A special performance by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard at Austin’s Arlyn Studios in November 2014 has been picked up by AXS TV, a network that specializes in music programming.
“Willie & Merle: Up Close & Personal Inside Arlyn Studios” will air June 25 at 7 p.m. The AXS channel is carried locally by AT&T U-Verse, DirecTV, Dish Networ, Grande and others, but it’s not available on Spectrum, the former Time-Warner Cable.
Initially intended as the pilot episode of a proposed “Inside Arlyn” series concieved as perhaps a more intimate “Austin City Limits,” the taping of the two legends has taken on greater historical significance since Haggard’s death in 2016. “It’s the last thing they did together, so it’s kind of timeless,” said Nelson’s nephew, Freddy Fletcher, the studio’s founder.
The taping coincided with the recording of “Django & Jimmie,” the pair’s country-chart-topping 2015 duo album. The set list included classics from each of their repertoires, including Nelson’s “On the Road Again” and “Night Life” and Haggard’s “Ramblin’ Fever” and “Fightin’ Side of Me.” Interspersed with the musical performances is interview footage with former CBS News anchor Dan Rather. The program got its world debut last week on the Irish public television network RTE.
That international connection is significant because Arlyn collaborated last fall with the Irish music program “Other Voices” to film around a dozen musical acts at Arlyn during the Austin City Limits Music Festival, including Mumford & Sons, Margo Price, Cage the Elephant and Gregory Porter. Fletcher says Arlyn hopes to help find a U.S. outlet for those tapings, likely under the name “Other Voices Austin.” Additional collaborative tapings with the Irish show may happen later this year.
In the meantime, the Nelson and Haggard telecast may help pave the way for future “Inside Arlyn” shows. Nelson and Gary Clark Jr. teamed up on another episode filmed a few days after the one with Haggard in 2014, and Fletcher says he’d like to do many more.
“I think this is kind of like a pilot proving the concept,” he says of the Nelson/Haggard airing. “Once we get the concept out there, and people say, ‘Oh, it was cool,’ it opens the door for more negotiations.”
Fletcher says it’s possible that Nelson would host future “Inside Arlyn” episodes as well, though they’ve also “kicked around the idea of Don Was or T Bone Burnett” or other prominent musical figures hosting some episodes. “There’s a lot of possibilities. We don’t even necessarily have to have a host, but it’s cool to have that perspective.”