“Feels good up here,” proclaims Gary Clark Jr. during his third headline appearance on the ACL stage. The Austin native opens the hour with a blistering performance of the hit that launched his meteoric rise, “Bright Lights” from his 2012 debut Blak and Blu. The song’s refrain “...you gonna know my name,” couldn’t be more apt for the Texan who has had a whirlwind ascent from the Austin club scene to show-stopping performances on festival stages around the world. Clark showcases songs from his latest, the critically-acclaimed This Land, his third major label release, which features some of his most powerful songwriting to date, with profound lyrics about life, love, restlessness and racism. Clark moves in and out of blues, soul, gospel, reggae and punk easily in the nine-song set, dazzling on the reggae-rock swagger of “Feelin’ Like A Million,” and shifting to the falsetto-laden “Feed the Babies.”
Bringing the crowd to their feet with a scorching rendition of his early classic “When My Train Pulls In,” Clark’s guitar solo is a masterclass in creative improvisation, wandering between different registers, exploring various motifs and bringing it down low to build it back into strobed-out fury. “I grew up watching ACL,” says the hometown hero who has stated he learned to play guitar watching his own heros, including Stevie Ray Vaughan, on old episodes of the series. Clark brings it all back to love, a frequent theme, with “Pearl Cadillac,” a gorgeous R&B/pop crooner dedicated to his mother and channeling another guitar hero, Prince. He closes out the explosive set with a fierce version of “This Land,” the socially-charged anthem and a personal battle cry. “Sometimes people don’t know how to act right, so I got something for them,” says Clark.
“It has been amazing and inspiring to see Gary grow as an artist since that first time he set foot on the ACL stage,” says longtime executive producer Terry Lickona. “From the first time I saw him play when he was 16, his talents were undeniable, and he has truly become the consummate artist – all the best that Austin represents.”
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 another brand new episode, featuring fast-rising singer, songwriter and producer Maggie Rogers.