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Taping recap: Charley Crockett

There’s no country music quite like Texas country, and there’s no Texas country musician quite like Charley Crockett. The multi-faceted Lone Star native spent years in different states and styles before bringing it all home and putting his self-described Gulf & Western imprint on our state’s honkytonk legacy, with his upcoming album Music City USA. Since Texas country is the music on which Austin City Limits cut its teeth, we were only too happy to host his debut ACL taping, which we live streamed around the world. 

Crockett and his band the Blue Drifters opened the show with a mariachi trumpet, signaling the Latin-flavored chickaboom of “Run Horse Run,” which segued directly into the rhythmically similar “5 More Miles.” “It’s the pleasure of my life to be here at Austin City Limits tonight,” the San Benito native proclaimed. He kicked into the honkytonk shuffler “Goin’ Back to Texas,” moving his feet as much as the dancers out front. “Borrowed Time” followed in a similar vein, with keyboardist/trumpeter Kullen Fox adding a rippling accordion solo. Fox kept the squeezebox strapped on for “Lead Me On,” a soulful ballad written by Austin blues legend Miss Lavelle White.  Crockett stuck with covers, introducing a trio of superb C&W songs by late Texas country singer James Hand: “Midnight Run,” “Lesson in Depression” and “In the Corner,” all recorded on Crockett’s Hand tribute LP 10 For Slim: Charley Crockett Sings James Hand. Like his hero, Crockett sings like he’s lived every word. 

Having paid his respects to a seminal influence, the singer dipped back into his own material for the two-steppin’ “Welcome to Hard Times.” “We’d like to try a brand new one out on ya,” Crockett noted before the lovelorn waltz “I Need Your Love,” from his upcoming album Music City USA. Having left the audience’s hearts sufficiently bent, the singer sang a (slightly) more reassuring song with “Don’t Cry” – “Because I love you, I’ll always be comin’ back home.” He then went in an even more traditionalist direction, summing up the theme of country music in general with the Texan two-stepper “Lies and Regret.” Crockett nodded to his roots with “The Valley,” a song paying tribute to the Rio Grande Valley in which he was born; “I’m very proud of that fact, but it’s the kind of place that if you want to make something of yourself, you have to wander pretty far afield.” The Drifters added a Latin sway to the rhythm of “Trinity River,” accented once again by Fox’s trumpet work. The band then switched genres with “This Foolish Game,” a slow burning Texas blues number that gave lead guitarist Alexis Sanchez a chance to shine.

Appropriately enough, Crockett followed the blues with R&B, specifically the soul ballad “Ain’t Gotta Worry” and the organ-frosted hipsway “In the Night.” “Oooh, doggie,” Crockett declared in response to the dancers’ efforts. “Wildcat – rowrr!” He returned to country for “Music City USA,” nodding to the clash of cultures that gave rise to American music, as well as the honkytonker “Jamestown Ferry,” originally a hit for Tanya Tucker. Crockett and the Drifters closed the set with the freight-train rhythm and tuneful refrain of “Paint It Blue.” The musicians quit the stage, but the audience chanted “Charley! Charley!” until the man of the hour returned alone with his guitar. “I never thought I’d get here,” admitted Crockett, before talking about his early days as a street singer and potential record deals with labels who didn’t understand him (or did and just didn’t want him to be himself). He then closed the show with “Are We Lonesome Yet,” the kind of tune that would have earned him a fat songwriting contract in the days of Harlan Howard and Hank Cochran. That was the perfect way to end Crockett’s sterling debut, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on your local PBS station. 

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Featured News Taping Recap

Jon Batiste celebrates soul on debut ACL taping

Jon Batiste may be best known to millions as the bandleader for Stephen Colbert’s late night talk show, but the full spectrum of his talents has to be seen in his own shows to be believed. The New Orleans native has a long career as a jazz and soul musician, having released his debut album in 2003 at 17. The Juilliard-educated singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has performed all over the world in dozens of contexts, streamlining down to this year’s stunning eighth studio album We Are. Thus we were understandably excited to finally have this remarkable musical polymath make his ACL debut, and Batiste rewarded everybody’s anticipation with a performance for the ages.

The cowboy-hatted ten-piece band hit the stage with a Caribbean groove before Batiste himself arrived in his own Stetson, leading the ensemble into the title track of We Are, the leader’s funky, celebratory anthem of the African diaspora, with Batiste even flexing a verse from Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy”. The high energy onstage and off signaled that this would be a show that started cranked up to eleven, and would just get higher from there. Batiste sat at the piano (briefly) to kick off the amped-up single “I Need You,” bringing gospel fervor, New Orleans funk and the leader’s cameo on saxophone together. The crowd barely had a chance to catch its breath before the unmistakable sound of a New Orleans second line floated in the air, heralding the arrival of that city’s Hot 8 Brass Band from the back of the hall. The melodica-wielding Batiste left the stage to join the band in the middle of the crowd for the Love Riot chant – “I feel good/I feel free/I feel fine just being me!” – and had the crowd in his pocket as he cued them to wave the white handkerchiefs distributed before the show began. 

Batiste came back onstage for “Boy Hood,” a tribute to his youth in the Big Easy that mixed rap, soul balladry, a trombone solo from the Hot 8, and portions of Bob Marley’s “One Love,” Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” and Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me,” which Batiste made into both a reminder that all people are in it together and into choir practice for the crowd. Batiste paced the stage, waiting for the next tune, which was “Whatchutalkinbout,” a seamless blend of rap and rock that let guitarists Brandon Niederaruer and Ari O’Neal cut loose with duelling solos. As the Hot 8 rejoined the proceedings, Batiste picked up his Bo Diddley-style axe for “Tell the Truth,” a soulful raveup that spotlighted firebrand percussionist Négah Santos. Batiste took the opportunity to preach positivity to the people, before tossing his guitar aside, adding a piano solo, and commanding the mic once again. “This is not a concert for me,” Batiste asserted after the song concluded. “This is not a concert. This is a spiritual practice. I play music to be with y’all.” 

The Hot 8 once again started a second line groove, letting the leader get in some dancing time, before he turned over the vocals to singers Tamara Jade, Desiree “DesZ” Washington and Susan Carol (playfully dubbed the Jonettes). Batiste then had the crowd go as low down as they could – “quad workout, baby!” – before, naturally, a massive audience jumpfest for the coda of “Tell the Truth.” Batiste and the horns snuck off the stage during the celebration, leaving the band to jam on some serious funk that showcased every member, including bassist Thad Tribbett, keyboardist David Grant, drummers Joe Saylor and Lunar RAE, Santos, and the two six-stringers. 

Having exchanged his red suit for a blue striped ensemble, Batiste returned, dazzling at the piano on a variety of jazz, classical and ragtime pieces, including Chopin’s “Minute Waltz,” “Chopsticks,” Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” Bach’s “Partita No. 1 in B-Flat Major,” and New Orleans standard  “St. James Infirmary Blues,” among many others, some lasting no more than a phrase. That last piece concluded with Batiste and the Jonettes back on vocals, leading a Cab Calloway-style call-and-response with the crowd. He finished his medley with some boogie woogie that transitioned into Jerry Lee Lewis pound. Batiste then revisited his recent Oscar-winning soundtrack for the animated film Soul with “It’s All Right,” turning it into a medley by recasting the Isley Brothers’ “Shout” in Soul’s image, before returning to “It’s All Right,” driving the audience wild. 

Then it was time for a surprise guest, as Austin favorite son Gary Clark Jr. casually walked up onstage, picked up his guitar, and traded solos with Batiste on the slinky soul tune “Cry.” “Y’all ready to get free?” Batiste asked the crowd, to off-the-charts applause. Naturally, that exchange was a harbinger for “Freedom,” a classic feel-good anthem that got band and crowd dancing with abandon. Then it was back to the second line, as the white handkerchiefs came back out, the Hot 8 Brass Band returned, and Batiste joined the fans on the floor, leading the entire room in the joyful catharsis of a reprise of “I Need You.” The Hot 8 took us out, as the crowd went wild once again. 

Amazingly, Batiste returned to stage after the finale, sitting at the piano for a captivating take on his ballad “Don’t Stop,” from 2018’s Hollywood Africans – a mic drop if we’ve ever heard one. It was an incredible show destined to be a Season 47 highlight and we can’t wait for you to see it when it hits your local PBS airwaves this fall. 

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Billy Strings rocks progressive bluegrass at his debut ACL

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Billy Strings has taken the bluegrass world by storm in the past few years, winning a Grammy for his acclaimed 2019 LP Home. But it’s not just his deep love of tradition that’s made him the genre’s new superstar – it’s his willingness to push, even rip into, the edges of the envelope, folding in influences from rock, jazz and psychedelia. All of his attributes were on full display on his debut Austin City Limits taping, which we live streamed around the world to his thousands of loyal fans.

Backed by his band of aces, longtime touring partners Jarrod Walker (mandolin), Billy Failing (banjo) and Royal Masat (bass), Strings – William Apostol to his mom – took the stage with a hearty “Austin City Limits, how are ya?” Then it was straight into “Dust in a Baggie,” an early Strings tune right out of the tradition of songs about prison time and the lamentations thereof. Strings then explained how he grew up watching bluegrass legends like Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley on ACL, recorded by his parents on their VCR until, as his mother reminded him, the young Billy shoved a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich into the machine. That kicked off “Hide and Seek,” on which he displayed how far he’s expanding his chosen milieu, putting his jazzy acoustic guitar through delay, phase and distortion effects – much to his audience’s delight. Fire breathed, Strings and company slowed things down with the lovely, melancholy “Show Me the Door,” penned by Walker. The tempo sped back up to normal bluegrass levels with “Must Be Seven,” a celebration of leaving the past in the rearview mirror. “Red Daisy” pumped up the velocity to freight train levels for a song squarely in the old school tradition. 

After that barnburner, everyone needed another chance to catch breath, so Strings and band performed another ballad with “Love Like Me.” The anthemic “Fireline” followed, with its tough demeanor and rock-inflected solos from Strings, Failing and Walker. While Walker switched mandolins, Strings “just picked one while we’re waiting,” with a great solo instrumental that showed off his Doc Watson side. Mando changed and tuned, the band then went into the sociopolitical “Watch It Fall,” one of the hit singles from Home. Then it was back to tradition for “Slow Train,” featuring some of the musicians’ most fleet-fingered solos. Next, Strings got introspective on “Away From the Mire,” a song about letting go of past regrets and future anxieties that featured an epic psychedelic guitar solo. From the crowd’s enthusiastic reaction, it’s a fan favorite. After another blazer with “Long Forgotten Dream,” Strings capped off the set with “Meet Me at the Creek,” a high-energy closer with lots of room for virtuoso soloing from all players that incorporated everything from folk standards to heavy metal power chords. The fans went wild, needless to say. 

Greeted almost like conquering heroes, the band surrounded a single, old-fashioned Grand Ole Opry microphone for the encore. Cheekily acknowledging the city in which they were performing, Strings and company went into a bluesy take on Willie Nelson’s “Devil in a Sleeping Bag,” to the great delight of the audience. The group then ended the show with the four-part harmonies of the satirical spiritual lesson “If Your Hair’s Too Long, There’s Sin in Your Heart.” The audience gave them a standing ovation as they took a bow and quit the stage. It was a great show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on your local PBS station.   

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Taping recap: Jade Bird

The Texas connection continued for the fourth taping of our 47th season, with young Welsh native and current Austin resident Jade Bird delivering a stellar debut. Previewing her highly-anticipated second LP Different Kinds of Light, out in August, the singer, songwriter and guitarist brought her melodic, eclectic rootsy rock pop to the ACL stage for her debut taping, which was live streamed around the world. 

After a rousing Terry Lickona intro, the white-adorned Bird and five-piece band took the stage and came out swinging with “Headstart,” her popular new single. “Are you ready to rock, Austin?” she declared, and went blazing into the next one: the sniping rocker “Uh Huh.” The ever-smiling songwriter lowered the energy level slightly – very slightly – with “Honeymoon,” the first song from the new record, before going into the folky “Punchline,” a song inspired by the small town in Wales in which she grew up. Noting that her sets tended to volley between emotional highs and lows, Bird shifted to the melancholy “Houdini,” an acoustic guitar-driven tune influenced by the tendency of “the male figures in my life to go on walkabout.” Most of the band left the stage, leaving only Bird and guitarist Bennett Lewis to sing a two guitar/one microphone cover of Radiohead’s “Black Star,” a gorgeous arrangement borrowed from Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings. She then took to the piano for “Something American,” an early song that both celebrates her love of American music and presages her road to conquering the States. The band returned for the jaunty “Prototype,” a tune Bird’s grandmother says is a hit, because it’s one of her happy songs, and who are we to argue? 

Continuing to showcase the forthcoming record, Bird kicked the energy level back into the red with the one-two punch of the sweet “Now’s the Time” and the anthemic, angry “Candidate.” She then revisited her first LP for the snarling “I Get No Joy,” a high energy diatribe she dedicated to the year 2020. “I’ve dreamed of playing this venue for a very long time,” she declared, before putting her heart into the seething ballad  “My Motto.” Bird followed that with “Red, White and Blue,” a solo song from the new record that she had never played live before, inspired by guitarist Luke Prosser’s encounter with a Vietnam war veteran. Prosser and fellow guitarist Bennett Lewis returned with special guest singer Savannah Conley for a luminous take on legendary singer/songwriter and Bird hero Dolly Parton’s “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind” – Bird, Conley and Prosser’s harmonies would have done the Carter Family proud. Conley remained onstage as the band came back for the rocking “Trick Mirror,” another tune from the upcoming record. Bird then went back to her first LP for “Lottery,” a kiss-off to an ex set to an exuberant rock melody. “I can’t even tell you what a magical night this has been for me,” the joyful Bird exclaimed, before ending the main set with the wry, catchy “Love Has All Been Done Before.” 

After enthusiastic applause from the crowd, Bird came back with a Telecaster in hand, as she and the band romped into “Open Up the Heavens,” another basher from Different Kind of Light. She closed the evening with “Going Gone,” a spirited rocker from her first album that took off like a missile, bringing the house down. What a way to end this fabulous show! We can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on your local PBS station.

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Sarah Jarosz comes home to ACL

Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz was only nineteen the first time she appeared on Austin City Limits in 2010, but we – staff and viewers – knew she was a major talent, and not just because she hailed from our neck of the woods. Time, critical acclaim and a shelf full of Grammys and Americana Music Awards have proven us correct. So we’re always thrilled to host her again, and especially so for a taping that got delayed from last year due to the pandemic. The pent-up energy was on full display in a performance that included every song from 2020’s Grammy Award-winning World on the Ground, and was live streamed around the world. 

“This is incredibly exciting,” noted Jarosz as she took the stage with her four-piece band (which included renowned World producer John Leventhal). The conservatory-trained songwriter started with World opener “Eve,” a song that sounds like it could be a century old, while still sounding like it had to have been written in the now. Jarosz exchanged her guitar for a mandolin and went into “Pay It No Mind,” another memorable, melodic World folker. “It’s a dream to do it once, let alone three times,” she noted about her third Austin City Limits appearance as she donned her signature octave mandolin. “This is a good way to re-emerge after the last year.” She then reached back to her 2016 album Undercurrent for the brooding “House of Mercy,” the Grammy-winning song ornamented by Leventhal’s supremely subtle Telecaster. Jarosz talked about how growing up in Austin and Wimberley inspired the songs on World, which capped a rough year by winning a Grammy. Leventhal then took to the piano as Jarosz sang the beautiful “Orange and Blue,” which the two of them wrote together. 

Jarosz introduced guitarist Mike Robinson, whose ringing guitar introduced “Green Lights,” another luminous folk rock tune from Undercurrent. Clearly by this point it was time for a ballad, and Jarosz obliged with the bittersweet “Hometown” a tune that led her to note how much of an emotional experience it was to sing these Texas-based songs in her home state. The next tune “Johnny” essayed more folk rock, anchored by the memorable line “An open heart looks a lot like the wilderness.” The hopeful “Maggie” was inspired by Jarosz attending her high school reunion – “I had a blast and I got some songs out of it.” No word on whether or not “What Do I Do” was one of those, but it still made an impression with its melancholy melody and steel guitar frosting. The energy kicked up a notch on the mock-apocalyptic “I’ll Be Gone,” a jolt of gallows humor surrounded by three acoustic guitars. The band then quit the stage, as Jarosz reached into her deep well of cover songs recorded and streamed over the course of the pandemic, and a special one it was: a gentle, soulful take on U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” that turned the rock anthem into the folk song it always threatened to become. 

“The only way to follow U2 is with the banjo,” chuckled Jarosz as she strapped on said instrument for “Little Satchel,” a traditional folk tune that was one of the first songs she ever learned, back when she was participating in the Wimberly bluegrass jams at the age of nine. “This song was written about Kendall,” Jarosze said about “Empty Square,” in a nod to Succession fans – perhaps a bit cryptic for anyone who hasn’t seen that HBO show, but the song was strong regardless. She closed the main set with “one of my greatest Texas songwriting influences,” ACL two-timer James McMurtry and his stirring tune “Childish Things.” That earned the exiting Jarosz and the band wild applause, but it wasn’t over yet. She and the band encored with another key influence on the star’s writing: frequent ACL visitor Nanci Griffith and 

her lovely tune “You Can’t Go Home Again,” which fit in perfectly with the evening’s themes of coming home and was a perfect way to send the crowd gently out into the night. It was a truly special performance, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall as part of our Season 47 on your local PBS station. 

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Dayglow tapes an effervescent ACL

Sloan Struble, AKA Dayglow, may only be twenty-one, but as his brand new album Harmony House proves, he writes expert pop tunes like a pro. He’s also moved easily from solo auteur to confident bandleader, as his debut ACL taping (live streamed around the world) can attest. 

After a typically rousing Terry Lickona introduction, the stage remained empty, as an electronic pulse teased the imminent arrival of the musicians. The band came on one by one, with Struble himself taking the stage last and bouncing around to the happy energy of album opener “Something.” Struble took a moment to introduce the band, before displaying the modern/nostalgic dichotomy that makes his music sound so fresh: “Medicine” opens with a noisy burst of electronica before settling into a warmly organic 70s pop groove. “This is actually our biggest show ever,” noted Struble. “I know it’s limited capacity, but this is the biggest crowd we’ve ever played for.” The band then revisited the first Dayglow album Fuzzybrain for the Latin-feeling “Nicknames,” complete with ending cowbell solo. Struble noted how cool it was that he first visited the original ACL studio as a University of Texas freshman, and now he found himself onstage at ACL Live recording his own episode. Powered by that giddy joy, there was no choice but to go into the bubbly, danceable “Hot Rod,” frosted with harmony leads from Struble and guitarist Colin Crawford. Saxophonist Marshall Lowry then joined the quintet onstage, adding some deliciously 80s pop saxophone to the melancholy “December.” Struble took to his even more-80s styled keyboard for the song’s coda, segueing directly into the upbeat “Moving Out.” 

Donning an acoustic 12-string guitar, Struble explained how he makes his records in his bedroom and how he first got his music noticed through the music-sharing platform Tunecore. That music was from Fuzzybrain, the beautifully tuneful title track of which came next. Shouting out longtime ACL makeup artist Glenda Facemire, Struble, acting on a tip from her, good-naturedly patted away the perspiration while introducing the next acoustic guitar-driven song, Harmony House’s “Woah Man.” He went back to his Strat for the peppy, sweetly melodic “Listerine,” before going into the breakout song that launched his career:  “Can I Call You Tonight?,” as perfect a pop song as has hit the airwaves in some time. Unless, of course, you count the next song, the groovy but melody-rich “Crying on the Dancefloor,” also from Fuzzybrain, and featuring Lowry on soprano sax. After two songs in a row from the first album, though, it was time to revisit the new one with the lovely, old-fashioned ballad “Into Blue.” “Thank you for being here – this is awesome!” Struble declared, whose frequent declarations of “Let’s rock” punctuated his enthusiasm. “Definitely a bucket list moment!” The band then closed the main set with the latest Dayglow pop sensation, the effortlessly effervescent “Close to You,” during which the smiling, dancing Struble nearly had more fun than is allowed by law.

Struble bounced happily off the stage, but it wasn’t over yet. The band returned with a delightful surprise: a faithful, heartfelt cover of Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” a song just right for them. Right as it ended, however, Dayglow kicked into an original, the first album-bopper “Run the World!!!!” “I want to run the world!” Struble asserted, and while he may not get his exact wish, as long as he keeps making music this catchy and fun, the music world may well be within his grasp. It was a great show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall as part of our Season 47 on your local PBS station.