Kacey Musgraves tapes expansive, special ACL

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.

John Prine’s triumphant return to ACL

Singing and songwriting legend John Prine has been through some trials and tribulations since the last time he visited the Austin City Limits stage in 2005, but he’s come through it all swinging with a hugely acclaimed, top 5 record The Tree of Forgiveness. That album formed the heart of the setlist for his eighth ACL appearance and the longtime Nashvillian graced us with a funny, moving performance.

Before giving us Forgiveness, however, Prine dipped into his debut album for a pair of well-loved classics. Taking the stage with his four-piece band (including guitarist Jason Wilber and bassist David Jacques, last here with Prine in Season 31) to huge applause, the Illinois native opened with the lovely “Six O’Clock News,” from his 1971 self-titled debut. “This song goes out to Bonnie Raitt,” he said as he went into the timeless classic “Angel From Montgomery,” made famous by the singing slide guitarist. Then it was into The Tree of Forgiveness with the sprightly “Knockin’ On Your Screen Door,” the first of seven in a row from the new landmark. “Caravan of Fools” followed, a song co-written with Dan Auerbach and Pat McLaughlin and featuring, as Prine noted, “has more verses than there are original members in the cabinet of the present administration.” He dipped into the more humorous side of his personality for the wry “Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln, Nebraska (Crazy Bone),” before dedicating the heartfelt “Boundless Love” to his wife Fiona. “This next song is probably, at least for me, the prettiest song on The Tree of Forgiveness,” he said by way of introduction to “Summer’s End,” a tune that indeed could have competed in the musical equivalent of a beauty pageant. The folky “I Have Met My Love Today” returned to the theme of found love, while “Lonesome Friends of Science” sardonically saluted the dwarf planet Pluto and the Greek god Vulcan – “the only thing Pluto and Vulcan have in common is that they’re both in my song.”

The band then quit the stage, leaving Prine by himself to dig deep into his catalog. He started the solo portion of the set with the passively defiant “Everything is Cool,” from the early 90s’ hit The Missing Years. Then he returned to his first album for its opening cut “Illegal Smile,” which turned into a singalong during the chorus – the audience even sang the final chorus “solo.” Prine climbed the Tree again for “No Ordinary Blue,” a song about a couple’s argument that he wrote with old pal Keith Sykes. Prine then welcomed newcomer Tyler Childers to the stage, duetting on Sweet Revenge’s “Please Don’t Bury Me” and letting the young Kentucky native singer/songwriter do his own “Lady May” alone.

Prine and his band returned to the stage and went into “Lake Marie,” a fan favorite from Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings that serves as an anthem as much as a story song. The penultimate song in the set was the final song on Tree, the raucous, oft-hilarious “When I Get to Heaven,” featuring the band on kazoos during the instrumental break. Prine and company finished the set with his classic “Paradise,” another gem from his ‘71 debut, this version enhanced by a returning Tyler Childers. The crowd went crazy, letting Prine know just how much his artistry is loved and appreciated. It was a fitting end to a great set, and we can’t wait for you to see it when Prine’s episode airs this fall as part of ACL’s Season 44.  

Encore: The Pretenders

Austin City Limits rocks on with a hit-filled hour starring the great Pretenders in their first-ever appearance on the ACL stage. The legendary rock band sends a message of love to viewers with an eleven-song hit parade.

Influential punk new-wave veterans the Pretenders are in fighting form as they kick off an electrifying hour with new classic “Alone,” a swagger-fueled gem that fits right into the band’s canon, and the title track from their first album in almost a decade. Iconic bandleader Chrissie Hynde informs the crowd, “You don’t have to be polite, because we don’t plan to be.” The defiant frontwoman commands the stage, showcasing her still-radiant voice in a career-spanning performance featuring fan-favorites including “Back On The Chain Gang,” “My City Was Gone,” “Mystery Achievement,” and “Middle of the Road.” Pretenders’ trademark tough and tender lyrics resonate as they did when the band arrived on the London scene in 1978. Hynde fondly introduces original member Martin Chambers as “the world’s greatest rock drummer,” as he plays the stirring intro of “Message Of Love.” The band caps the powerhouse set with their signature hit “Brass In Pocket,” as Hynde pulls a spellbound fan onstage to join her on the timeless tune.

“One thing that hasn’t changed in almost 40 years,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona, “Chrissie Hynde is still a badass! There’s no doubt about who’s in charge, and musically her voice still rings as clear and strong as ever. Whether you’re an old fan or a newbie, this is a show for the ages.”

photo by Scott Newton

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. Join us next week for an encore episode of expert songwriting and soulful singing with Norah Jones and Angel Olsen.

Giveaway: Kacey Musgraves 6/6

UPDATE giveaway is now over.

Austin City Limits will be taping a performance by Kacey Musgraves on June 6th at 8 pm at ACL Live at The Moody Theater (310 W. 2nd Street, Willie Nelson Blvd). We will be giving away a limited number of space available passes to this taping. Enter your name and email address on the below form by noon on June 4th.

Winners will be chosen at random and a photo ID will be required to pickup tickets. Winners will be notified by email. Passes are not transferable and cannot be sold. Standing may be required. No photography, recording or cell phone use in the studio. No cameras computers or recording devices allowed in venue.

Giveaway: John Prine 6/5

UPDATE giveaway is now over.

Austin City Limits will be taping a performance by John Prine on June 5th at 8 pm at ACL Live at The Moody Theater (310 W. 2nd Street, Willie Nelson Blvd). We will be giving away a limited number of space available passes to this taping. Enter your name and email address on the below form by noon on June 1st.

Winners will be chosen at random and a photo ID will be required to pickup tickets. Winners will be notified by email. Passes are not transferable and cannot be sold. Standing may be required. No photography, recording or cell phone use in the studio. No cameras computers or recording devices allowed in venue.

Encore: Sturgill Simpson and Asleep at the Wheel

Sturgill Simpson ©KLRU photo by Scott Newton

stin City Limits welcomes breakout country artist Sturgill Simpson sharing the bill with legendary Western swing institution Asleep at the Wheel.  Two acts steeped in old-school tradition but beamed through a contemporary prism, the must-see episode features rising star Simpson making his full set ACL debut while Texas swing veterans Asleep at the Wheel return for their 11th appearance. ACL Hall of Fame members AATW are joined by guest stars The Avett Brothers, Amos Lee and the Quebe Sisters in a special tribute to musical forebear Bob Wills, the King of Western Swing.   

Forty years after Willie Nelson made his iconic debut on ACL on October 14, 1974, country rebel Sturgill Simpson arrives at the top of his game in a standout ACL debut.  With his acclaimed breakthrough Metamodern Sounds In Country Music topping Best of 2014 Album lists and a stack of accolades to call his own—including a Grammy nomination, top honors at this year’s Americana Awards, slots at the year’s biggest music festivals, including Bonnaroo, Coachella and ACL Fest—ACL captures Simpson on the verge of full-blown stardom.  Playing an acoustic guitar, the Kentucky native and his ace four-piece band launch into a scorching seven-song set that makes a believer out of everyone. He pays tribute to the outlaw country scene that inspired him, acknowledging his debt to Willie, and to Austin cosmic cowboy Steve Fromholz, with an impassioned rendition of “I’d Have to Be Crazy,” a Fromholz song Nelson made famous in the ‘70s, and a perfect showcase for Simpson’s rich baritone.  The full span of Simpson’s influences is evident with the inspired set-closer, a brilliant crossbreed of the Osborne Brothers’ bluegrass classic “Listening to the Rain” to glam-rock band T-Rex’s “The Motivator.”

A national as well as Texan treasure, the nine-time Grammy Award-winning Austin supergroup Asleep at the Wheel has kept the Western swing flame burning for forty-five years.  Still led by larger-than-life founder Ray Benson, AATW appeared in the first official episode of Austin City Limits in 1976, and returns for a remarkable eleventh appearance to perform selections from their recent Bob Wills tribute album Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, a salute to the great bandleader.  Wills’ music, born in the 1920s and ‘30s, continues to inspire younger generations, and AATW is joined on the ACL stage by some very special guests, including soul singer Amos Lee, fiddle trio the Quebe Sisters and Americana sensations The Avett Brothers, who put their own spin on Western swing classics.  A highlight of the set comes when two former Texas Playboys—singer Leon Rausch, 88, and 92-year old saxophonist Billy Briggs—take the stage.  The entire ensemble returns for a crowd sing-along of the signature “Texas Playboys Theme,” winding “Happy Trails” into the old chestnut for a perfect close.  

Asleep at the Wheel with special guests ©KLRU photo by Scott Newton

“This show goes back deep to the roots of where Austin City Limits began,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona.  “Sturgill would’ve fit perfectly into the Austin music scene of the ‘70s, and it speaks volumes that his own progressive country sound resonates so strongly and stands in contrast to much of the country pop today.  Asleep at the Wheel appeared on the very first episode of our very first season, and they’re still kicking it 41 years later – just like 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 another encore episode, featuring rock icons The Pretenders.

New tapings: Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real and Sam Smith

Austin City Limits has a pair of highlights coming up this summer: new tapings featuring roots rocker Lukas Nelson in his ACL debut on July 2 and the second appearance of international pop superstar Sam Smith on July 23.

After more than a decade on the road barnstorming across the U.S and around the world, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real have developed into one of America’s most dazzling live acts, attracting a dedicated, ever expanding following.  Still, with a bounty of invaluable experience under their belts, nothing foretold the artistic leap of their latest album, the self-titled Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, a mesmerizing, emotionally genuine, endlessly rewarding slice of cosmic country soul.  Released via Fantasy Records last summer, the widely acclaimed album draws on many of Lukas’ country and rock influences including literate Texas songsmiths like his dad, Willie Nelson, ‘uncles’ Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings, and iconoclasts such as J.J. Cale, The Band, Clapton-era Delaney & Bonnie and of course, the band’s mentor Neil Young, for whom the young devotees have toured and recorded with the past few years. 

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real features Lukas Nelson (guitar, vocals), Tato Melgar (percussion), Anthony LoGerfo (drums), Corey McCormick (bass, vocals) and Jesse Siebenberg (steel guitars, Farfisa organ, vocals) along with back-up vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Lessig of the indie-pop group Lucius, and Lady Gaga who added stirring vocals to two of the album’s 12 tracks.  The album’s lilting, Glen Campbell inspired gem, “Just Outside of Austin” also features a classic Willie Nelson guitar solo, and piano from Lukas’ 86-year-old Aunt Bobbi. “Their latest displays a newfound confidence, brokering country-soul, Southern rock and R&B with some panache,” proclaimed Uncut.  “The band’s best work, the record is a huge leap forward for Nelson,” raved Entertainment Weekly, and American Songwriter declared, “Ultimately, Lukas is carrying on Willie’s tradition, pushing the outlaw boundaries his famous father established in the ’70s and proving that the musical apple truly does not fall far from the tree.”  Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real were recently honored with a 2018 Americana Music Awards nomination for Group of the Year.

Multi-platinum GRAMMY ® award winning artist Sam Smith wowed ACL audiences with his 2014 debut during our milestone Season 40 and now, he returns with his chart topping, acclaimed sophomore album The Thrill Of It All.  Rolling Stone awarded it four stars and hailed Smith as “one of the mightiest, most expressive singers of his generation.”  The album includes the hits “Pray” and “Too Good At Goodbyes,” which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Digital Song Sales chart and is certified Platinum by the RIAA.  The British native’s breakout 2014 album, In The Lonely Hour was the biggest selling U.K. male debut in the SoundScan era and went on to sell 13 million albums worldwide. In 2015, Smith set a GRAMMY® record, winning a total of four awards – the most ever received by a U.K. artist following the release of a debut album. He was named Best New Artist, In The Lonely Hour took Best Pop Vocal Album honors and his single “Stay With Me” won awards for both Record and Song of the Year. Smith has also earned an Oscar, a Golden Globe, three Billboard Music Awards and three BRIT Awards.  He’s currently on his global headline The Thrill Of It All world tour.

Want to be part of our audience? We will post information on how to get free passes about a week before each taping. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for notice of postings. The broadcast episodes will air on PBS this fall as part of our Season 44.