“Austin City Limits” creator Bill Arhos had the best line of the night Saturday at the long-running TV show’s first-ever ACL Hall of Fame induction ceremony: “It’s a little intimidating to be in a class of the first inductees, and three of the four have bronze statues around town.”
Arhos may be the odd man out, but his role was the most crucial in the origin of “Austin City Limits,” which is celebrating its 40th season of filming with several special events. This one was maybe the biggest, with Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble and Darrell Royal joining Arhos in the show’s new Hall of Fame. Footage from the evening, which was filmed at ACL’s original home in Studio 6A on the University of Texas campus, will be included in an ACL 40th-anniversary special that will air in prime time on PBS this fall.
Both Nelson and Double Trouble performed as part of the festivities. Nelson kicked things off with an hourlong set in which he and his longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael were backed by an abbreviated version of Lyle Lovett’s Large Band.
Lovett himself joined in to duet with Nelson on “Funny How Time Slips Away,” and singer Emmylou Harris came aboard to take the lead vocal on “Crazy.” All three performed together on a few numbers, most notably a touching cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho & Lefty,” which Nelson introduced as being “one of the best songs ever written.”
The set concluded with the formal inductions of Nelson, Arhos and Royal (whose wife Edith accepted on the late coach’s behalf). Doing the induction honors were actor Matthew McConaughey for Nelson, ACL executive producer Terry Lickona for Arhos, and former UT football coach Mack Brown for Royal. An intermission followed, along with a brief art-auction fundraiser of two paintings commissioned for the occasion.
Next came the induction of Vaughn & Double Trouble, accepted by the legendary guitarist’s surviving bandmates Chris Layton, Tommy Shannon and Reese Wynans. “Stevie is still here,” Layton told the crowd as he gazed around the studio, where Vaughan and the band delivered two indelible performances in the early and late 1980s. “He’s here in this building.”
The band then proceeded to summon Vaughan’s spirit with a slew of special guests. Guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd and singer Mike Farris got the house rockin’ with, appropriately, “The House Is Rockin’” before blazing through “Look at Little Sister” and “Crossfire” with the help of the three-piece Grooveline Horns. Doyle Bramhall II followed with a soulful three-song set highlighted by “Change It,” a song his late father wrote for Vaughan.
Bramhall stuck around to accompany charismatic steel guitarist Robert Randolph, who confessed that “a girl once actually left me on a date because I kept playing Stevie Ray Vaughan in my car.” He proceeed to deliver the night’s most rousing number, a celebratory “Pride and Joy,” with Wynans applauding from behind his keyboard at the song’s end.
The only guy who could follow that was Buddy Guy. The legendary Chicago blues guitarist drove the show home with “Let Me Love You Baby” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb” before a mass cast assembled for the “Texas Flood” finale. From stage left, the front line consisted of Shepherd, Bramhall, Randolph, Nelson, Guy, Willie’s son Lukas Nelson and Lovett, with Layton, Shannon, Wynans and harp player Raphael backing them. It was a defining “Austin City Limits” moment.
The crew also announced a few details for a June 26 concert that will be held at the downtown ACL Live venue to be filmed for inclusion in the fall prime time special. Actor Jeff Bridges will host the event, which will include performances by Gary Clark Jr., Kris Kristofferson, Sheryl Crow and Jimmie Vaughan, with others to be announced.