voice soar and her feet move. “I can see you’re ready for singing and dancing,” she tells the Austin crowd, “so don’t hold back.” Kidjo is accompanied by Austin choir Veritas for a soulful rendition of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” She pays homage to the pioneering South African singer Miriam Makeba, widely known as Mother Africa, with a version of her classic “Pata Pata,” delivered in Swahili as a funky, infectious call to dance. Kidjo ventures out into the audience for “Afirika,” a celebration of the human family, as the crowd happily joins in. The revelry continues as she invites the audience onstage for the luminous “Tumba.” Kidjo leads the packed stage in dance, closing out the hour in a jubilant crescendo, with the entire audience on its feet, showering the singer with cheers and applause in appreciation.

photo by Scott Newton

“This is an amazing hour — a very joyful and emotional musical experience,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “You will want to dance, and you will cry. It really stands out in an otherwise great season, and represents what makes Austin City Limits unique. Angélique is a special artist — and she makes the best dance music on the planet!”

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 the Austin City Limits debut of Sleater-Kinney and the return of Heartless Bastards.

ACL 41 continues with singer/songwriters Ryan Adams and Shakey Graves

Austin City Limits presents an acoustic double-bill: Ryan Adams paired with Shakey Graves in a new installment showcasing the acclaimed singer-songwriters.  Ryan Adams, an ACL veteran who appeared in the milestone Season 40, returns with a rare, all-acoustic set, sharing the episode with Austin indie-folk rocker Shakey Graves.

Rock troubadour Ryan Adams offers a fascinating look at his acoustic side, in this intimate solo appearance filled with entertaining commentary from the artist and highlights from his standout catalog.  Opening with “My Wrecking Ball,” from his Grammy-nominated 2014 self-titled solo release, Adams humorously recounts the first time he performed on ACL as a 22-year old upstart.  He revisits his 2000 solo debut Heartbreaker for the melancholy “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” affably adding, “if you thought that was depressing, you haven’t heard anything yet.”  “Gimme Something Good,” a 2015 Grammy-nominee for Best Rock Performance, is rendered acoustic to powerful effect.  The self-deprecating artist closes the captivating set with 2002’s Demolition track “Desire,” likening it to “a 1-800-Flowers song,” while the sublime performance reveals it to be another hidden gem from his astounding body of work.

Hailing from Austin, Texas and recently crowned Best Emerging Artist at 2015’s Americana Music Awards, Shakey Graves makes his debut on ACL performing songs from his critically-acclaimed 2014 release And the War Came and 2011 debut Roll the Bones.  Alejandro Rose-Garcia, better known as Shakey Graves, gained recognition with his 2011 breakout as a one-man band, in which he thumped a kick drum made from an old Samsonite suitcase.  NPR raves, “The Texas singer’s charisma is matched by his warm, sometimes frenetic music.”  He tours extensively, performing at music’s biggest festivals, including 2015’s Lollapalooza and ACL Fest.  With his ever-present suitcase-housed kick drum, Graves kicks off an engaging set of his distinctive blend of country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll.  The gifted raconteur regales his hometown crowd with tales from the road and backstory on his songwriting for a memorable ACL debut.

photo by Scott Newton

“This show is all about the song – the art and craft of great songs and brilliant songwriters,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “The icing on the cake is that in the case of Ryan Adams and Shakey Graves, we have two artists who know how to pull every shred of emotion, and humor, from every word and note they write. Of course we’re also proud to show off our own homegrown talent with Shakey’s first-ever ACL.”

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 the Austin City Limits debut of African superstar Angelique Kidjo.

Kendrick Lamar highlights ACL Season 41

Austin City Limits is proud to present a season highlight, a highly-anticipated hour with rap superstar Kendrick Lamar. ACL has featured some of the most iconic performers in music for over four decades, and the legendary PBS series continues it run by showcasing this game-changing artist, widely-acclaimed as one of the greatest rappers of his generation. Already a two-time 2015 Grammy Award-winner, Lamar recently scored a staggering 11 Grammy nominations, leading the pack as 2016’s most-nominated act. In his hour-long ACL debut, Lamar performs tracks from his landmark 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly, Grammy-nominated for top honors including Album of the Year and Best Rap Album.    

The Compton, California native’s sophomore effort To Pimp A Butterfly is the year’s most critically acclaimed record, topping year-end best lists across the globe. The album debuted at No. 1, firmly establishing Lamar as one of the biggest hip-hop artists in the world. The New York Times hailed the work as a “magnum opus,” noting it “an album-length immersion in all the choices and contradictions facing a rapper with a conscience. Race, poverty, fame, lust, cultural heritage, the direction of America and the trajectory of his career are all on his mind.”

Backed by the tight five-piece band The Wesley Theory for his ACL debut, the 28-year old emcee invites the audience “into the magical world of ‘To Pimp A Butterfly,’” opening the intimate, riveting hour with the spoken word piece “For Free?” Lamar delivers an epic 13-song career-spanning set, deftly blending hip-hop, jazz, soul and funk, owning the stage and showcasing the whip-smart lyrical skills that have established him as a generational spokesman.  He brilliantly weaves together tracks from his 2012 breakthrough, the platinum-selling good kid/m.A.A.d. city, performing with a rawness and urgency while touching on universal, life-affirming themes for one of the most memorable performances on the ACL stage. The emotional, exhilarating hour comes to a moving close with the anthem “Alright,” a Grammy nominee for Song of the Year, with the entire Austin crowd breaking into the chant “We gon’ be alright!”

photo by Scott Newton

To Pimp A Butterfly is the most important album of 2015, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to disagree,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “Beyond making a powerful statement about the America we live in today, it’s a radical reinvention of modern hip-hop fused with improv jazz and classic R&B. This is the only full-length television performance of a contemporary masterpiece – it deserves to be seen and heard.”

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 new episode, featuring a special acoustic set from Ryan Adams and the ACL debut of Austin favorite Shakey Graves.

Alabama Shakes and Vintage Trouble rock and groove ACL 41

Austin City Limits returns to new episodes with an electrifying double-bill featuring two great live acts—Alabama Shakes and Vintage Trouble.

Alabama Shakes return to the ACL stage for a powerhouse performance on the heels of their five Grammy Award nominations, including Album of the Year, for Sound & Color, which debuted at No. 1 and topped critics’ 2015 year-end best album lists.  The Athens, Alabama-based modern soul band, who first appeared in Season 38, have become international sensations since their 2012 debut, with breakout performances at music’s biggest festivals including Coachella, Bonnaroo, Glastonbury, Lollapalooza and ACL Fest.  Lead singer Brittany Howard demonstrates her stunning vocal and emotional range in a knock-out six-song set exclusively showcasing Sound & Color, with blazing renditions of “Don’t Wanna Fight”, the Grammy-nominated track for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance and the anthemic “Gimme All Your Love”.  The soulful set-closer “Over My Head” highlights the Shakes’ genre-bending sense of exploration, as they continue to break new sonic ground as one of the finest bands of their generation.

“Few contemporary singers in the world today can touch the raw power and emotion of Brittany Howard,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona.  “Since their ACL debut, before they even had their first record out, Alabama Shakes has reached new heights, and their Grammy nomination for Album of the Year says it all!”

photo by Scott Newton

For their first appearance on ACL, Vintage Trouble deliver a thrilling, explosive performance. The high-energy LA quartet has garnered massive attention for their stadium-worthy live show, securing opening slots with rock giants AC/DC, The Rolling Stones and The Who.  Rolling Stone raves, “Imagine James Brown singing lead for Led Zeppelin and you’ll get an idea of Vintage Trouble’s muscular, in the pocket sound.” VT performs a blistering five-song set filled with the electrifying soul, blues and rock of their recent album 1 Hopeful Rd. Dynamic frontman Ty Taylor ventures into the audience for the set-opener “Run Like The River,” and in an ACL first, climbs through the studio to deliver the song’s close from the theater’s balcony. “Can we go back to the 1950s, and can we imagine that we are in a juke joint in North Carolina?” asks Taylor, and the Austin crowd is happy to oblige, on their feet for the entirety, hands-clapping and fists-pumping. A sweat-soaked Taylor lets his passion loose on the set-closing ballad “Run Outta You,” sparking a crowd sing-along that moves the charismatic singer to tears for a memorable debut.  

“I’ve never seen anyone take command of a stage (and audience) like Ty Taylor and Vintage Trouble!” says Lickona.  “It was a musical and emotional roller-coaster ride. People are still talking about that taping—and now so will viewers.”

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 new episode, featuring the ACL debut of rap superstar Kendrick Lamar.

Encore: Tom Waits

Tom Waits. KLRU photo by Scott Newton

The Tom Waits episode of Austin City Limits is one of the most requested shows in our 40-year archive. Recorded in December 1978, the show features the iconoclastic singer/songwriter supporting his classic LP Blue Valentine and deep in the transitional phase of his career, evolving out of the jazzy beat poetry of his early work (“I Wish I Was in New Orleans”) and into the bluesier, more dissonant sounds (“Sweet Little Bullet From a Pretty Blue Gun”) for which he became known in the 80s and beyond. He acknowledged the season with the streetwise but lovely “Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis,” which incorporates a few bars of a better-known Xmas hymn. And he debuted “On the Nickel,” one of his greatest ballads, and which wouldn’t be released on record until Heartattack and Vine in 1980.

You can check out the episode page for pics, the set list and the original liner notes for the episode. Don’t forget to visit our Facebook and Twitter pages and/or sign up for our newsletter for the latest news on ACL happenings. Next week: Phoenix.

Tedeschi Trucks Band on fire for ACL debut

All good things come to an end, and so it is with our 41st taping season. But we went out with a flourish, courtesy of Tedeschi Trucks Band. Co-leader Susan Tedeschi is no stranger to these shores, of course, having appeared on Austin City Limits before in seasons 24 and 29. But this is the first appearance of TTB, the band she formed five years ago with husband/master guitarist Derek Trucks. Mixing new material from the forthcoming LP Let Me Get By with choice covers, many drawn from the twelve-piece’s recent tribute show to Joe Cocker’s legendary album Mad Dogs and Englishmen, TTB gave us a memorable performance that perfectly closed out the season while being streamed live around the world to an audience of thousands.

The set began with the funky “There’s a Break in the Road,” a tune originally found on Tedeschi’s solo LP Back to the River. The band then jumped into the first of the new songs – “Don’t Know What It Means” found the pair trading solos over a soulful groove, with a side of a capella singing and sax solos. With no pause, Tedeschi then put her guitar to the side in order to give full reign to her scorching voice on a cover of the Box Tops’ “The Letter,” via its rollicking arrangement from Englishmen. The group returned to Let Me Get By for “Laugh About It,” an infectious slice of soul/pop that took on the aura of a gospel revival. Dipping back into the Mad Dogs’ repertoire, TTB took Cocker’s version of the Leonard Cohen standard “Bird On a Wire” and made it their own by virtue of a sparse arrangement and a stunning Tedeschi vocal. “She is Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin’s love child,” remarked Darren Addy who was watching the livestream on our ACLTV YouTube channel.  

Eschewing classic rock nostalgia for a bit, the band gave the audience another pair of samples from Let Me Get By. The shuffling jazz/funk title track put the spotlight on keyboardist Kofi Burbridge, while the jumping “I Want More” put Motown through its jam band paces with a gentle jazz coda. The group then revisited its Grammy Award-winning debut album Revelator for the silky smooth “Midnight in Harlem,” preceded by a smoky-improvised intro that had the crowd applauding Trucks’ every lick. Having thoroughly established their prowess for original music, TTB jumped back to Mad Dogs and Englishmen for a New Orleans-influenced reinterpretation of the Ray Charles-associated R&B tune “Sticks and Stones,” sung by backup singer Mike Mattison. Mattison and Tedeschi then took on a cover of Derek & the Dominos’ “Keep On Growing,” as Trucks laid down licks that would make Eric Clapton proud.

The band then dug deep into the blues, taking Tedeschi back to her roots with a searing cover of Bobby Blue Bland’s “I Pity the Fool” – an appropriate choice, since Tedeschi shared her first ACL episode with Bland back in 1998, and one that allowed her to show off her own formidable six-string skills. Tedeschi Trucks Band ended the main set with “The Storm,” the centerpiece of second LP Made Up Mind. An extended intro gave Austin jazz king Ephraim Owens (last seen on our stage backing Mumford & Sons) plenty of space to bounce off of Trucks’ spurts of guitar, before Trucks and Tedeschi bashed out the blues-rocking main riff, the group locked into the 70s soul groove and there were solos all around. The crowd went wild – “They are on fire tonight!” enthused YouTube viewer LIZISHIELDS 1.

But of course, that wasn’t the end. As Tedeschi announced that it was their last show of the year, the band returned to the stage to close out the running themes. “Anyhow” was the final new song of the evening, and an easygoing, 70s-style soul groove it was. The show finally came to a climax with “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” the Ray Charles hit essayed by Cocker and his Mad Dogs and given new life by TTB via round robin vocal lines and a traditionalist bent to the original R&B arrangement. It was a slam-bang finish to a blazing set that both live and online audiences loved, and a fine way to bring our 41st taping season to a close. “Excellent direction,” commented YouTube viewer Stu Levitan. “Whole production excellent!” We can’t wait for you to see this performance when it airs as a full-hour episode on February 13th, 2016 on your local PBS station.

Encore: Emeli Sandé and Michael Kiwanuka

Austin City Limits showcases British soul with a brand new episode featuring two uniquely original singer-songwriters—chart-topping Scottish songstress Emeli Sandé and UK sensation Michael Kiwanuka making their ACL debuts. Sandé performs hits from her breakthrough album Our Version of Events, while Kiwanuka plays tunes from his debut Home Again. Check with your local station for showtimes.

Sandé has achieved breakout success in her native UK and stateside with the striking debut, Our Version of Events, which was the biggest-selling album in 2012 in the UK and toppled The Beatles’ long-standing album chart record for the most consecutive weeks spent in the top 10 (an astounding 66 weeks). Sandé emerged as the big winner at the 2013 Brit Awards, winning a pair of awards, including the coveted Album of the Year prize. The Los Angeles Times raves, “Emeli’s folk-inflected soul/pop is Nina Simone and Bob Dylan all in one.” The New York Times calls her “a redemptive singer,” saying “Ms. Sandé has a perspective-altering voice, clear and brassy and weapons-grade.” Originally starting her music career as a songwriter, Sandé had many stellar credits for other artists (Alicia Keys, Rihanna) to her name when she traded it in for the spotlight. A dynamic performer, Sandé opens her soulful ACL debut with the upbeat anthem “Heaven,” a huge UK hit. She engages the Austin crowd as her backing choir on her current single “My Kind of Love”, and closes out a stunning set with the massive hit “Next to Me”.

“Emeli Sandé should be one of the brightest stars in the musical firmament, but despite her UK success, she’s one of the best-kept secrets here in the U.S.,” says executive producer Terry Lickona. “Hopefully her ACL performance will change all that. The best word to describe her many talents is ‘astounding!’”

photo by Scott Newton

London native Michael Kiwanuka has been making waves with his debut album, the lush, acoustic-driven Home Again, which reached No. 4 on the British charts, spawned four singles, and went Top 10 around the world, earning the 24-year-old singer, songwriter and musician opening spots for superstar artists including Adele and Mumford & Sons, and a slot at the 2012 ACL Festival. Kiwanuka was announced the winner of the prestigious BBC Sound of 2012 poll, which has also been won by Jessie J, Florence + the Machine, and Ellie Goulding. Kiwanuka connects with the Austin audience with his blues-folk sound and timeless, soulful voice, which has led to comparisons to such artists as Bill Withers, Terry Callier, and John Martyn.

“Sometimes Michael’s singing comes across as very old-school, retro soul,” said Terry Lickona. “But he has a very contemporary sensibility. With Michael, it’s all about the voice, and that’s timeless!”

Check out the episode page for more details on this great show. Be sure to hit up our Facebook and Twitter pages and our newsletter for more ACL-related information. Next week: an ACL classic with Tom Waits.

ACL artists at the 2016 Grammys

The nominations for the 58th Annual Grammy Awards are out now, and we’re pleased to see that a number of Austin City Limits’ distinguished guests have received top honors. Congratulations to Kendrick Lamar with eleven nominations: Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Song (twice), Best Rap Album, Best Pop/Sung Collaboration, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, Best Dance Recording and Best Music Video (twice!). Also shout-outs to a number of Season 41 performers receiving well-deserved nominations, including Alabama Shakes, nominated for Album of the Year, Best Rock Performance, Best Rock Song, Best Alternative Music Album and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical; Courtney Barnett, for Best New Artist, Angélique Kidjo, for Best World Music Album, Leon Bridges, for Best R&B Album, Don Henley, for Best American Roots Song and James Taylor, for Best Pop Vocal Album.

Kudos as well to the following ACL veterans who landed nominations: Florence + the Machine, John Legend, Ed Sheeran, Punch Brothers, Foo Fighters, Buddy Guy, Bela Fleck, the Mavericks, Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, Jason Isbell, Death Cab For Cutie, My Morning Jacket, Wilco, Keith Urban, Kacey Musgraves, The Milk Carton Kids, Mavis Staples, Brandi Carlile, Lee Ann Womack, Hayes Carll, Ralph Stanley, Shemekia Copeland, Bettye LaVette, Patty Griffin, Glen Hansard of the Swell Season, Rhiannon Giddens and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Congratulations to them all.

Go here to see in what categories all these artists are nominated, as well as all the nominees.

Stay tuned to ACL to catch stellar performances from some of these fine folks in action in the coming weeks – Alabama Shakes kick off the second half of our Season 41 with a return appearance on January 2, Kendrick Lamar on January 9, Angélique Kidjo on January 23, Leon Bridges on February 6 and Ed Sheeran on February 27.

And don’t forget – our own executive producer Terry Lickona is also co-producer of the Grammy telecast, as well as the former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Recording Academy, the Grammys’ parent organization. The Grammy Awards broadcast on February 15th – Good luck to Terry and all the nominees!