Austin City Limits began as a showcase in 1973 to highlight the fertile Austin, Texas regional music scene, and we returned to our origins last night, showcasing the debut of Austin standout Jackie Venson. The next-generation singer-songwriter-guitar ace has made major waves in her hometown and across the globe over the past few years and we were proud to host her first taping, live streamed around the world.
Wearing a black dress designed by her sister bearing a multitude of names of Black victims of police violence, with the words “Say their names” written down her arm, Venson made a statement even before launching her magnetic set. Performing a number of songs from her upcoming new album Vintage Machine, Venson and her five-piece band opened with “Awake,” a slow-grooving thumper frosted with her delay-soaked Epiphone Les Paul. The staccato beats of “Home” paid tribute to her hometown, before bassist Nick Clark led the musicians into cranking up the groove for the title track “Vintage Machine,” which appropriately felt like a Princely throwback. Comments lit up on the livestream with one viewer raving, “Never heard Jackie before, tuned in because I follow Austin City Limits, this is fantastic.” The perpetually grinning Venson turned to the subject of l’amour for “Keep On,” a reggae tune that still left plenty of room for her frisky axe work. That song crashed directly into the next, a grungy rocker called “Witchcraft,” which immediately blazed into the funky rocker “Next Life.” After shouting out ACL, Venson and the band went into her current single “Make Me Feel,” a slow burn ballad that accented its desire with its composer’s burning licks.
As backup singers Akina Adderley and Kate Priestley left the stage, Venson donned an acoustic guitar and delivered a moving speech in support of Black Lives Matter – “Not the hashtag, not the slogan, not the organization – the people.” Then she played “Back to Earth,” a sophisticated pop song that kept to her words’ spirit, if not the details. Venson then put on a Stratocaster with the comment, “We’re gonna do you Texas style.” She welcomed “Austin’s empress of soul” Tameca Jones to the stage, and the pair dazzled on the blues classic “Texas Flood,” made famous by another Austinite, the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, who also performed the song on his own ACL debut back in 1984. “I think I would’ve been smited if I’d played that song on anything but a Strat,” she remarked. After replacing that guitar with her Les Paul, Venson cranked the funk back up for “Fight,” a socially conscious song featuring a jazzy solo from keyboardist Eddy Hozibal. Rock came back in a big way for “Transcends,” leading Venson to introduce her close-knit band.
The band went back to its tasty blend of funk and rock for the bristling (and inaccurately titled) “LoFi,” before revisiting Venson’s pop side for “Surrender.” The guitar slinger headed into the home stretch with “Go My Way,” a positivity-infused tune that deftly blended R&B of the past and the present. Drummer Rodney Hyder then jumped into the funky backbeat of “Joy,” the show-closer that put all of Venson’s eggs – soulful grooves, pop melodies and powerhouse guitar – into one basket to bring it all home. It was a great debut, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs November 14 as part of our Season 46 on your local PBS station.