ACL Season 40 continues with Ed Sheeran and Valerie June

Austin City Limits continues its milestone 40th season with two innovative singer-songwriters: UK sensation Ed Sheeran and rising star Valerie June. Ed Sheeran makes his ACL debut in a must-see episode that features the breakout star performing his entire set solo. Sheeran exudes the raw talent that has made him a worldwide superstar, with charged versions of hits from his landmark debut and new songs from the chart-topping follow-up release. Acclaimed Southern singer-songwriter Valerie June shares the bill, making a captivating ACL debut with her starry-eyed roots music.

Ed Sheeran brings his A-game in his ACL debut, with a remarkable one-man solo performance that demonstrates why he’s one of music’s most popular live performers.  Clad in an ACL t-shirt, the 23 year-old three-time Grammy nominee performs his  breakthrough hits “The A Team,” “Lego House” and songs from his new release x.  With an acoustic guitar and a loop pedal as his only accompaniment, Sheeran creates a perfectly balanced mix of hip-hop and acoustic balladry. He showcases the honest songwriting and vocals that have earned him legions of fans across the globe.  Closing out the crowd-pleasing set, Sheeran leads the rapturous audience in an epic sing-along of his hit “Sing,” with the Austin crowd still chanting as Sheeran leaves the stage.

Striking Southern singer-songwriter Valerie June makes her first appearance on the ACL stage performing songs from her luminous debut Pushin’ Against a Stone. The Washington Post raves of the release: “Shades of Nina Simone, Dolly Parton and blueswomen of decades past flicker throughout; you can easily picture it crackling out from a timeworn record player.” The Tennessee native’s heartfelt sound and beautifully timeless voice have earned her critical raves and a 2014 Americana Awards nomination for emerging artist. With one foot in country blues, the other in mountain folk music and her head in the stars, June and her band conjure a distinctive brand of genre-blending that she calls “organic moonshine roots music” for a memorable ACL debut.

photo by Scott Newton

“In some ways, Ed Sheeran and Valerie June are as different as night and day,” says ACL Executive Producer Terry Lickona, “but they are both distinctly original in their music. Through their intimately personal songs and unique onstage personas, they represent everything that Austin City Limits is all about.”

Tune in this Saturday 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 goodies. Next week: Nine Inch Nails.

The return of the Avett Brothers

Last night we welcomed the The Avett Brothers back to the Austin City Limits stage in a triumphant return to the show. Fresh from their appearance at the ACL Music Festival, the band was greeted by enthusiastic fans eagerly waiting to hear them and sing along.  Since the band first appeared on the show in 2009, they have been busy writing and recording back-to-back Rick Rubin-produced albums The Carpenter (which received a Grammy nomination for Best Americana Album) and Magpie and the Dandelion.

As the band opened with the romantic folk rocker “Live and Die,” there was a clear difference between this band and the one that visited in Season 35, and not just because of the addition of a drummer, keyboardist and fiddler. The ragged, nervous energy of the first show has been replaced by a different vibe, one of confidence and the professionalism that comes from having played hundreds, if not thousands, of shows to people all over the world. The energy level was just as high as last time, but this time the band focused its power, giving the frisky folk tune “The Fall,” the piano anthem “Head Full of Doubt, Heart Full of Promise” and the giddy folk rocker “Satan Pulls the Strings” a blazing vitality that was infectious. Not that the audience needed much prodding – even lower key tunes like “Life” and “Rejects in the Attic” garnered cheers before they’d barely started.

As good as the band was with newer tunes, it was on older songs like “Slight Figure of Speech” and “Kick Drum Heart,” both transformed into rock anthems, that proved explosive. The band ended the show with an especially peppy take on George Jones’ “The Race is On,” on which the septet bounced all over the stage, before coming down with the lovely “November Blue” from their very first LP. The crowd went wild as their heroes left the stage, and we’re sure you’ll go wild as well when we broadcast this episode early next year on your PBS station.

Encore: Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell

This weekend, music legends Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell return to Austin City Limits and share the stage to celebrate their shared history, their collaborative album Old Yellow Moon and the continuing power of the song.

Friends for forty years, Harris and Crowell have an entwined four-decade history of music-making. ACL veterans, both artists have each appeared on the program seven times, although this episode marks the first time the pair have performed together on the ACL stage. The Americana icons perform favorites and songs from their acclaimed duets album Old Yellow Moon. The collaboration was chosen as album of the year at this year’s Americana Music Awards and the pair was honored as duo of the year. American Songwriter says of the album, “On Old Yellow Moon, Harris and Crowell embrace the entire range of life and music they’ve experienced, from the reckless passions of youth to the reflectiveness of age, from loose-limbed hillbilly boogies to graceful balladry.”

“It’s great to be back at the world’s greatest and longest-running music show,” says Harris as she takes the ACL stage with Crowell. The breathtaking performance includes the two longtime kindred spirits joining their voices on Crowell originals as well as revivals of songs by Roger Miller, Matraca Berg and Kris Kristofferson. Harris opens with some of her earlier Gram Parsons-era hits, and the duo fast-forwards to a more recent era for Harris’ “Red Dirt Girl” and Crowell’s “Rock of My Soul,” their voices wrapping the songs in the kind of harmonies only old friends can generate. Special guest Shawn Colvin joins in the finale for a spirited take on Crowell’s “Stars On the Water.” The episode celebrates a longtime friendship and collaboration, and the pleasure the two music legends take from singing some of their favorite songs is palpable.

photo by Scott Newton

“Emmylou and Rodney are an important part of the history of ACL – going all the way back practically to the beginning,” says executive producer Terry Lickona. “But it goes deeper than that – they reflect the heart and soul of what ACL is all about. And the two of them together is a perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts!”

Hit up the episode page for more info and don’t forget to follow ACL via Facebook, Twitter or our newsletter. Next week: The Head and the Heart and Gomez.

 

ACL Announces Season 40 Broadcast TV Schedule

Today Austin City Limits is proud to unveil our milestone 40th season, celebrating a four-decade run with more legendary artists, innovators and highly anticipated debuts. Providing viewers with a front-row seat to the best in music performance for 40 years, we’ll return on Saturday, October 4th with an unforgettable hour-long set from an American original, musician/songwriter Beck. Prior to the season premiere, a primetime special honoring the program’s anniversary, Austin City Limits Celebrates 40 Years, airs Friday, October 3rd, 9-11pm ET on PBS Arts Fall Festival.

Beck kicks off the celebratory season with an epic, career-spanning full-hour performance. One of the most creative artists of his generation, Beck shines in an exceptionally entertaining hour, showcasing a mix of vintage fan favorites and more recent gems. On the next installment, British sensation Ed Sheeran makes his ACL debut in a must-see episode that features the breakout star performing his entire set solo acoustic. Sheeran exudes the raw talent that propelled him to the top of the charts, with charged versions of hits from his landmark debut and new songs from the chart-topping follow-up release. Acclaimed Memphis singer-songwriter Valerie June shares the bill, making a captivating ACL debut with her starry-eyed roots music. Legendary industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails make a rare television appearance in an arena-worthy hour-long presentation that previewed in the spring to become one of ACL’s most talked about episodes. A season highlight is the return of ACL veteran Jeff Tweedy for a special hour. The Wilco leader showcases his first-ever solo project Tweedy, performing a mix of new songs and Wilco classics joined by his son and special guests.  Noir-rock outfit Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds make their ACL debut in a full-hour episode offering a memorable career-wide set powered by dark songs about love, death, God and fate.  Music legends Los Lobos return to the ACL stage for their fifth appearance, with the influential and enduring East L.A. band celebrating their recent 40th anniversary alongside ACL’s.

The new season boasts a number of highly anticipated debuts from music innovators: Breakout country star Eric Church, folk-rock wonders Thao & The Get Down Stay Down and acclaimed southern rock band J. Roddy Walston & The Business.

ACL executive producer Terry Lickona says, “Anniversaries can seem trite and predictable, but this season is very special for me in so many ways. It represents 40 years of musical adventure and discovery. ACL fans have come to expect the unexpected, and we love it all. We celebrate our past, but we’re more excited about the future!”

For the fourth consecutive year, the producers of Austin City Limits, in conjunction with High 5 Productions, and the Americana Music Association, are proud to present a special ACL Presents—featuring the best music performances from this year’s Americana Music Association Honors and Awards Ceremony held September 17th at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN.

Season 40 Fall Broadcast Schedule (additional episodes to be announced):

October 4            Beck

October 11          Ed Sheeran | Valerie June

October 18          Nine Inch Nails

October 25          Tweedy

November 1         Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

November 8         Los Lobos | Thao & The Get Down Stay Down

November 15       Eric Church | J. Roddy Walston & The Business

November 22       ACL Presents: Americana Music Festival 2014

The complete line-up for the full 13-week season, including new episodes to air beginning January 2015, will be announced at a later date. Check our news section for additional episode updates.

 

New taping: Nickel Creek

Austin City Limits is happy to announce a new taping with Grammy Award-winning and multi-platinum Nickel Creek on August 25. The recently reunited Americana trio return with their first new music in nine years and for their third appearance on the show. Mandolinist Chris Thile (who also visited us with his band Punch Brothers), guitarist Sean Watkins and violinist Sara Watkins (who recently appeared with the Decemberists) came together as Nickel Creek in the late 80s when they were pre-teens, becoming a bluegrass sensation with a pair of albums released just a few years later. But the band truly came into its own with its Alison Krauss–produced third and fourth records, Nickel Creek and This Side, which helped forge its distinctive bluegrass/roots/pop identity.

Following 2005’s Why Should the Fire Die? and 2007’s Farewell (For Now) tour, the trio took a few years off to work on individual solo careers and side projects. 2014 brought the surprise announcement of a reunion and a new album, with A Dotted Line and its subsequent tour coinciding with the band’s 25th anniversary. And since we’re celebrating our 40th anniversary, who better than Nickel Creek to return for their third ACL appearance as part of our milestone season?

Want to be part of our audience? We will post information on how to get free passes about a week before the 8/25 taping. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for notice of postings.

 

Encore: Sarah Jarosz and The Milk Carton Kids

Join us this weekend as we present Americana music originals Sarah Jarosz and The Milk Carton Kids in a brand new episode. Both artists showcase their bona fides in an all acoustic hour with roots/folk singer-songwriter Jarosz making a return appearance on the ACL stage and newcomers The Milk Carton Kids in their ACL debut. The episode showcases the young folk acts who were both nominated for Best Folk Album at the 2014 Grammy Awards.

Pushing the limits of Americana with her own distinctive style, multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz takes the ACL stage for her second appearance performing highlights from her album Build Me Up From Bones. The incredibly talented Jarosz has already released three albums at the age of 22. With her two-piece band featuring a fiddle player and cello, Jarosz begins a stellar set with the Grammy-nominated title track in an acoustic performance that showcases her musicianship and songwriting. Switching between mandolin and banjo, Jarosz also dips into the songbooks of others, treating the audience to an accessible take on Joanna Newsom’s “The Book of Right On” and a solo rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Kathy’s Song”. She invites The Milk Carton Kids out to join her and the band for “Annabelle Lee” (based on an Edgar Allen Poe poem), displaying their complementary visions of contemporary folk music.

“We are so proud of Sarah, we feel like she’s part of the family,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “The last time she graced our stage she was on her way to college, now she’s graduated with honors and her remarkable talent has grown exponentially. We couldn’t resist having her back!”

photo by Scott Newton

The Milk Carton Kids, the L.A. acoustic folk duo consisting of Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, make their ACL debut playing songs from their critically-acclaimed  album The Ash & Clay. The besuited pair “play a sweetly dazzling variation on close-harmony vocals, part Simon and Garfunkel and part Everly Brothers” (LA Times) for a sound NPR calls “gorgeous contemporary folk.” With flat-picking, harmonies and a touch of twisted humor, the duo play purely acoustically on the ACL stage—no guitar amplification and one vocal mic—to beautiful effect. In a skillful performance infused with their signature wit, the Kids charm the Austin crowd with their playful, deadpan banter, exquisite guitar work, rich harmonies and timeless folk.

“I first saw Kenneth and Joey perform on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium last September, and it was obvious that they are world-class entertainers beyond their years,” says Lickona. “They are traditionalists with a modern spin and a mischievous sense of humor.”

photo by Scott Newton

Check out the episode page for more details. Be sure and visit our Facebook and Twitter pages or sign up for our newsletter for more ACL goodness. Next week: Phoenix.

 

ACL’s all-star 40th anniversary

When you’re celebrating four decades of musical excellence, there’s only one way to do it: with amazing artists, superior songwriters and master musicians. We were lucky to have all of the above join us for ACL Celebrates 40 Years, our all-star tribute co-hosted by Jeff Bridges and Sheryl Crow, and featuring Bonnie Raitt, Kris Kristofferson, Gary Clark Jr., Jimmie Vaughan, Alabama Shakes, Robert Earl Keen, Joe Ely, Doyle Bramhall II, Lloyd Maines and Grupo Fantasma.

Trading guitar licks with Jimmie Vaughan and Gary Clark Jr. and joined on vox by Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, Bonnie Raitt kicked off the first half of the show with a Grupo Horns-spiked groove through Sam & Dave’s classic “Wrap It Up.” Standard thus set, Raitt reiterated the importance of ACL to artists like herself that resisted easy categorization before launching into Mable John’s classic “Your Good Thing (is About to End),” punctuating the jazzy soul ballad with creamy slide solos. The set moved quickly from one legend to another, as Kris Kristofferson took the stage with co-host Crow for a moving take on his titanic classic “Me and Bobby McGee.” After an elated Crow exited, the Texas songwriting legend growled his virtual theme song, AKA the masterful “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33.”

After Crow having some time behind her guitar, it was time for her fellow host to have a shot, as Jeff Bridges returned to the stage in tribute to his recently deceased friend and Austin favorite Stephen Bruton. The Bruton-penned “What a Little Bit of Love Can Do” and “Fallin’ and Flyin’” (the latter from the Crazy Heart soundtrack) sounded great coming from Bridges’ perfectly weathered throat. Following that treat, ACL executive producer Terry Lickona came on to recap the recent ACL Hall of Fame presentation, honoring creator Bill Arhos and pilot star Willie Nelson. The past thus commemorated, it was time to move from veterans to young guns, as Alabama Shakes launched into its old-school soul ballad “Heartbreaker.” The band then gave the audience a thrill with the Memphis-styled “Gimme All Your Love,” a new song as yet unreleased on any Shakes record. Set one closed out with Austin guitar hero Gary Clark Jr., whose blues rocker “Bright Lights” slow-burned its way into our ears on the back of his sizzling thick-toned solos.

One brief intermission in order to reset the stage later, blues and Americana gave way to a different groove, as Austin’s greatest Latin funk orchestra Grupo Fantasma got hips moving and booties shaking. The slinky “Nada” and funky “Mulato” could make a dead man dance. We then shifted from sexy salsa to hard-edged rock, with a special videotaped appearance by the Foo Fighters. The alt.rock superstars blazed through a fierce take on Austin hero Roky Erickson’s raging “Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog),” recorded in the original ACL studio 6A – the public debut of a performance that will appear in the final edit of the special.

“If you want to hear what the blues are like in the 21st century,” proclaimed co-host Crow, “get ready.” That was the signal for Austin blues kingpin Jimmie Vaughan to re-take the stage, joined by his old friend and tonight’s vanguard artist Bonnie Raitt. The pair essayed an old Billy Emerson tune called “The Pleasure’s All Mine,” a classic blues shuffle with their guitars locking horns at the end. Vaughan continued solo in the classic blues bag with Teddy Humphries’ stinging “What Makes You So Tough,” before inviting his former proteges Clark and Doyle Bramhall II up for the latter’s unrecorded blues grinder “Early in the Morning.” Blues has always been important to ACL’s history, and it was nice to have the spotlight shone directly on it.

Following a salute to our other Hall of Fame inductees Darrell K. Royal and Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, co-host Sheryl Crow arrived for her own set. With Bramhall guesting on guitar, she rocked “Can’t Cry Anymore,” one of her earliest hits from her breakthrough Tuesday Night Music Club. She then ceded the mic to Bramhall, singing harmony on his own early rocker, the choogling “I’m Leavin’.” Crow then shared the spotlight with Clark, the pair doing a guitar-and-harmonica run through blues pioneer Elizabeth Cotten’s standard “Freight Train.”

ACL started as a showcase for Texas music, so it was only natural for the penultimate segment to honor that legacy. Seminal Lone Star singer/songwriters Joe Ely and Robert Earl Keen took the stage for what Bridges called “the song that pretty well sums up the theme tonight,” the fist-pumping Texas anthem “The Road Goes On Forever,” written by Keen in 1989 and a staple of Ely’s live shows. Ely then left the stage so Keen could perform his cheeky crime tale “I Gotta Go,” before returning for his own original lighter-waver, “All Just to Get to You.” The Texan theme continued, with a special Hall of Fame award presentation to producer/steel guitarist Lloyd Maines, a veteran of both Ely and Keen’s live bands, the house bandleader for the night and quite possibly the musician who’s appeared the most times on the ACL stage.

Though the song claims that “The road goes on forever and the party never ends,” our party did come to an end with a massive gang-twang on Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” featuring the entire cast. You can’t have a much better time than with Joe Ely, Jeff Bridges and Sheryl Crow trading verses and Bonnie Raitt, Jimmie Vaughan and Gary Clark Jr. trading solos. It brought a great evening blazing to a close. As the icing on the cake, this landmark performance will find its way to PBS for a two-hour prime time special as part of of the PBS Fall Arts Festival – look for ACL Celebrates 40 Years on PBS on Oct. 3 at 9pm ET.

 

Valerie June brings organic moonshine to ACL

“I’ll try not to cry tonight,” said Valerie June directly after taking the stage for her ACL debut. “It means the world to me to be here.” With an intro like that, it would be impossible not to be on the side of this fast-rising Memphis singer/songwriter. The talent bursting from her seams, however, justified the empathy. With one foot in country blues, the other in mountain folk music and her head in the stars, June and her band conjured a distinctive brand of genre-blending songs that she calls organic moonshine roots music.

June opened with the Carter Family chestnut “Happy or Lonesome,” her unique voice working the midpoint between those emotional extremes. Then she and her band – which includes guitarist Binky Griptite, last seen on the ACL stage as part of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – ranged all over the Americana map, from the twanging folk of “Twined & Twisted” and sprightly country of “Rain Dance” to the waltzing honky-tonk of “Keep the Bar Open” and the heartfelt gospel of Jim Reeves’ “This World is Not My Home,” which earned especially vocal approval from the crowd. But whether June was strumming her custom-made “baby” (a banjo/ukulele hybrid) for “Somebody to Love,” crooning through the R&B balladry of “The Hour” or philosophizing the slow blues of “Pushin’ Against a Stone,” June put her own stamp on every note. Once you hear “Goodnight Irene,” her show-closer, you’ll never want to hear it any other way.

This was one of those special first-time shows that will be talked about for years to come. We can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on PBS.