Gary Clark Jr. brings rock, blues and soul to his third ACL taping

photo by Scott Newton

The rise of Austin’s own Gary Clark Jr. has been a joy to behold, from his days as a teenage blues guitar slinger to the eclectic, critically acclaimed festival draw he is twenty years later. ACL has followed that rise with four previous appearances on the show, starting with his participation in the Jimmy Reed tribute in 2007 up through his 2012 and 2015 headlining slots and his 2015 guest appearance with Foo Fighters. (Not to mention appearances on our Hall of Fame specials and the 40th anniversary celebration.) Through those years, the ATX native has grown by leaps and bounds – and that’s never been more true than now, with his third Warner Bros. studio album This Land. So we were thrilled to welcome him back for a live streamed taping showcasing the widely hailed LP.

Clark got a loud hometown welcome as he came onstage after executive producer Terry Lickona’s introduction. The Austin homeboy basked in his welcome for a second before donning his Epiphone and going into This Land’s “What About Us,” a choogling blues rocker kissed by Clark’s alluring falsetto and co-guitarist Eric Zapata’s legato slide. “Feels good up here,” noted Clark, as Zapata knocked out the twangy riff to “When I’m Gone,” a R&B tune that could’ve come from a lost sixties soul compilation. The leader donned a Gibson SG and announced, “We’re gonna play some rock & roll for ya,” before launching into the grunged-out soul of “Low Down Rolling Stone” – like the other tunes from This Land, it focused as much on his soulful voice as his guitar. Keyboardist Jon Deas contribute a slinky Mini-Moog solo. Clark went back to his falsetto for the crunchy, but still groovy, “I Walk Alone,” taking it home with a gnarly guitar solo.

After a moment to catch his breath, Clark shifted back to a slice of warm-bath soul with “Guitar Man,” a sexy tune that, surprisingly, does not emphasize his six-string wizardry. The falsetto returned once again for “Feed the Babies,” a socially-conscious soul tune that came closer the classic sound of Curtis Mayfield than anyone outside of the man himself. Then the band went into “Feelin’ Like a Million,” an out-and-out reggae song spiced by stabs of power chords. Clark then started banging away at his axe for a repetitive guitar figure that led right into the near-punk of “Gotta Get Into Something,” a breath of fresh rock & roll air. The mood shifted from rock to funk for the similarly titled “Got to Get Up,” a hard groover that let Clark off the leash on his guitar.

After nine songs in a row from the new album, Clark dipped into his back catalog for “When My Train Pulls In,” delivering a more subdued, less fuzz-encrusted reading than usual, often more reminiscent of B.B. King than Jimi Hendrix – at least until the end, when Clark built an extended guitar solo from croon to scream. As a palette cleanser, he essayed the lovely, moody “Blak and Blu,” slowly moving towards his signature tune “Bright Lights,” which came on like a wave crashing to shore. It was the perfect setting for his latest killer: the angry, defiant “This Land,” given a seething, smoldering read. After that bit of catharsis, he ended the main set on a soothing note with the beauteous “Pearl Cadillac,” another showcase for his falsetto singing. That wasn’t quite all, of course, as Clark and band returned for a crowd singalong through his grungy version of the Beatles’ “Come Together” from the Justice League soundtracks. It was a brilliant way to end his third solo taping, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on your local PBS station.

Gary Clark Jr. live streams March 5 ACL taping

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Austin City Limits is proud to announce that we will be live streaming one of the first tapings of our new Season 45: Grammy-winning Gary Clark Jr. on March 5. The taping will stream live in its entirety via the ACL YouTube channel at 8pm CT.

Gary Clark Jr. arrives on the ACL stage for his third headlining appearance at the top of his game, on the heels of his new release, the highly-acclaimed This Land, his third studio album for Warner Bros. Records.  Recorded in Clark’s hometown of Austin, Texas, This Land finds Clark revealing his most lyrically expressive and musically eclectic body of work to date, harnessing his explosive live energy into every song.  NPR raves “Clark comes out swinging in his album’s title song “This Land” and Uproxx hails the album “a singular work that redefines who he is as an artist, and what he is capable of.”  This Land was named a critic’s pick by The New York Times’ esteemed Jon Pareles: “In 2019, Clark is an exceedingly rare figure, a bluesman who has a major-label recording contract and a worldwide audience, one he has built by tearing up stage after stage, show after show. On This Land, his third major-label studio album, his songwriting has caught up with his playing. It has something to do with experience; and it has a lot to do with America in 2019, where division and frustration can use an outlet with the historical resonance and emotional depth of the blues.”

In a relatively short period of time, Clark has made an indelible mark for himself in the music world. He has been called “the chosen one” by Rolling Stone, and “the future of music” by President Barack Obama.  Clark is a rare artist, a genre-bender who transcends sound, style, race, gender, and age; his prowess has been witnessed on the world stage from Bonnaroo to Jay-Z’s Made in America, to Coachella, to the Roots Picnic, to Glastonbury, and many more.  We’re thrilled to welcome this hometown hero back to the ACL stage before he heads out on a headlining tour across the U.S. and around the globe. The broadcast episode will air later this year on PBS as part of our upcoming Season 45.

Rainbow Kitten Surprise 5/6/19

photo by Matthew Salacuse

Nearly every song from ACL first-timers Rainbow Kitten Surprise unfolds in a dizzying rush of feverish yet finespun lyrics that feel both intimate and mythic. read more

New tapings: Kane Brown, Gary Clark Jr., the Revivalists and Rainbow Kitten Surprise

photo by Joseph Llanes

Austin City Limits is elated to announce the first tapings of our new Season 45: rising country star Kane Brown on March 3, Austin’s favorite son, Gary Clark Jr., on March 5, New Orleans rock band The Revivalists on April 9 and North Carolina alternative rockers Rainbow Kitten Surprise on May 6.

Hailed by the New York Times as “one of Nashville’s most promising young stars and also one of its most flexible,” three-time American Music Award-winner Kane Brown earned accolades throughout a milestone 2018, including his selection by the Associated Press as one of 2018’s Breakthrough Entertainers of the Year, and landed a No. 1 album with his sophomore release, Experiment. With that chart-topping debut, the Georgia native became the only male country artist in more than twenty-four years to debut at the top of the Billboard 200, and one of only three country artists to top the Billboard 200 chart in all of 2018. He first made history by becoming the first-ever artist to top all five Billboard Country charts with his 2016 breakthrough self-titled debut.  Brown recently topped the airplay charts with his third consecutive No. 1 single at country radio, “Lose It,” following chart-topping hits “What Ifs” and “Heaven.” His boundary-pushing musical style, undeniable fan connection, and trailblazing path have earned him accolades as as the “the future of country music” (Billboard).  ‘I’m just a guy who wants to make people realize you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” says Brown.  “I’m just somebody who’s wanting, no matter what race you are, if you like country music, if you want to be in country music, then you can be. Just look at me, and come on.”

photo by Frank Maddocks

Grammy Award-winning Gary Clark Jr. hits the ACL stage for his third headliner show, on the heels of the release of his highly-anticipated This Land, his third studio album for Warner Bros. Records, out February 22.  The charged songs on This Land offer a rich window into the afro-cosmic musical soul of Clark, with themes that reflect introspective intimacy and unapologetic cultural consciousness. The sonic canvas of his rhythms, beats, melodies and ever-present guitar virtuosity on this album are his most ambitious work to date.  Rarely has an artist alchemized the sounds of the great African-American music forms into one genre-defying statement of unique power, craft and social significance, as Clark has done. As Clark himself puts it: “This album was meant to sound like D’Angelo, Parliament Funkadelic and Cream. Someone asked me why I made such an expansive album. I said, if I didn’t get it out of me, I was going to explode. It’s all just soul music.”  In a relatively short period of time, Clark has made an indelible mark for himself in the music world. He has been called “the chosen one” by Rolling Stone, and “the future of music” by President Barack Obama.  Clark is a rare artist, a genre-bender who transcends sound, style, race, gender, and age; his prowess has been witnessed on the world stage from Bonnaroo to Jay-Z’s Made In America, to Coachella, to the Roots Picnic, to Glastonbury, and many more.  We’re thrilled to welcome this hometown hero back to the ACL stage.

photo by Zackery Michael

We also welcome, for the first time, chart-topping rock band The Revivalists. On their fourth studio album Take Good Care (Loma Vista Recordings), the New Orleans rising stars deliver a bevy of anthems marked by moments of sonic complexity, celebration, and catharsis, chronicling an unbelievable ride that unassumingly commenced in 2008 with hundreds of underground shows yearly. Ten years of tireless hard work would be unexpectedly revved up by the success of the platinum-selling number one smash “Wish I Knew You,” and like any enduring band worth its salt, the octet buckled down and turned up with an album chock full of tunes worthy of even greater success, such as the #1 Triple A and Top 5 Alternative single “All My Friends”and new hit single “Change.” The Revivalists – David Shaw [lead vocals, guitar], Zack Feinberg [guitar], Andrew Campanelli [drums], George Gekas [bass], Ed Williams [pedal steel guitar], Rob Ingraham [saxophone], Michael Girardot [keyboard, trumpet], and PJ Howard [drums, percussion]— have garnered more than 300 million total streams, have drawn praise from the likes of Rolling Stone, Billboard, Buzzfeed, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, Alternative Press, Uproxx, Flaunt, Nylon, and more, and have performed on The Late Show with StephenColbert, Jimmy Kimmel LIVE!, Ellen, TODAY and Conan. They were nominated for a Billboard Music Award and two iHeartRadio Music Awards, were named Billboard’s Top New Rock Artist of 2017 and have three years of back-to-back sold out headline tours in their biggest venues to date. In the end, The Revivalists welcome listeners on this journey with them as they set out with a newfound depth and ambition. “We’re in this together,” says Shaw. “We love to take people on an emotional rollercoaster with us. That’s what this record is. It’s who we are. There’s some real magic in that.”

photo by Matthew Salacuse

Nearly every song from ACL first-timers Rainbow Kitten Surprise unfolds in a dizzying rush of feverish yet finespun lyrics that feel both intimate and mythic. Throughout their third album How To: Friend, Love, Freefall, the Boone, North Carolina five-piece sets those lyrics to a thrillingly unpredictable sound that transcends all genre convention, endlessly changing form to accommodate shifts in mood and spirit. But while Rainbow Kitten Surprise push into some complex emotional terrain, the band’s joyful vitality ultimately makes for an album that’s deeply cathartic and undeniably life-affirming. Produced by Grammy Award-winner Jay Joyce and recorded in Nashville, How To: Friend, Love, Freefall marks Rainbow Kitten Surprise’s debut release for Elektra Records. In creating the album, the band immersed themselves in a deliberate sonic exploration, infusing their music with the kinetic energy of discovery. In sculpting the inventive arrangements and textures, Rainbow Kitten Surprise embedded each track with indelible melody and chilling harmonies with a long-lingering power. The quintet moves gracefully through infinite sounds and tones: the energetic R&B of “Fever Pitch,” the haunting a cappella harmonies of “Pacific Love,” the full-throttle frenzy of “Matchbox,” the tender psychedelia of “Moody Orange,” the tumbling folk of “Painkillers.” In working through such a kaleidoscopic sonic palette, Rainbow Kitten Surprise show the sharp musicianship and powerful camaraderie they’ve developed since forming at Appalachian State University in 2013. It wasn’t long before they’d gained a devoted following – amassing over a million streams on each song from their self-released catalog – and word spread about their unforgettable live show: a blissed-out free-for-all that typically finds frontman Sam Melo jumping right into the audience, building an unbreakable connection with the crowd, as delivered during stand-out sets at major festivals like Bonnaroo, Firefly, Sasquatch, and Austin City Limits.

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 later this year as part of ACL’s upcoming milestone Season 45.

August Greene closes the Season 44 taping season with smart grooves

photo by Scott Newton

On their own, Common, Robert Glasper and Karriem Riggins are powerhouses. But put this top tier rapper, keyboardist/producer extraordinaire and renowned drummer/producer together and you have magic. As August Greene, the trio released a stellar debut LP earlier this year that garnered praise from coast to coast. Now, for the final taping of Season 44, the group hit the ACL stage for a riveting set that crossed genres as easily as it made the audience’s booty move.

“We’re honored to be here,” said Common after ACL executive producer Terry Lickona’s opening introduction. Joined by four backing musicians, the group opened with its memorable radio hit “Black Kennedy,” deftly adding the chorus of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” to this celebration of black excellence. Common introduced the next song “Practice,” saying it’s about not knowing all the answers out of the box, and detailed getting through this spiritual practice called life— the powerful track was enhanced by backing singers Samora Pinderhughes and Muhsinah Abdul Karim.  Bassist Burniss Travis signaled the next tune with a beautifully melodic solo, before Pinderhughes joined Common at center stage for “Let Go.” The rapper encouraged the crowd to let go of any of their own negative energy, and they happily obliged. While the beat went on, the group segued directly into “Geto Heaven,” a tune from Common’s breakthrough classic Like Water For Chocolate. The band stayed with Common’s solo career for Be’s infectious “Go,” which earned big cheers. Common talked about working with the late producer J Dilla, leading the audience into his chant from “Thelonius,” another number from Chocolate. He then reached back almost a quarter of a century for “I Used to Love H.E.R.,” from his third solo LP Resurrection, quoting his colleagues, hip-hop all-stars Big Daddy Kane, ODB, Grand Puba, the Pharcyde and Nas along the way.  

We’re always thrilled when an artist presents new music on our stage, and August Greene obliged with “The Rival (She’s Callin),” a soulful new track from the band’s in-progress second LP. Segueing into “Come Close,” Common brought up a thrilled audience member and dazzled with his mic skills, improvising about her, the show and even Austin over the beat. The rhythm turned jazzy, allowing Glasper to show off the piano skills that elevated him to the top of the game in the modern jazz world.  He wasn’t satisfied only displaying his keyboard skills, though – the Grammy-winning jazz and R&B musician challenged the Grammy-laden rapper to a (one-sided) rap battle. That led into a vocal solo from backing vocalist Karim and a drum solo from Riggins. The drummer wasted no time after concluding his improv, driving right into “No Apologies,” a breathless burner from August Greene highlighted by a frisky Glasper solo.

Dissatisfied with the opening take of “Black Kennedy,” Common called for another take. The crowd certainly didn’t mind another “beautiful ride.” Common brought an ecstatic tween onstage for the respect anthem – and final song – “The Light,” before turning the chorus of his Like Water For Chocolate cut over to the crowd. “This has been a blessing tonight,” Common told the audience as the band took bows and exited the stage. It was a great way to end the season, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it broadcasts early next year on your local PBS station.

Willie Nelson’s triumphant return to Austin City Limits

photo by Scott Newton

Forty-four years ago, Austin City Limits debuted with a then-struggling artist who would become an American icon. Four decades after the ACL pilot in which he starred hit the airwaves, Willie Nelson returned to our stage for the first time since 2009, when he taped an episode with Asleep at the Wheel, and for the first time with his own Family band since 1999, during the show’s twenty-fifth anniversary. We welcomed back the country maverick as, working without a setlist, he played the hits, deep cuts from the classic country catalog and songs from his latest LP, the Frank Sinatra tribute My Way – a set we streamed live around the world.

After ACL executive producer Terry Lickona reminded us that Willie launched ACL back in 1974, the eighty-five-year-old took the stage and doffed his cowboy hat to the eager, welcoming crowd. Joined as every by the Family, in service now for forty-five years, Willie launched into “Whiskey River,” the songwriter’s perennial opening number. Following an extended guitar solo, Willie then led the band in the galloping “Still is Still Moving to Me.” Skipping any pause between songs, he ran right into “Beer For My Horses,” the tagline of which was sung by the audience. “Let’s do one for Waylon,” Nelson extolled, leading into“Good Hearted Woman,” his classic duet with the late Waymore that also became a chance for crowd participation. Willie turned the spotlight on his sister Bobbie (calling her “Little Sister,” even though she’s two years older) for the piano-led instrumental “Down Yonder,” a 1921 piece made famous in 1951 by Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers. Willie paid tribute to a key influence with the Lefty Frizzell gem “If You’ve Got the Money (I’ve Got the Time),” before moving into a back-to-back medley of his own iconic country tunes “Funny How Time Slips Away” (a hit for Billy Walker), “Crazy” (Patsy Cline) and “Night Life” (Ray Price) – adding a snippet of “Jingle Bells” at the end. Bobbie took the spotlight again for a jaunty rendition of Euday L. Bowman’s “Twelfth Street Rag,” one of the bestsellers of the ragtime era.

Willie then stopped by his most recent album with a light, jazzy take on the Sinatra standard “Fly Me to the Moon,” driven in part by brotherly drummers Paul and Billy English and bassist Kevin Smith, still the new guy six years into his tenure. Willie continued tributing fallen idols, declaiming “Let’s do one for Merle!” to preface “It’s All Going to Pot,” from Django & Jimmie, his 2015 duet album with the late Merle Haggard. Keeping the smoky double entendres going, Willie and band essayed “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” clearly an audience favorite. He reminded us of his estimable guitar skills with the Django Reinhardt instrumental “Nuages,” before hopping onto Tom T. Hall’s “Shoeshine Man,” a showcase for the Family, particularly Bobbie and harmonica master Mickey Raphael. He then sang another classic American song – Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia (On My Mind),” a song surely co-owned by both Willie and its most famous interpreter Ray Charles. He paid tribute to another one of his peers with a rollicking take on his old pal Billy Joe Shaver’s “Georgia On a Fast Train.” Then it was back to Waylon for the crowd-pleaser “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” He also dug back into his own classic catalog for the luminously beautiful “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.”

The tempo picked back up for the audience-enhanced “On the Road Again,” which would be Willie’s signature song if he didn’t have a dozen of those already. To say the crowd went wild was an understatement. He then brought the mood back down to “lovely” with “Always On My Mind,” his hit ballad originally associated with Brenda Lee and Elvis Presley, but forever, and properly, associated with Nelson. Then it was time for more audience participation with the folk/gospel/bluegrass classics “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away,” tunes that have been in Willie’s repertoire for decades. “Thank you, Austin City Limits!” Willie exclaimed, tossing his bandana into the crowd as he exited the stage to the Family continuing to jam, sending the pumped crowd gently into the good night. It was a great show, and we can’t wait for you to see it on your local PBS station early next year.

New tapings: Willie Nelson and August Greene

photo by David McClister

Austin City Limits is proud to announce the final two tapings of Season 44 – one with an old friend and the other featuring some new ones. On November 19, we welcome back an American music icon: Willie Nelson, who anchored the pilot episode of ACL back in 1975, returns for his eighteenth appearance on the program and his first headlining appearance in almost a decade. We’re also thrilled to report that this highly-anticipated homecoming will be live streamed worldwide direct from the ACL stage. On November 26, we open the stage for the first time to supergroup August Greene, the collective of rap superstar Common, jazz keyboardist/producer Robert Glasper and drummer/producer Karriem Riggins.

With a seven-decade career and two hundred-plus albums, Willie Nelson needs no introduction. A bronze statue of Nelson at the entrance to ACL’s studio home on the Austin street that bears his name, honors the Texas native.  He spearheaded the Outlaw country movement in the 1970s, and has since become a musical and cultural treasure whose artistic vision has held steady for over half a century. Inducted into the ACL Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 2014, the Red Headed Stranger has earned every conceivable award as a musician and amassed reputable credentials as an author, actor, and activist.  With a staggering legacy of classic songs and enduring influence, the 85-year-old continues to tour regularly throughout North America. In recent years, he has delivered more than then twelve new album releases, released a Top 10 New York Times’ bestseller, again headlined Farm Aid (an event he co-founded in 1985), received his 5th degree black belt in Gong Kwon Yu Sul, headlined the last three years of the on-going Luck Reunion food and music festival during SXSW at his ranch in Luck, TX, announced the launch of his cannabis company Willie’s Reserve, and graced the cover of Rolling Stone. In 2015, the Library of Congress honored him with the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song for his contributions to music – the first country artist ever to receive the distinguished award. 2016 brought the releases of the Grammy-winning Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin, which debuted at #1 on both the Top Current Jazz chart and the Top Traditional Jazz chart, and For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price, an album of newly recorded interpretations.  Nelson also released Pretty Paper, a novel inspired by his classic holiday song of the same title. In 2017, he released God’s Problem Child, an album with thirteen new songs that debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Country album chart and #10 on the Billboard 200. Nelson continues his restless streak in 2018 releasing two LPs: the all-originals Last Man Standing and My Way, a collection of songs associated with Frank Sinatra. Nelson released a new single, “Vote ‘Em Out,” this October urging citizens across the country to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming midterm elections.  We are honored to welcome Willie Nelson back to “the house that Willie built” to carve his name in the ACL stage once again.

photo by B+

In early 2016, musicians and friends Common, Robert Glasper and Karriem Riggins found themselves in the studio, crafting the soulful backdrop of Common’s eleventh album Black America Again.  “It was such a real form of expression,” says Common. “It felt natural. We all have an affinity for great music.” As the trio created, they began to notice something different taking shape—something rooted in the warm R&B sounds of yesteryear but still very much in the present. It was soul music with a modern bounce, a jazz-rap hybrid in the spirit of A Tribe Called Quest. It fully encapsulated the black experience: the serenity and pain through which we channel gorgeous art, the beauty and struggle of simply trying to exist. Equally peaceful and profound, the music they captured laid the foundation for August Greene. The artists come to this project having reached major respective milestones over the years. Since 1992, the Chicago-born, Grammy-, Emmy- and Oscar-winning Common has uplifted listeners with his emotive blend of hip-hop and soul, releasing some of the genre’s greatest work. The four-time Grammy-winning Glasper, a Houston-born pianist/producer known for his esoteric mix of jazz, rock and soul, has long created music that defies expectation. Riggins, a Detroit native, is a world renowned percussionist and producer whose work can be heard on many modern recordings, including the Emmy-winning “Letter to the Free,” his collaboration with Common and Glasper for Selma director Ava Duvernay’s acclaimed documentary 13th. Featuring the singles “Black Kennedy” and “Optimistic,” which guest-stars R&B great Brandy, August Greene culminates years of mutual respect and friendship, channeling the musicians’ various talents into a cohesive project. The perfect marriage of jazz, hip-hop and soul, it’s music that just is, speaking to those pushing through the dark for brighter days, and a masterpiece from which virtue can shine.

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 versions will air on PBS in early 2019 as part of our Season 44.