Alejandro Escovedo rocks ACL Season 42 to a close

photo by Scott Newton

When we wrap production of a season of Austin City Limits, it’s always nice to do it with an old friend – in this case, singer/songwriter Alejandro Escovedo, a beloved staple of the Austin music scene since the early 80s and four-time ACL champ.  Joining fans around the world via our livestream, Escovedo hit our stage for a rockin’ show in support of his highly acclaimed new album Burn Something Beautiful.

He was joined for the occasion by the album’s stellar band: guitarist Peter Buck (R.E.M., season 34), bassist Scott McCaughey (R.E.M., The Minus 5), lead guitarist Kurt Bloch (the Fastbacks), drummer John Moen (the Decemberists, seasons 33 and 37) and singer Kelly Hogan (Neko Case, seasons 29 and 39), as well as his stalwart harmony singer Karla Manzur.  Performing nearly the entire album, Escovedo and company brought a perfect end to Season 42.

The three-guitar army blazing at full force, the band hit the stage with “Heartbeat Smile,” the kind of neo-classic rocker Escovedo is so good at. He followed with the more wistful “Sunday Morning Feeling,” which still encouraged waving lighters. Escovedo slowed things down literally and figuratively with “I Don’t Want to Play Guitar Anymore,” a contemplation of mortality and retirement that never felt sad. The blood pumped again via the brash “Beauty of Your Smile,” Bloch and McCaughey pogoing during the verses, before the band roared into the thumping Escovedo hit “Castanets,” highlighted by a fiery Bloch solo.

After band introductions, Escovedo donned his acoustic guitar for a pair of ballads, beginning with the lovely “Suit of Lights,” featuring Hogan’s dulcet tones on one verse. “Sensitive Boys,” Escovedo’s tribute to the folks who make rock & roll their world, kept the mellow but soulful vibe going, as did the midtempo “Farewell to the Good Times,” another look at the aging rock star life. Dedicated to the late U.K.-to-Austin expatriates Ronnie Lane and Ian McLagen, “Beauty and the Buzz” scanned wistful, reflective and beautiful.

Switching out his acoustic for his electric, Escovedo and band brought a party vibe to the rock with “Shave the Cat,” keeping the volume up for the rolling, dreamy “Johnny Volume” and its gnarly Bloch leads. The main set ended with a one-two punch: the thumping “Luna De Miel” and the anthemic “Horizontal,” which brought the proceedings to a close with a howl of feedback. Unsurprisingly, the crowd went wild.

Escovedo and the band returned, welcoming the Burn Something Beautiful Girls Choir to the stage. McCaughey took to the piano and Buck the ebow for the shimmering ballad “Thought I’d Let You Know,” featuring a free jazz piano solo. Then the musicians blasted into “Always a Friend,” the singalong rocker that’s become Escovedo’s signature tune. One re-do of “Beauty and the Buzz” later, Escovedo and his band of merry men and women sent the satiated audience out into the night. “I’ll always come back to Austin,” the local music scene vet enthused at the end. It was a great show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year as part of our Season 42 on your local PBS station.

Giveaway: ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO 11/30

photo by Nancy Rankin Escovedo

UPDATE: Giveaway is now over.

Austin City Limits will be taping performances by ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO on Wednesday, Nov. 30th, 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 9 am on Monday, Nov. 28th.

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 or recording devices allowed in venue.

ACL to livestream Alejandro Escovedo taping

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Austin City Limits closes out a banner Season 42 with something beautiful: a livestream of Austin legend and four-time ACL veteran Alejandro Escovedo on November 30. The taping will be streamed live in its entirety directly from the Austin City Limits stage.  Fans everywhere can watch the concert November 30 at 8pm CT/9 pm ET on ACLTV’s YouTube channel as it happens.  

Acclaimed singer/songwriter Escovedo returns to our stage in support of Burn Something Beautiful, his twelfth solo album. Recorded in Portland, OR with R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and the Minus 5’s Scott McCaughey as co-writers and producers, Burn Something Beautiful is at once a celebration of the rock & roll life, a contemplation of mortality and a tribute to the healing power of love. The project coalesced beautifully with the help of an esteemed group of musicians who give the album a band feel, including ACL vets Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), Kelly Hogan (Neko Case), John Moen (the Decemberists) and Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney). Connecting repeatedly with his soulful heart and voice at its core, Burn Something Beautiful is Alejandro Escovedo at his very best. The San Antonio native is, of course, no stranger to ACL – he has been on the show four times previously, starting as a member of Austin cowpunk legends Rank and File when they debuted on the show in 1983. For this appearance he’ll be joined by Buck, McCaughey, the Fastbacks’ Kurt Bloch, the Decemberists’ John Moen and Neko Case backup singer Kelly Hogan. We’re thrilled to welcome him back.

Please join us November 30 for this full-set livestream on our ACLTV YouTube channel. The broadcast version will air early next year as part of our current Season 42 on PBS.

CeCe Winans and St. Paul & the Broken Bones’ souled-out performances

photo by Scott Newton

CeCe Winans is a gospel legend, selling millions of albums and garnering ten Grammy Awards. St. Paul & the Broken Bones have taken the music world by storm, rising quickly through the ranks with a distinctive Americana-tinged soul sound. Both artists can raise the roof, and we were thrilled to host both of their debuts on our stage, where the ceiling definitely had trouble staying attached.

Bringing church to ACL, Detroit native Winans and her eleven-piece band opened with a funky New Orleans version of the old classic “When the Saints Go Marching In” that segued into a medley of “Victory is Mine” and “In the Name of Jesus We Have Victory.” Celebratory spirit thus established, she then shifted to new material from her upcoming Let Them Fall in Love, her first album in nine years, out February 3, 2017. The bluesy “Hey Devil!” told Lucifer to get lost with a high-spirited romp that included the chorus of Ray Charles’ gospel-derived “Hit the Road, Jack.” “Run to Him,” a love song to Jesus, brought old school soul to the party, as well as a call-and-response that employed two different counterpoints for Winans to sing over. “Peace From God” rode an easygoing groove as it delivered its message, while “Lowly” added a shot of 70s soul to its rousing call to stay low (because there’s no place to fall). Winans then brought Texas to the gospel equation, with a powerhouse take on Kris Kristofferson’s probing ballad “Why Me Lord” that got the biggest round of applause so far. Barely a second went by before she went into “I Need Thee,” the hymn serving as a coda to “Why Me Lord.” Winans followed with “Never Have to Be Alone,” her latest single and a sky-reaching ballad in the tradition of her late friend Whitney Houston. She closed with “Dancing in the Spirit,” a blazing sing- and dance-along that drove Satan from the building with pure spiritual joy.

But the night wasn’t over yet. Alabama’s St. Paul & the Broken Bones took the stage, singer Paul Janeway decked out in a bright red suit and sparkly golden robe, wailing through “Crumbling Light Posts, Pt.1,” the atmospheric opener to the eight-piece outfit’s second and latest LP Sea of Noise. Janeway doffed his robe and the band launched directly into “Flow With It,” a groovy seduction tune that had the audience in their pockets. The rocking yet grooving “Mighty River” drew right from the Muscle Shoals tradition, Janeway channeling the late, great blue-eyed soul homeboy Eddie Hinton. One flute intro later, the Bones eased into the clever plea “I’ll Be Your Woman.” “This is one of those milestone things,” commented Janeway, before the band performed the mid-tempo gem “Tears in the Diamond.” The band then revisited its 2014 debut album with “I’m Torn Up,” a powerhouse ballad that found Janeway in the crowd, preaching the gospel of heartbreak. The Bones dipped their toes back into the Sea of Noise with the rocking funk of “Midnight On the Earth,” which got the audience shaking their groove thangs with abandon. “Waves” followed, a ballad driven by Browan Lollar’s growling guitar, before St. Paul exercised his thrilling falsetto on the 70s grooves of “All I Ever Wonder.” The Bones ended the main set with the anthemic ballad “Sanctify,” to a wild ovation from the crowd.

The band returned, of course, for a generous encore of three tunes. The warm country soul of “Is It Me,” which Janeway introduced as a lullaby, served as a palette cleanser before the raucous R&B of “Call Me,” another gem from the first Bones LP. The group ended the show with “Burning Rome,” a slow burn ballad that had Janeway pulling out all his vocal stops and wrapping his carpet around his shoulders like a cape. The audience loved it, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it broadcast this winter as part of our Season 42 on your local PBS station.

Giveaway: Cece Winans and St. Paul and the Broken Bones

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UPDATE: Giveaway is now over

Austin City Limits will be taping performances by CECE WINANS & ST. PAUL AND THE BROKEN BONES on Sunday, Nov. 20th, 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 9 am on Thursday, Nov. 17th.

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 or recording devices allowed in venue.

My Morning Jacket and Ben Harper bring big rock to ACL’s Season 42

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits showcases two of modern rock’s best live acts: My Morning Jacket and Ben Harper.  The longtime fan favorites make return appearances armed with new material in a must-see installment as part of ACL’s Season 42.

My Morning Jacket return for the first time in nearly a decade for their third Austin City Limits appearance, highlighting songs from their last two studio albums, The Waterfall and Circuital.  The Kentucky indie-rockers, five-time Grammy Award-winners, kick off a blissed-out 4-song set with the title track to 2011’s Circuital.  Charismatic leader Jim James dazzles in a colorful kimono and big sunglasses as the band builds their signature soundscapes, including a tune from The Waterfall, a 2016 Grammy nominee for Best Alternative Album.  Their psychedelic textures expand into a glorious wall of sound for the set-closer “Victory Dance,” as the shape-shifting James prowls the stage with a towel on his head and an electronic sampler around his neck for an epic close.

Ben Harper reunites with his longtime backing band the Innocent Criminals after a seven-year hiatus for his first ACL appearance since Season 35.  Harper and crew deliver a powerful, six-song set featuring classics and new songs from 2016’s acclaimed Call It What It Is.  Opening with the ever-catchy “Steal My Kisses,” the frontman gets the crowd on its feet, then segues into soulful new gems, showcasing his trademark lap steel guitar bona fides.  The socially-charged title track from his latest release has Harper reciting the names of gone-too-soon young black men.  Harper’s show-stopping performance of the take-us-to-church gospel burner “Where Could I Go” leaves both singer and audience overcome from the power of the moment, exposing the painfully honest and self-reflective lyrics that have made Harper a fan-favorite for 20-plus years.

photo by Scott Newton

“Jim James has appeared on the ACL stage in many musical guises, as befits his wildly eclectic virtuosity,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona.  “But My Morning Jacket brings him back to ground zero where he is most at home. He’s one of the best at engaging a live audience, and it shows.  Ben Harper is another perennial favorite, always in tune with the times, his fans and his musical muse.  It’s very much like a homecoming for both of them, but more akin to two old friends coming home from long musical journeys to show us what they’ve learned.”

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 an ACL Presents special, featuring the Americana Music Festival 2016.

Parker Millsap sets ACL on fire

photo by Scott Newton

Singer and songwriter Parker Millsap tears it up on our upcoming ACL Presents: Americana Music Festival 2016 special, airing November 19th, and that standout performance was enough for us to ask him to come do his own appearance on our show. The young Oklahoma native has set the Americana world on fire with his songs, his voice and his live show, and this taping – which we streamed live – showed exactly why.

Taking the stage with his backing trio, Millsap mentioned how he used to watch ACL with his father on Thursday nights on OETA in Oklahoma. He then launched into the title track of his latest album The Very Last Day, a jumpy tune about nuclear annihilation. The rocking, Steve Earle-esque “Hands Up” chronicled a gas station stick up, starring a robber more desperate than diabolical. Following band introductions, Millsap introduced the bluesy “Palisade,” the title tune from his 2012 debut and a showcase for Daniel Foulks’ gypsy fiddle. The quartet then dug into the repertoire of old-time banjoist Charlie Poole for a blues-soaked take on the classic “Hesitation Blues,” a great showcase of Millsap’s gritty howl. He followed with the Bo Diddley-beat of “Pining,” another tune from The Very Last Day. Then it was time for a show-stopper: the NPR favorite “Heaven Sent,” a heart-wrenching ballad about a young gay man in Oklahoma struggling for his Christian father’s acceptance.  The audience justifiably applauded wildly.

Millsap and company followed that heavy tune with “Truck Stop Gospel,” a frisky rocker that garnered cheers as soon as he announced it. His band then quit the stage as Millsap donned an acoustic guitar for “A Little Fire,” a folk ballad that showed off his fingerpicking skills. Another guitar switch and the return of his backup musicians led into “Your Water,” a new country-pop song he wrote with Wimberly native and ACL two-timer Sarah Jarosz. Millsap then gave us another brand new song, the midtempo 70s-style pop/rock tune “Other Arrangements.” which pushed his voice into a winsome falsetto. “Morning Blues” followed a similar, if bluesier, tack. “Quite Contrary,” however, added a shuffling rock beat as Millsap subverted nursery rhymes in telling the stories of Oklahoma meth addicts. Foulks then switched out his fiddle for a guitar on “Wherever You Are,” a bluesy folk rocker. Millsap and band ended the main set with a cover of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “You Gotta Move,” the classic blues song that served as another showcase for both Foulks’ ragged lyricism and Millsap’s remarkable voice. That one-two punch brought the house down.

But of course it wasn’t over. Millsap and the trio returned to the stage for “Hades Pleads,” a choogling rocker in which Death tries to get laid via Millsap’s Plantesque wail. After that triumph, the band took its bows to well-deserved applause. It was a breakout performance by a young artist deserving of all the kudos coming his way, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year as part of our Season 42 on your local PBS station.

ACL Season 42 brings Latin grooves with Natalia Lafourcade and Grupo Fantasma

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits presents the contemporary Latin sounds of two of music’s best in show, Natalia Lafourcade and Grupo Fantasma. Mexican superstar Lafourcade performs songs from her Grammy-winning album Hasta la Raíz and powerhouse Latin funk orchestra Grupo Fantasma deliver show-stopping grooves.  

As one of Mexico’s biggest music stars, Natalia Lafourcade’s infectious mix of pop, rock, folk and bossa nova has earned the singer-songwriter multiple international chart-topping albums.  In her Austin City Limits debut, Lafourcade and her backing quintet perform selections from her sixth studio album, the acclaimed Hasta La Raíz, which won universal accolades, culminating in four 2015 Latin Grammys, including top honors of song and record of the year for the title track, and a 2016 Grammy Award (her first) for Best Latin Rock album.  Opening with the title track, an intimate, melodic anthem about holding on to one’s roots, the set showcases her sweet, airy vocals.  Lafourcade reaches back to the catchy “En El 2000,” her 2003 breakthrough radio hit and a song she explained that she’d come to hate due to constant requests for it, but now “we’re friends again.”  She closes out the captivating set with the pretty, bossa nova-influenced gem “Para Qué Sufrir,” a clear fan favorite.   

“I was hooked as a fan when I saw Natalia Lafourcade perform at the Latin Grammys,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona.  “She may seem an unlikely Latin superstar, but her sweet voice and personal songs have a way of connecting with her fans and the world around her.”

Austin originals Grupo Fantasma deliver a white-hot, delirious blend of big-band samba, merengue and Latin jams in a powerhouse five-song set.  Formed in 2000, the 9-piece funk outfit first-appeared on ACL in Season 33.  The Grammy-winning funksters continue their decade and a half of magic with danceable, irresistible songs from their new, acclaimed album Problemas, produced by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin.  Opening with the slow-burning cumbia “Nada,” the crowd is on its feet.  The band is joined by special guests Steve Berlin and renowned saxophonist Karl Denson for “Cayuco,” a sultry mambo torn from the horns and heat of Cuban dance halls.  The group welcomes Los Texmaniacs accordionist Josh Baca and former Grupo founding member Adrian Quesada for the conjunto-flavored “Esa Negra.”  Performing the title track of Problemas, Grupo’s charismatic bandleader Jose Galeano gives dance instructions to the front row.  For the final song, a tribute to the band’s late friend and champion Prince, the 9-piece orchestra swells to 17-pieces. Galeano, at a momentary loss for words, simply remarks “There’s not much we can say.  We’re just gonna play.”  And so they do, 17-strong across the stage, lighting the room aflame with the Purple One’s disco-fied early hit “Controversy.”

photo by Scott Newton

“Kick-ass Latin funk might not be a music genre, but it defines what Grupo Fantasma does,” says Lickona.  “There were 20 musicians blasting and riffing their way through the night, shaking the stage if not the balcony high above! Austin is not usually known for its Latin grooves, but Grupo could change that!”

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 brand new episode featuring the return of longtime ACL friends My Morning Jacket and Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals.