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Featured News Taping Recap

Taping recap: Robert Earl Keen

It may be a “say it ain’t so” moment for Austin City Limits fans, but it’s true: Robert Earl Keen’s seventh time on our storied stage will apparently be his last. We first welcomed him in Season 14, thirty-four years ago, and have been diehard fans ever since. While the Houston native won’t be retiring from live performances until September, he still threw himself and his legions of fans a hell of a goodbye party with an epic set traversing his entire career. 

As the sparkly-jacketed Keen took a seat centerstage, he noted that ACL has been a big part of his career arc, in part due to meeting his wife at a Nanci Griffith taping back in 1983. Then, backed by his five-piece band – stalwart rhythm section Bill Whitbeck (with Keen for 27 years) and Tom Van Schaik (25), guitarists Brian Beken and Noah Jeffries, and his longtime friend and ACL Hall of Famer Lloyd Maines on the pedal steel – Keen opened with a one-two punch of classic tunes: “Feeling Good Again,” from 1998’s Walking Distance, and “Gringo Honeymoon,” from the 1994 album of the same name. Keen then introduced the band, before going into the warm folk rocker “For Love I Did It,” from 2005’s What I Really Mean. Due to a technical snafu, we had to run “Gringo Honeymoon” again – the amiable Keen offered the audience the option to redo it right then, or “cram us all in your mini-van and do it then.” The redo got even bigger applause than the first take, especially when the audience got to sing “We ain’t never comin’ back!” themselves. “We might just double down on the whole set,” Keen grinned. 

The songwriter noted that the next song was the unofficial theme song for his popular Americana Podcast—the appropriately melody-rich “Let the Music Play.” After paying tribute to a genre, Keen honed in on a specific musician, telling the story of visiting the late Levon Helm’s combination venue/studio/residence the Ramble in upstate NY, which inspired his fan favorite “The Man Behind the Drums.” He then switched from stories of great musicians to tales of the criminal element with “Shades of Gray,” a hidden gem from 1997’s major label bow Picnic. Contrary to its title, “Dreadful Selfish Crime” didn’t continue the theme, but instead addressed the sin of wasting one’s life – despite its sobering message, the crowd responded to it with wild applause. Keen then revisited one of his certified classics, giving “Corpus Christi Bay” a rocked-up arrangement, garnering another round of hurrahs. 

Keen talked about his early days as a songwriter, first moving to Austin in 1980, then trying his luck in Nashville at the urging of friend Steve Earle, before returning and settling in Bandera, Texas. There he met a co-worker named Mariano, who lent his name to the eponymous minor-key song found on Keen’s second LP, 1989’s West Textures, and given an earnest reading here. Speaking of earnestness, he followed that up with “I’ll Be There For You,” from the 1998 LP Walking Distance, and as heartfelt a ballad as he’s likely ever written.  He then leapt forward thirteen years to 2011’s Ready For Confetti, his most recent studio album of original material, for “Black Baldy Stallion,” a tribute of sorts to a horse he once owned, telling a story about playing that song for the late Guy Clark, whose only response was to roll a cigarette, blow a plume of smoke and note, “Too many fuckin’ words.” “I cried all the way home,” Keen said, only half joking. 

He led the band and crowd into the home stretch with “Sinnerman,” a tune he hasn’t yet recorded himself, but was recorded by the Stryker Brothers. After that he lightly strummed some chords before singing “Sherry was a waitress at the only joint in town,” to which the audience responded with a cheer. It was, of course, “The Road Goes On Forever,” Keen’s signature anthem from early-career breakout West Textures, and one on which the crowd sang along, sometimes louder than its writer. Needless to say, band and audience went wild, taking a minute to settle down enough for the next song. Keen reiterated his retirement, adding that he was sitting in the chair “to practice a little bit,” logically preceding Gringo Honeymoon’s  “I’m Comin’ Home,” a sentiment that evolved into a full audience singalong. Fittingly, Keen ended the show with the jaunty “I Gotta Go,” because, well, he did. “You can take this one with ya,” he told the fans. They did as he stood up center stage, raised his guitar, and poignantly took a bow, letting the band play him offstage. 

But it wasn’t quite over, as Keen almost immediately came back. “Somebody backstage told me he’d missed one of our Christmas shows,” he explained, “and he gave me five bucks, so what am I gonna do?” That, obviously, meant “Merry Christmas From the Family,” his Christmas classic eight months early. It became another singalong, of course, as well it should have. It was a truly special performance from an ACL favorite, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on your local PBS station as part of our Season 48. 

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Featured News Taping Announcement Uncategorized

New tapings: Robert Earl Keen, Sylvan Esso and Allison Russell

Austin City Limits is proud to announce new tapings for Season 48, showcasing a trio of originals. Renowned singer/songwriter and Texas icon Robert Earl Keen caps his remarkable musical journey with one last taping on April 27 before his planned retirement from live performance later this year. We’re also thrilled to showcase debut tapings by a pair of 2022 Grammy-nominated acts whose individuality and artistic reach create songs thrilling in their distinctive flavors. On May 9, we welcome North Carolina-bred electronic duo Sylvan Esso. On May 25, Nashville-based singer and songwriter Allison Russell takes the ACL stage as we reach a major milestone: our 1000th taping. 

Robert Earl Keen debuted on Austin City Limits in 1989 as part of a Texas Showcase and has made four headlining appearances in addition to appearing as a guest of Lyle Lovett in 2000, returning for ACL’s milestone 40th Anniversary special in 2014 and hosting the ACL Hall of Fame in 2019. One of the most beloved songwriters and performers in Texas, the Houston native has lived his signature anthem “The Road Goes On Forever” as a road warrior performing over 180 dates in any given year, playing to his legions of fans at roadhouses, dance halls, theaters, and festival grounds. The legendary entertainer made the surprise announcement in March that he’ll wrap up a remarkable four decades of touring with one last tour in 2022 as his swan song: I’m Comin’ Home: 41 Years On The Road. “I’ve been blessed with a lifetime of brilliant, talented, colorful, electrical, magical folks throughout my life,” says Keen. “This chorus of joy, this parade of passion, this bull rush of creativity, this colony of kindness and generosity are foremost in my thoughts…It’s with a mysterious concoction of joy and sadness that I want to tell you that as of September 4, 2022, I will no longer tour or perform publicly.” With a catalog of 21 albums, a band of stellar musicians, and many thousands of live shows under his belt, POLLSTAR ranked Keen in its Top 20 Global Concert Tours in 2021. Since releasing his debut album, No Kinda Dancer, in 1984, Keen has blazed a peer, critic, and fan-lauded trail that’s earned him living-legend status in the Americana music world. He’s received many accolades along the way, including 2015’s inaugural BMI Troubadour Award, celebrating songwriters who have made a lasting impact.  His songs have been recorded by George Strait, Joe Ely, Nancy Griffith, Gillian Welch, The Highwaymen and more. Keen has been inducted into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame (alongside his longtime friend and Texas A&M classmate Lyle Lovett), the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, and the Distinguished Alumni Award from Texas A&M University. Keen was weaned on classic rock and Willie records and steered clear of the country mainstream, always taking the road less traveled throughout his storied career. His literate songcraft, razor wit and killer band stirred up a grassroots sensation not seen since the ’70s heyday of outlaw country. While Keen will be hanging up his hat on live shows, he’ll continue to write music and create, host his popular Americana Podcast, support young artists, and follow his artistic muse wherever it takes him. We’re thrilled to welcome Robert Earl Keen back to our stage for this very special performance.

Created with RNI Films app by Shervin Lainez.

Sitting in a Wisconsin deli in 2012, Amelia Meath told her new friend Nick Sanborn she wanted to start a pop band. She proposed a simple division of labor: She’d write and sing their emotionally multivalent songs, wrapped around seemingly effortless hooks. And he’d make the beats that drove them, slightly slippery instrumentals that winked at his abstract electronic inclinations. For a time, that was the premise of Sylvan Esso. But during the last decade, those responsibilities have morphed. Meath and Sanborn’s roles have become so intertwined that every moment of any new Sylvan Esso song feels rigorously conceptual but completely rapturous, their compelling central paradox. “Making music now looks like both of us sitting in a room together and having small arguments,” Meath quips. That dynamic thumps at the heart of Free Love, Sylvan Esso’s instantly endearing third album and a charming but provocative testament to the duo’s long-term tension. “We’re trying to make pop songs that aren’t on the radio, because they’re too weird,” says Meath. You could frame Free Love in a dozen different ways. You could, for instance, declare it their undeniable pop triumph, thanks to the summertime incandescence of “Ferris Wheel” or the handclap kinetics of “Train.” You might, on the other hand, call it their most delicate work yet, owing to Meath’s triptych of gently subversive anthems—“What If,” “Free,” and “Make It Easy”—that begin, end, and split the record into sides. You could label Free Love their modular synthesis album, since Sanborn’s explorations of those infinite systems shape so many of these daring songs. You might even call it their marriage record, as it’s the first LP Meath and Sanborn have made since trading vows. Instead, the thread that binds together every scintillating moment of Free Love may seem surprising for a duo that has already netted a 2022 Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Album for the record , made some of their generation’s sharpest pop daggers, and generally approached their work with an anything-goes esprit: Finding confidence. An album that implores us to consider that our assumptions about our world might be wrong, Free Love asks major questions about self-image, self-righteousness, friendship, romance, and environmental calamity with enough warmth, playfulness, and magnetism to make you consider an alternate reality. These are Sylvan Esso’s most nuanced and undeniable songs—bold enough to say how they feel, big enough to make you join in that feeling. The Durham, NC-based duo is currently on a U.S. headline tour with high-profile upcoming summer dates at Wilco’s Solid Sound and Rothbury’s Electric Forest Festival.

Photo by Marc Baptiste.

After years of collaborations with like-minded artists, Allison Russell’s first-ever solo project, Outside Child was released in 2021 to critical acclaim and earned a trio of 2022 Grammy nominations, including Best Americana Album. Russell, a self-taught singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and co-founder of folk collective Our Native Daughters and duo Birds of Chicago, unpacks her youth in searing detail. Rolling Stone raves, “Russell turned her brutally tough childhood into stunning art.” Raised in Montreal, Russell imbues her music with the colors of her city – the light, the landscape, the language – but also the trauma that she suffered there. It is a heartbreaking reflection on a childhood no one should have to endure, and at the same time a powerful reclamation – asserted from a place of healing, of motherhood, of partnership – and from a new home made in Nashville. The record features many of the artistic family members she has found there including Yola, Erin Rae, The McCrary Sisters, Ruth Moody, Jamie Dick, Dan Knobler and her partner JT Nero. Outside Child, says Russell “is about resilience, survival, transcendence, the redemptive power of art, community, connection, and chosen family.” Singing about this on the double Grammy-nominated “Nightflyer,” Russell ponders the healing power of motherhood, using the track’s wide-open expanse to convey the strength she didn’t know she had. Here, the line “I am the mother of the evening star / I am the love that conquers all” is “the most defiantly triumphant, hopeful line I’ve ever written,” says Russell. “That’s about the birth of my daughter and how that transformed me.” Though she endured a fraught relationship with her own mother, Russell remembers how she’d crawl underneath the piano and listen to her mother play. “I would hum along with her,” Russell recalls. “She said I was humming before I could talk. I was able to feel some kind of comfort or love or connection in a way that she couldn’t verbally or physically express – but I could feel in her music that there was love in her.” Ultimately, Outside Child is not only a radical reclamation of a traumatic childhood and lost home, it is a lantern light for survivors of all stripes – a fervent reminder of the eleventh hour, resuscitative power of art. Fellow songwriter and poet Joe Henry raves, “Outside Child draws water from the dark well of a violent past. The songs themselves ––though iron-hard in their concerns–– are exultant: exercising haunted dream-like clean bedsheets snapped and hung out into broad daylight, and with the romantic poet’s lust for living and audacity of endurance.” We’re thrilled to bring Russell to the ACL stage as we celebrate a landmark occasion with our milestone 1K taping moment.

Want to be part of our audience? We will post information on how to get free passes as we get a week out from each date. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for notice of postings. The broadcast episodes will air in late 2022 on PBS as part of our upcoming Season 48.

Please look for safety updates regarding entry to Austin City Limits tapings. Austin PBS will continue to monitor local COVID-19 trends and will meet or exceed protocols mandated by local governments.