Austin City Limits salutes influential ATX singer/songwriter Charlie Robison, who we lost way too soon, on Sept. 10 at the age of 59. Robison delivered a pair of memorable performances on Austin City Limits, in 1999 and 2001.
Best known around the world as a country singer, the brother of fellow tunesmiths Bruce Robison and Robyn Ludwick rose to regional fame in the 1980s as a member of beloved Austin roots rock bands Two Hoots & a Holler and Chaparral before striking out on his own with 1995’s Bandera, named after the Texas Hill Country town where his family had a ranch for generations.. He signed to Columbia imprint Lucky Dog thereafter, issuing two well-regarded albums with Life of the Party and Step Right Up and hit singles “My Hometown” and NRBQ’s “I Want You Bad.”
Returning to independence, he released four more albums before being forced to retire in 2018, after complications from surgery rendered him unable to sing. Those issues turned out to be temporary, however, as he returned to the stage and touring in 2022.
He is survived by his wife and four children. We extend our sincere condolences for their loss.
UPDATE: The Giveaway is now over. Austin City Limits will tape a performance by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit on Monday, September 18th at 8 pm at ACL Live at The Moody Theater (310 W. 2nd Street, Willie Nelson Blvd). We are giving away a limited number of passes to this taping. Enter your name and email address on the below form by Wednesday, September 13th at 5pm.
Winners will be chosen at random and a photo ID will be required to pick up tickets. Winners will be notified via email. Duplicate entries for a single taping will be automatically voided. Tickets are not transferable and will be voided if sold. Standing may be required. No photography, recording or cell phone use in the studio. No cameras, computers or recording devices allowed in the venue.
A Jason Isbell record always lands like a decoder ring in the ears and hearts of his audience, a soundtrack to his world and magically to theirs, too. Weathervanes carries the same revelatory power. This is a storyteller at the peak of his craft, observing his fellow wanderers, looking inside and trying to understand, reducing a universe to four minutes. He shrinks life small enough to name the fear and then strip it away, helping his listeners make sense of how two plus two stops equaling four once you reach a certain age — and carry a certain amount of scars.
“There is something about boundaries on this record,” Isbell says. “As you mature, you still attempt to keep the ability to love somebody fully and completely while you’re growing into an adult and learning how to love yourself.”
Weathervanes is a collection of grown-up songs: Songs about adult love, about change, about the danger of nostalgia and the interrogation of myths, about cruelty and regret and redemption. Life and death songs played for and by grown ass people. Some will make you cry alone in your car and others will make you sing along with thousands of strangers in a big summer pavilion, united in the great miracle of being alive. The record features the rolling thunder of Isbell’s fearsome 400 Unit, who’ve earned a place in the rock ‘n’ roll cosmos alongside the greatest backing ensembles, as powerful and essential to the storytelling as The E Street Band or the Wailers.
They make a big noise, as Isbell puts it, and he feels so comfortable letting them be a main prism through which much of the world hears his art. He can be private but with them behind him he transforms, and there is a version of himself that can only exist in their presence. When he’s plays a solo show, he is in charge of the entire complicated juggle. On stage with the 400 Unit, he can be a guitar hero when he wants, and a conductor when he wants, and a smiling fan of the majesty of his bandmates when he wants to hang back and listen to the sound.
The roots of this record go back into the isolation of the pandemic and to Isbell’s recent time on the set as an actor on Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon. There were guitars in his trailer and in his rented house and a lot of time to sit and think. The melancholy yet soaring track “King of Oklahoma” was written there. Isbell also watched the great director work, saw the relationship between a clear vision and its execution, and perhaps most important, saw how even someone as decorated as Scorsese sought out and used his co-workers’ opinions.
“It definitely helped when I got into the studio,” Isbell says. “I had this reinvigorated sense of collaboration. You can have an idea and you can execute it and not compromise — and still listen to the other people in the room.”
The first of five focus tracks from the album, “Death Wish,” is about being in love with someone suffering from depression, with a powerful universal undercurrent about the fragility of life and the power and limits of love. That grown-up kind of love. Musically the track is beautiful and fascinating. Isbell, clearly, has been listening to the Cure and tiny little tracers of post-punk find their way into this song and others. Matt Pence, the drummer and engineer, came into the studio to help with the drum sound. He got a bunch of kits set up and they arrived on structure for “Death Wish.” The kick drum hits on the two, which was weird and disconcerting, even upsetting, until it clicked. Now it feels complicated and intricate, yet never fragile, like the subject of the song itself. As the first track it announces that Isbell is an artist growing, exploring new musical frontiers. The Sylvia Massy-added strings make it big and ambitious, almost like a James Bond theme song.
“Middle of the Morning” was a lockdown song. Melancholy, honest, with those Isbell phrases that will sneak into your vocabulary – ahem, “farmhand’s ghost” – the narrator, who both is and is not Jason himself, describes the feeling of being stuck in place, wheels and mind spinning, feeling like some essential part of yourself lives just outside your reach.
Austin City Limits is proud to announce a stellar slate of fall tapings to complete our Season 49, featuring multiple Grammy-winning icons and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame legends. On September 24, recent Rock Hall inductees Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo make their ACL debut performing rock gems and highlights from across their near five-decade career. We’re thrilled to welcome a pair of ACL Fest headliners and a highly-anticipated act featured on our namesake festival this October: we present country breakout Brittney Spencer on October 5 in her ACL debut; October 6 brings the first-ever appearance of superstar Alanis Morissette; and on October 12 we’re thrilled to welcome beloved rock giants Foo Fighters back to rock the ACL stage. And finally, on October 15, on the heels of a trio of 2023 Grammy wins, we welcome back an ACL Hall of Fame icon, the legendary Bonnie Raitt, for her first headlining appearance in over a decade, to showcase her triple Grammy-winning album Just Like That… Raitt will also be joined by a special guest, Nashville-based singer-songwriter and guitar virtuoso Sunny War.
In a pop culture world defined by its perpetual changes, the partnership of singer songwriter Pat Benatar and producer-musician Neil Giraldo has been a potent, steadfast union that has soared to the top of the charts and into fans’ hearts on their own terms. Her staggering vocals and take-no-prisoners attitude, along with his trailblazing artistry as a guitarist, producer and songwriter, forged the undeniable chemistry and unique sound that created eternal rock hits including “We Belong,” “Invincible,” “Love Is A Battlefield,” “Promises In The Dark,” “We Live For Love,” “Heartbreaker” and “Hell Is For Children.” Their stunning achievements are a testament to their vision. Together, Benatar and Giraldo have created two multi-platinum, five platinum and three gold albums, as well as 19 Top 40 hits. They have sold over 36 million records worldwide and have won an unprecedented four consecutive GRAMMY® awards. They have also been feted with three American Music Awards, a People’s Choice Award, a 2008 induction into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame, and capped off 2022 with a Rock & Roll Hall of Fameinduction.
Recently named one of Rolling Stone’s “Future 25,” and the only country artist to make the list, Brittney Spencer is known for her free spirit and standout ability to mold life, truth, and wild imagination into songs. “Her unerring honesty and empathy are a big part of what makes her music so appealing,” raves Rolling Stone. With her debut album forthcoming from Elektra Records, the Baltimore native has earned praise from The New York Times and Vanity Fair to name a few, and she’s appeared on CBS Mornings with Anthony Mason, as well as performed on NBC’s Today Show, The Late Show (After Dark), the CMA Awards, ACM Awards and more. Spencer was featured as part of Victoria’s Secret Global “UNDEFINABLE” campaign, and she appeared in Amazon’s “For Love & Country” Documentary. Deemed a “one to watch” by PEOPLE Magazine, Spencer has shared stages with Jason Isbell, The Highwomen, Willie Nelson, Reba McEntire, Bobby Weir, and Maren Morris to name a few. She’s also performed the National Anthem at The 148th Kentucky Derby, the Preakness in 2022 alongside Megan Thee Stallion and Lauryn Hill, and the 2023 NFL Draft. As an outspoken advocate for her community and the planet, Brittney is an active supporter of many causes, including Habitat for Humanity, the Women’s March, CARE, and more. Spencer first-appeared on the ACL stage in 2022, at the 8th Annual ACL Hall of Fame Celebration, performing a sparkling rendition of Sheryl Crow’s “My Favorite Mistake,” to salute the music great’s ACL Hall of Fame induction. We’re thrilled to welcome her back for her headlining debut.
Since 1995, Alanis Morissette has been one of the most influential singer-songwriter-musicians in contemporary music. Her deeply expressive music and performances have earned vast critical praise and seven Grammy awards. Morissette’s landmark 1995 debut, Jagged Little Pill was followed by nine more eclectic and acclaimed albums. She has contributed musically to theatrical releases and has acted on the big and small screen. Outside of entertainment, she is an avid supporter of female empowerment, as well as spiritual, psychological and physical wellness. In 2001, Alanis was awarded the Global Tolerance Award by the Friends of the United Nations for her contributions to promoting tolerance through the arts. In 2016, Alanis launched Conversation with Alanis Morissette, a monthly podcast that features conversations with a variety of revered authors, doctors, educators, and therapists, covering a wide range of psychosocial topics extending from spirituality to developmentalism to art. On December 5, 2019, “JAGGED LITTLE PILL” the musical made its Broadway debut at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York City. The show was nominated for fifteen Tony Awards and won two Tony Awards at the 2021 ceremony. In July of 2020, Alanis released her ninth studio album, Such Pretty Forks In The Road, to rave reviews. In August of 2021, Alanis kicked off her sold out world tour celebrating 25 years of Jagged Little Pill. The tour became the #1 female-fronted tour and also one of the Top Worldwide Tours of 2021. Alanis also stars in the Fox sitcom, “The Great North,” which just wrapped its third season, and has been picked up for a fourth season. Most recently, Alanis was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Since the 1995 release of their self-titled first album, no other band has carried the torch for rock & roll like Foo Fighters. Throughout the steady ascent to their indisputable status as the last great American rock band, they’ve raised stadiums, arenas and festival fields of voices in song with anthems like “This Is A Call,” “Everlong,” “Monkey Wrench,” “My Hero,” “Learn To Fly,” “All My Life,” “Times Like These,” “Best Of You,” “The Pretender,” “Walk,” “These Days,” “The Sky Is A Neighborhood,” “Shame Shame” and more. Foo Fighters’ 15-GRAMMY-Award-winning catalogue includes The Colour and the Shape, There Is Nothing Left To Lose, One By One, In Your Honor, Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace, Wasting Light, Sonic Highways, Concrete and Gold and Medicine at Midnight. Following a year of staggering losses, personal introspection and bittersweet remembrances, the Rock & Roll Hall of Famers returned triumphantly with But Here We Are, released June 2, 2023 on Roswell Records/RCA Records. A brutally honest and emotionally raw response to everything Foo Fighters have endured in recent years, But Here We Are is a testament to the healing powers of music, friendship and family. Courageous, damaged, unflinchingly authentic and “driven by a fresh sense of pathos and urgency” (The New York Times), But Here We Are opens with the Alternative/Rock radio #1 “Rescued,” the first of 10 songs that run the emotional gamut from rage and sorrow to serenity and acceptance, and myriad points in between — including “a gruff, melodic rocker with bittersweet hooks” (Stereogum) in the form of “Under You,” the “totally unexpected foray into shoegaze and dream-pop territory” (Uproxx) that is “Show Me How,” the 10-minute epic “The Teacher,” and more. Produced by Greg Kurstin and Foo Fighters, But Here We Are is in nearly equal measure the 11th Foo Fighters album and the first chapter of the band’s new life. Sonically channelling the naiveté of Foo Fighters’ 1995 debut, informed by decades of maturity and depth, But Here We Are is the sound of brothers finding refuge in the music that brought them together in the first place 28 years ago, a process that was as therapeutic as it was about a continuation of life.
Bonnie Raitt returns for her fourth headlining appearance on the ACL stage. The American original first-appeared in Season 9 in 1984, returned in 2002 and 2012, and performed on the series’ 40th anniversary special in 2014. In 2016, Raitt was inducted into the ACL Hall of Fame by Mavis Staples, with musical salutes from Willie Nelson and Taj Mahal. Raitt is a singer, songwriter, and guitarist whose unique style blends blues, R&B, rock, and pop. After 20 years as a cult favorite, she broke through to the top in the early 90s with her GRAMMY-award-winning albums, Nick of Time and Luck of the Draw, which featured hits, “Something To Talk About” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me” among others. The thirteen-time GRAMMY winner was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 and Rolling Stone named the slide guitar ace one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” and one of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time.”
2023 kicked off with Raitt earning three GRAMMY™ Awards at the 65th Annual ceremony; Song Of The Year and Best American Roots Song for the title track of her most recent album “Just Like That…”, and Best Americana Performance for “Made Up Mind.” Raitt was as well acknowledged for the Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award she was honored with the year prior. Raitt has been on tour for most of 2023 with stops in the U.S., Australia, the UK, Ireland, and an upcoming coast-to-coast tour of Canada. View all concert dates here. 2022 was an incredible year for Raitt with a 75-date headlining U.S. tour; the release of her critically acclaimed 21st album ‘Just Like That…,’ on her independent label, Redwing Records; receiving the Icon Award at the 2022 Billboard Women In Music Awards and seeing her breakthrough album, ‘Nick of Time’ added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry. ‘Just Like That…’ was #1 on six Billboard charts the week of release and was perched at #1 on the Americana Radio Album Chart for ten consecutive weeks. The album’s first single, “Made Up Mind” remained in the top three spots on the Americana Radio Singles Chart for 17 weeks.
As known for her lifelong commitment to social activism as she is for her music, Raitt has long been involved with the environmental movement, performing concerts around oil, nuclear power, mining, water, and forest protection since the mid-‘70s. She was a founding member of MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy), which produced the historic concerts, album, and movie NO NUKES, and continues to work on safe energy issues in addition to environmental protection, social justice, and human rights, as well as creator’s rights and music education.
We’re thrilled to welcome these music greats to the ACL stage. Want to be part of our audience? We will post information on how to get free passes a week in advance of the taping. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for notice of postings. The broadcast episodes will air on PBS as part of our upcoming Season 49.
Venerable television music series Austin City Limits (ACL) announces the fall return of the program and the initial Season 49 broadcast line-up with seven all-new installments to begin airing October 7 at 7pm CT/8pm ET as part of the broadcast’s fourteen episode season. ACL brings fans a new season, packed with a stellar slate of ACL legends and highly-anticipated debuts from some of today’s most talked-about live acts. ACL airs weekly on PBS stations nationwide (check local listings) and full episodes are made available to stream online at pbs.org/austincitylimits immediately following the initial broadcast.
The program, recorded live at ACL’s studio home ACL Live in Austin, Texas, continues its extraordinary run as the longest-running music television show in history, providing viewers a front-row seat to the best in live performance for 49 years as the music institution nears a remarkable half-century milestone. Austin City Limits celebrates 50 years as a live music beacon in 2024: on October 17, 1974, Willie Nelson taped the pilot episode and the trailblazing series premiered in 1975. Stay tuned for news on special concerts, fan events and activations as Austin City Limits salutes an incredible legacy of 50 golden years of American musical history and iconic performances.
Austin City Limits returns this fall with a singular highlight as the season opener: Grammy-winning guitar virtuoso duo Rodrigo y Gabriela joined by the Austin Symphony Orchestra. The Mexico City natives are joined by an ensemble of over 30 musicians from the esteemed Austin Symphony Orchestra in an exhilarating hour; the unprecedented performance marks the first time ACL has collaborated with the world class orchestra, one of Austin’s leading arts institutions.
A season highlight is the return of Foo Fighters for their third appearance. The Rock & Roll Hall of Famers previously rocked the ACL stage twice before, with unforgettable performances in 2009 (in ACL’s original Studio 6A) and 2015. ACL saluted the rock superstars’ 25th Anniversary in 2021 with a fan-favorite hourlong special featuring beloved classics from both appearances, now one of the most requested episodes in the ACL archives. ACL is thrilled to feature the iconic band back on the ACL stage in an epic new hour.
The new season continues with a number of highly-anticipated appearances from a diverse slate of artists. Acclaimed singer-songwriter Jenny Lewis returns for the first time in nearly a decade, making her third appearance on the iconic ACL stage with highlights from her latest album Joy’All alongside career favorites; sharing the hour is breakout indie-pop band MUNA in a thrilling debut. ACL spotlights a pair of innovators making ACL debuts in a captivating double-bill: rap star Lil Yachty showcases his genre-bending album Let’s Start Here joined by special guests; violin savant and singer-songwriter Sudan Archives performs songs from her Natural Brown Prom Queen. Two American originals are paired in a revelatory new hour: country standout Margo Price returns for her second headlining appearance with her latest album Strays as the centerpiece; and next-generation bluegrass musician Molly Tuttle and her band Golden Highway dazzle in their first ACL appearance with gems from their 2023 Grammy-winning Best Bluegrass Album Crooked Treeand latest City of Gold. Global music powerhouse Jorge Drexler, who swept the 2022 Latin Grammy Awards with a record seven awards, makes his first appearance on the ACL stage with a sparkling hour of lush soundscapes and irresistible Spanish-language songs from his landmark Tinta y Tiempo. Celebrated singer-songwriter and four-time Grammy winner Jason Isbell and his band the 400 Unit, who made their initial debut a decade ago in Season 39, return for their third headlining appearance in a highly-anticipated hour featuring fan-favorites and new gems from his recent Weathervanes.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that this is the most diverse mix of music and talent ACL has ever presented in a new season – and it’s only the beginning!’ says longtime ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “We strive to live up to the axiom that ‘anything goes’ on ACL as long as it’s authentic, original or groundbreaking – or all three! There’s so much great music being made today from all genres and all corners of the world, and we try to showcase it all.”
Season 49 Broadcast Line-up (second half of season to be announced separately)
Oct. 7Rodrigo y Gabriela featuring the Austin Symphony Orchestra
Oct. 14Jenny Lewis / MUNA
Oct. 21Lil Yachty / Sudan Archives
Oct. 28Margo Price / Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway
Nov. 4Jorge Drexler
Nov. 11Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Nov. 18Foo Fighters
Watch new episodes live, stream online, or download the PBS App. The complete line-up for the full 14-week season, including seven new episodes to air beginning January 2023, will be announced at a later date. Viewers can visit acltv.com for news regarding live streams, future tapings and episode schedules or by following ACL on Facebook, Twitter, IG and TikTok.Fans can also browse the ACL YouTube channel for exclusive songs, behind-the-scenes videos and full-length artist interviews.
Austin City Limits
Austin City Limits (ACL) offers viewers unparalleled access to featured acts in an intimate setting that provides a platform for artists to deliver inspired, memorable, full-length performances. Now in its 49th Season, the program is taped live before a concert audience from The Moody Theater in downtown Austin. Austin City Limits is the longest-running music series in television history and remains the only TV series to ever be awarded the National Medal of Arts. Since its inception, the groundbreaking music series has become an institution that’s helped secure Austin’s reputation as the Live Music Capital of the World. The historic Austin PBS Studio 6A, home to 36 years of ACL concerts, has been designated an official Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Landmark. In 2011, ACL moved to the new venue ACL Live at The Moody Theater in downtown Austin. ACL received a rare institutional Peabody Award for excellence and outstanding achievement in 2012.
Austin City Limits is produced by Austin PBS and funding is provided in part by Dell Technologies, the Austin Convention Center Department, Cirrus Logic and AXS Ticketing. Additional funding is provided by the Friends of Austin City Limits. Learn more about Austin City Limits, programming and history at acltv.com.
When Adrian Quesada brought his Boleros Psicodélicos project to the Austin City Limits stage last year in our Season 48, one of his featured guests was singer and violinist Mireya Ramos, who brought the house down with an impassioned performance of the Latin love song “Tus Tormentas.” With her musical partner Shae Fiol, Ramos leads the Latin Grammy-winning and Grammy-nominated New York mariachi group Flor de Toloache, and it became clear after her appearance with Quesada that an invitation to the band to tape their own show was inevitable. We were thrilled to have the five-piece combo join us in support of their latest recording Motherflower.
Eschewing the traditional mariachi outfits for clothes more glittery, Mona Seda (trumpet), Claudia Rascon (guitar), and Vaneza Calderon (guitarron) strummed a slow mariachi beat before Ramos arrived to begin “Bolero Para ti Motherflower,” the defiant title track to Motherflower. Ramos’ voice soared and swirled, joined by her partner Fiol’s on the second verse, both women pulling every ounce of emotion out of the lyrics. Fiol picked up her vihuela and Ramos her violin for the cumbia “Bailando Penas,” driven by both the danceable rhythm and Seda’s melodic trumpet lines. On the ballad “Esta Ranchera,” which Ramos called their tribute to Patsy Cline, Fiol switched to flute, while she and her partner shifted from Spanish to English and back to enforce the emotion behind the heartbreak ballad.
“This is another women empowerment song,” noted Ramos, before double violins from she and Rascon kicked off “Ruiseñor,” a tune from the band’s Las Caras Lindas album – and one that featured clogging, pizzicatto violin, and whistling during the breakdown. “This is the most personal song [on Motherflower], said Ramos in the lead up to “Brinda por Ella.” “You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else. It’s okay to take yourself out on a date once in a while!” That sentiment adorned a joyful 6/8 groove and sparkling violin from Ramos.
The band then invited Grammy-winning producer and musician Adrian Quesada – “a legend here and around the world” – to join them onstage with his Telecaster. He gave a new texture to the gorgeous Motherflower ballad “Soledad,” a song written during the pandemic – appropriately enough – since the English translation is “Loneliness.”
After Quesada left the stage, Ramos introduced the next song “Let Down” as a fusion of ranchera, blues, and R&B. A showcase for the golden-voiced Fiol, its writer, the tune was originally featured in the band’s Tiny Desk Concert, which helped introduce the quintet to the wider world. Ramos and Seda also engaged in some playful locking of horns with their violin and trumpet. The group then paid tribute to their style’s history with the “Huapango Medley,” starting with the Trini Lopez classic “Malagueña Salerosa,” and including mariachi standards “El Pastor” and “La Cigarra.” For the ranchera “Regresa Ya,” written by Ramos for a bandmate going through a breakup, the group asked for an assist from the enthusiastic audience. All five members gave a brief workshop in the art of the grito, those spontaneous cries that punctuate the emotional heft of a good mariachi ballad. The crowd was already primed for participation, inserting gritos into the luminous heartbreak ballad without prompting.
After that exercise in tradition, the quintet jumped feet first into another arena, dazzling with a briskly performed medley of contemporary hard rock songs, incorporating riffs, melodies, and lyrics from Rage Against the Machine, Nirvana (both “Come As You Are” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit”), and Led Zeppelin. The temperature level was already spiked by that epic performance, so Flor kept it going with the cumbia “Dicen,” which got the audience dancing and singing along in call-and-response. The band closed the set with “Besos de Mezcal,” a tune that drew just as heavily on crowd participation, with the Austin crowd singing the chorus alongside Fiol and Ramos. The latter also led the audience in some enthusiastic cries of “Tikki-tikki-ta!”
The theater went wild after the magical set, as well they should have. We’ve never had a show quite like this before, and we’re excited for everyone to see it when it airs this fall as part of our upcoming Season 49 of Austin City Limits on your local PBS station.
Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Molly Tuttle is the very picture of modern bluegrass. Mindful of tradition but not restricted by it, the California native and her band Golden Highway take the old school style and carry it into the twenty-first century, dominating the 2023 International Bluegrass Association Awards with an astounding seven nominations, and picking up a 2023 Grammy as well for Best Bluegrass Album. Her 2022 album Crooked Tree and brand new City of Gold have set a new standard for this distinctly American music, and we were excited for her and her remarkable band to bring it to the ACL stage.
Before the show began, violinist Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, bassist Shelby Means, banjoist Kyle Tuttle (no relation), and mandolinist Dominick Leslie took the stage to the strains of the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The quartet began “Evergreen, OK,” their fearless leader joining them before the first verse, as three part harmonies and tight riffing reconnected ACL to the bluegrass tradition. “This is something I’ve dreamed of for so long,” remarked Molly. “I’ve been watching this show since I was a little kid!” The band then launched into the brisk “El Dorado,” a song that shows off the guitarist’s lyrical skills as much as her, Leslie, and Keith-Hynes’ musicianship. Tuttle and the band veered from the highway into the honky-tonk for the cheeky “Side Saddle” and the waltzing road trip chronicle “Yosemite,” on which Molly and Kyle duetted. Leslie and Keith-Hynes (International Bluegrass Association Fiddler of the Year, as Molly pointed out) then faced each other at the front of the stage to kick off “Open Water,” the kind of bluegrass instrumental that sets fingers afire and leaves audiences exhausted on the players’ behalf.
It’s not clear when the Grateful Dead became a source of bluegrass standards (probably after Jerry Garcia teamed up with progressive bluegrass mandolinist David Grisman and singer/songwriter Peter Rowan in Old and In the Way), but Tuttle knows how to pick ‘em, with a sweet cover of the Dead’s “Dire Wolf.” The tempo surged forward and the band segued directly into the original “Over the Line,” metaphorical guns a-blazin’. Kyle Tuttle then took the mic for a happy-go-lucky take on folk legend John Hartford’s “Up On the Hill Where They Do the Boogie” (which Hartford himself performed when he was on the show in Season 3). The banjoist applied wah-wah to his axe and Molly exhorted the audience to “get freaky on the dance floor.” The speedy “Down Home Dispensary” – “an open letter to Tennessee, and I think it might apply to Texas too,” said Molly – kept the cheeky vibe going – “there’s too much politickin’ and not enough tokin’.” The more even-tempoed “Dooley’s Farm,” on the other hand, explored territory similar to Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road,” with a legacy of illegal activity. Both were tunes that reiterate that this ain’t your grandfather’s bluegrass.
Golden Highway stuck to the minor keys for “Castilleja,” which didn’t hinder any of the fiery solos, and encouraged Keith-Hynes and Kyle Tuttle in particular to indulge a healthy jones for psychedelia. (No wonder the band has collaborated with fellow bluegrass ace Billy Strings.) “Next Rodeo” leaned more into traditionalism, spinning off the expression “this ain’t my first rodeo” for an assertion of confidence. Molly and the band cruised into the groovy shuffle “Where Did All the Wild Things Go,” recruiting the crowd for backing vocals and getting them into the spirit of rebellion that powers the song. Then it was time for “Crooked Tree,” one of Molly’s major anthems. After explaining how the song celebrates our differences and the uniqueness of everyone, the singer, who suffers from lifelong alopecia universalis, removed her wig for the performance. “I’m proud to be a crooked tree,” she sang, and there was little doubt from their adulation that the audience felt the same.
Back down the Golden Highway they rambled, ripping through “San Joaquin” in a flurry of band introductions, fleet-fingered licks, and hyperactive rhythm. Means started a heavy groove as Kyle introduced Molly, who was busy switching guitars. She went all clawhammer on the new axe to sing “Take the Journey,” a tune from her 2019 album When You’re Ready that predated the arrival of Golden Highway. Not that it mattered, as the crowd clapped along and the entire band hit the lip of the stage to end the main set with a flourish. But Molly and her gang returned to do the encore old school – no amplification, one microphone, and the sweet love song “More Like a River.” They brought it home with Leslie’s frisky instrumental “Clam Tide.”
It was a dazzling show of twenty-first century bluegrass, full of fire and fun, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on your local PBS channel as part of our upcoming Season 49.