It’s not like Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and his 10-piece Orleans Avenue backing crew needed any help in their second “Austin City Limits” taping. The New Orleans funk shooting stars had lit up ACL Live for more than an hour with blasts of horns, guitars, vocals and percussion when they brought out a special guest on two songs. But Cyril Neville definitely took them to another level.
Building the bridge between this modern-day juggernaut and the historical legacy of the Neville Brothers was a natural move, but it underscores how smart Andrews is, and how aware he is of the roots of his music. Cyril will turn 70 in a few weeks, but that was hard to imagine watching him perform “No More Okedoke” and “Fiyo on the Bayou” with Andrews and his crew, singing loud and moving proud like he hadn’t yet turned 30.
The surprise cameo put a cap on a blockbuster night. Among the tapings I’ve attended over the past five years, very few have bottled up this much raw energy. Foo Fighters, probably. The Tedeschi Trucks band, likely. Add Shorty to that short list.
A lot of the credit goes to his bandmates. Saxophonists Dane Oestreicher and BK Jackson share the front line with Andrews, blasting out brass bursts and often dancing in step with bassist Mike Bass-Bailey. Add guitarists Joshua Connelly and Pete Murano, drummers Alvin Ford Jr. and Joey Peebles, percussionist Weedie Braimah, and backing vocalists Tracci Lee and Chrishira Perrier, and the stage was constantly alive with a maelstrom of activity.
The 12-song set drew from a range of the Trombone Shorty catalog, including “Where It At?” and “Here Come the Girls” from last year’s “Parking Lot Symphony,” “Long Weekend” from 2013’s “Say That to Say This,” the instrumental show-opener “Buckjump” from 2011’s “For True,” and “Something Beautiful” from 2010’s “Backatown.” As a whole, though, the show felt more like it coalesced into one giant suite of glorious noise.
During the encore tune “Do to Me,” Andrews finally took that energy right into the crowd, which had responded to his band’s spirit with their own boisterous support all night. Weaving his way into the middle of a pogo-ing throng on the floor, he briefly brought everything down — both musically and physically, coaching the crowd members to crouch along with him as the band laid back for about a minute. Then, right on cue with his “one-two-three-four” countoff, the band and the crowd exploded, leaping into action again for a glorious finale that, fittingly, included an excerpt of “The Saints Go Marching In.” By end of the night, everyone wanted to be in that number, indeed.
“Whatever you see tonight, I didn’t rehearse it,” Buddy Guy told the crowd toward the end of Monday’s “Austin City Limits” taping at ACL Live. That wasn’t just a line. Usually, artists who play the iconic TV show make sure their performance is fine-tuned with an afternoon run-through that carefully adheres to the set list. But Buddy didn’t even HAVE a set list.
Once he takes the stage, you can see why. At 82, the legendary blues guitarist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has been doing this for long enough to know better than anyone what works best for him, and that’s mostly living in the moment. Sure, he’s got habits he’ll work into most every show — rubbing the guitar against his backside to make a squeal/scrape sound with the strings, or wandering out into the crowd to play close-up for some lucky fans. But mostly he’s just following his instincts, and feeding off the energy of the audience.
There was plenty of energy in the crowd on this night, as Guy heartily acknowledged early on. “We don’t get this kind of response everywhere we go — that’s why I like coming here,” he said as he wound down a 20-minute version of the Willie Dixon classic “Hoochie Coochie Man.” He teased the audience on occasion for not answering his call-and-response vocal cues loudly enough, but it always had the desired effect: By the time he got to the end of the roof-raising title track to his Grammy-winning 1994 album “Slippin’ In,” he had everyone in the room shouting along to its chorus.
Guy worked in newer material alongside the old favorites, delighting the crowd with the lively “Cognac” — pronounced “coe-nee-ack” in his charmingly drawn-out drawl — from this year’s album “The Blues Is Alive and Well.” He gave credit to drummer Tom Hambridge, the song’s co-writer, noting that Hambridge has also produced his last several albums. Props also went out to guitarist Ric Hall, keyboardist Marty Sammon and bassist Orlando Wright, who were the perfect backing crew all night long. They held back to a near whisper when called for, thundered forth when the moment arrived, and stayed right in the groove throughout.
Guy’s ties to Austin run deep. He has a long history with Antone’s nightlcub, he’s used Austin players such as Tommy Shannon, Chris Layton and David Grissom on his records, and he’s previously appeared on “Austin City Limits” four times, all at the old KLRU Studio 6A location — most recently for 2014’s inaugural Austin City Limits Hall of Fame induction ceremony, where he jammed for the first time ever with Willie Nelson in helping to induct his late friend Stevie Ray Vaughan.
When Guy played ACL Live in 2015, he brought out Chicago transplant James Cotton, the legendary blues harmonica ace who moved to Austin in his final years, to join him onstage. Cotton died last year, but Guy also loves to share the spotlight with younger players, and so near the end of Monday’s show he brought out 19-year-old guitarist Quinn Sullivan (the opening act on that 2015 show) for a sweet but hot and soulful take on John Hiatt’s “Feels Like Rain.”
Sullivan stayed aboard for the rest of the ride, getting some spotlight solos and engaging in hot six-string duels with Guy as they roamed through licks that nodded to the influence of guitar greats such as B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. The finale was a bit abrupt — unrehearsed, naturally — as Guy set down his guitar while the band played on, wandered back out into the crowd to toss a few guitar picks to fortunate fans, and finally ambled off with a big smile and a wave, leaving his mates to finish it off with a closing jam.
From television show to outdoor festival to music venue, and now to the radio dial: The iconic Austin City Limits brand is extending its reach once again, with Thursday’s announcement that longtime local station KGSR-FM is becoming Austin City Limits Radio.
The change, which takes effect at 5 p.m. Thursday with a satellite broadcast from Austin’s Arlyn Studios, will create a new format based primarily around the broad range of artists associated with the other Austin City Limits brand. Key KGSR staffers involved with the move said they expect roughly 50 percent of the station’s playlist content to be different with the ACL Radio designation.
Indiana-based Emmis Communications still owns KGSR and will keep those call letters. Emmis will license the Austin City Limits name from the television show, which launched in the mid-1970s. The program licensed its name to the Zilker Park music festival in 2002. When downtown concert venue the Moody Theater opened in 2011 and became the new site of the TV show’s tapings, a deal was made to call the venue ACL Live.
Adding radio to the mix was primarily the brainchild of KGSR on-air personality Andy Langer, who’s been with the station for 11 years. It started, he says, almost as a joke, when program director Emily Parker presented a list of potential adds to the station’s playlist that seemed beyond its usual AAA-format scope.
“I said, ‘Great, what are we going to call the new station?’,” Langer recalled. “My knee-jerk reaction led me to something I should have thought of five or 10 years ago.”
Adding a radio element to the ACL brand indeed seems like a natural extension. Tom Gimbel, the general manager of the “Austin City Limits” TV show and the executive who approved the multi-year licensing deal after Langer approached him with the idea, noted that the station “will be the first ACL brand touchpoint that is on 24-7, 365 days a year.”
Like Langer, Gimbel seems almost surprised that the notion hadn’t arisen earlier. “As we look at it now, I think it does seem quite obvious,” he said. “Sometimes great ideas sit in front of you for years before someone points it out.”
The change “allows us to broaden our scope,” said Scott Gillmore, senior vice president and Austin market manager for Emmis, whose local radio properties also include KLBJ-FM, KLBJ-AM, 101X, Latino 102.7, Bob-FM and La Zeta. “Even though we had changed our music over time, people still had an image about what KGSR was that maybe went back a ways.”
Gillmore was part of the team that launched KGSR in 1990 with original program director Jody Denberg, now a DJ on KUTX. Under Denberg, KGSR helped to pioneer the “adult album alternative” format that eventually became known in the industry as AAA radio. Gradual shifts over the years found the station leaning more toward Americana, or mainstream pop, or other subgenres.
“KGSR has gone through so many iterations trying to stay true to its roots but embracing the new Austin at the same time,” said program director Emily Parker, who’s been with the station since 2015, first as music director. “It’s this constant tug-of-war back and forth, playlist-wise. Now we won’t have that tug-of-war; we’ll be embracing new and old and everything in between.”
Asked for examples of what might carry over from the current KGSR format and the new ACL Radio vision, she suggested that “center-lane, big-brand heralds of AAA” such as Coldplay, Adele, Ed Sheeran and Mumford & Sons would remain. “But we’ll go to the left of that,” she said, with Texas legends such as Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett and Stevie Ray Vaughan, all of whom were KGSR staples in the 1990s. (Nelson’s traditional live-show opener “Whiskey River” will be the first song played on Thursday’s inaugural Austin City Limits Radio broadcast.)
“And we’ll widen on the other side for artists like Kendrick Lamar, Drake and others who have played the festival,” Parker added, making it clear that hip-hop — an increasingly prominent genre at ACL Fest in recent years — would be part of the mix.
While the station won’t be a marketing arm for the festival per se, Parker acknowledged the station likely would be putting some focus over the next month on acts playing the October event, citing St. Vincent and Metallica as potential examples.
Another key indicator: When Fort Worth soul sensation Leon Bridges was in town last weekend for a two-night stand at ACL Live, he stopped in at KGSR’s Dell Music Lounge to tape a four-song segment with Langer for what will be the first-ever ACL Radio live session, set to air Saturday at noon. Bridges also paid a visit to KUTX’s Studio 1A last weekend, suggesting that the two stations might share more common ground as a result of this new development.
KGSR, which moved from its original 107.1 frequency to 93.3 about a decade ago, also is picking up another spot on the dial with the change. Starting Thursday, ACL Radio will be heard at 97.1 in addition to 93.3. On the internet, the station will stream live at acl-radio.com.
Gimbel, who also recently worked out a deal with the University of Texas and concert promoter C3 Presents (which puts on ACL Fest) for a series of “Longhorn City Limits” concerts before UT football games this fall, says the KGSR partnership may also present other opportunities that haven’t yet been contemplated. Might KGSR broadcast some of ACL Fest live at some point? There’s no plan for that yet, in part because the licensing deal was arranged quite quickly, proceeding from concept to reality in just three or four months.
Gimbel credits KLRU director of communications April Burcham for coming up with a summary catch-phrase that has resonated with the Austin City Limits brand’s keepers. “She said, ‘We don’t just have a stool; now we have a table.’ It’s the fourth leg.”
Norah Jones, Boz Scaggs and Gary Clark Jr. are among those who will take part in the fifth annual Austin City Limits Hall of Fame Inductions and Celebration at ACL Live on Oct. 25, the long-running TV show announced Wednesday. The performers’ names follow a previous announcement that this year’s honorees will be Ray Charles, Los Lobos and Marcia Ball.
Other performers announced Wednesday include Ruthie Foster, Robert Randolph, Lou Ann Barton, Shelley King and Carolyn Wonderland, adding to previously revealed guests Irma Thomas and Tracy Nelson. One other guest previously announced, Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, had to cancel because of a scheduling conflict, according to the show’s publicist.
Also taking part will be filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. Musician Chris Isaak returns as the event’s emcee for the second year, with Austin instrumentalist and producer Lloyd Maines serving as musical director of the house band.
Austin’s storied music television show, “Austin City Limits” will kick off its 44th broadcast season with an hour-long performance from art-rocker St. Vincent set to air on PBS at 8 p.m. CST on Oct. 6. Earlier in the day, the artist also known as Annie Clark will play the show’s namesake festival at Zilker Park.
In an energetic “Austin City Limits” debut, 22-year-old pop breakout Alessia Cara delivered a solid set of sing-along pop songs that resonated with a crowd that skewed female and very young.
The Toronto artist bounded onto the stage and belted the upbeat breakup song “I’m Yours.” with a trio of backup singers and a band behind her. She wore a boxy men’s suit with a bulky profile that swallowed her petite frame as she performed with confidence, poise and charm, forging an easy rapport with the audience.
She broke into the industry releasing YouTube videos as a teen, and youth empowerment and the struggle to find yourself remain strong themes in her work. “The cool kids aren’t cool to me. They’re not cooler than we are,” she crooned on “Wild Things.” She talked about the hours she spent alone in her room nurturing her dreams as an introduction to “4 Pink Walls” and became emotional talking about the way fans around the world have embraced her ode to self-love, “Scars To Your Beautiful.”
The most ecstatic moments in her set were, predictably, the biggest hits. The room exploded when she played “How Far I’ll Go,” from the Disney hit movie “Moana,” and stayed hype as she segued into her first single, the wry wallflower anthem “Here.”
She took the set out with an explosive rendition of her Zedd collaboration “Stay,” complete with smoke effects and confetti streamers. The crowd went wild.
At this year’s Grammy Awards ceremony, Cara took home the trophy for best new artist. Her “ACL” performance proved it was an honor well-earned.
Artists like Anderson East, an Alabama rock-and-soul singer with a voice so startling and strong that it seems like the product of Greek mythology, are so singular that you almost have to grade them on a different curve.
For parallels, think of names like Whitney Houston or Amy Winehouse or Freddie Mercury; singers with pipes coated in brass, polished with velvet and powered by Tesla coils. You’d drop everything to listen to them read assembly instructions to an IKEA catalog, so the songwriting behind their creative works could be so-so and no one would put up much of a fuss.
East – born Michael Cameron Anderson – has channeled his vocal talents in a heartland direction and at this early stage of his career is in a vein something like what we’d get if Joe Cocker had more finesse and was aiming for the lyrical style of early Jason Isbell. Which is not a bad place to be.
East kicked off his “Austin City Limits” television performance Friday with his cover of Willie Nelson’s “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces,” a move that drew a distinct picture of where East is coming from stylistically. East’s interpretation turned Nelson’s sparse and forlorn playing into a more tortured picture of a singer turned inside out by his missteps, with backup singers and horns adding color and a church revival atmosphere.
From there much of East’s set kept with the white bread church singer feel, even if the lyrical themes dominated by romance realized and lost was firmly secular. Whether leaned back and roaring or bending forward for a smooth croon, East’s pure vocal power and control were the highlight early on while he mostly played the empty-armed romantic looking for The One.
Another highlight throughout the night was piano player Philip Towns, who grabbed the spotlight several times with colorful layered solos, including three of them alone on “Learning,” a song that stretched to nearly 10 minutes and proves the band would acclimate well in the jam band world if so moved.
The most thematically interesting turn of the 80-minute performance came in the last third, when a pair of minor-chord songs – “Girlfriend” and “All On My Mind” – saw the mood turn sinister and East taking on the role of the other man in a love triangle and a lover who knows he’s mixed up with a quintessentially bad girl. With a string quartet on hand to add even more dramatic tones, those songs saw East playing something of a villain or bad boy, showing even more swagger and confidence.
That change of tone made the night’s final few songs – especially a tune like “Satisfy Me” that is is an airtight example of how a rock-meets-soul song should be constructed – feel more human, like they were coming from a performer who can exhibit and embrace the light and dark of the human condition.
And, lest we forget, has the kind of voice to make just about anything work.
Rising up at a time when mainstream country radio sadly overemphasized uninspiring bro-country, Kacey Musgraves blew in like a breath of fresh air with her 2013 breakthrough single “Follow Your Arrow.” Gifted with an angelic soprano voice and willing to write lyrics that challenged preconceptions of country audiences, Musgraves was a star right out of the gate.
On this year’s “Golden Hour,” her third album, Musgraves continues to push the boundaries of country, to the point where she might actually best be considered a pop artist. Dipping into dance grooves at times and consistently stressing a strong melody over any obligatory twang, she seems more akin to singer-songwriters such as Brandi Carlile or Shawn Colvin at this point. And that’s very much to her credit.
Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t really matter what you call it. The fans who packed out her second “Austin City Limits” taping at ACL Live on Wednesday night simply know that they like it. Focusing on material from “Golden Hour” — 10 of the show’s 16 songs came from the new album, including the first six she played — Musgraves charmed the crowd with her radiant singing and an easygoing personality.
That personality is how she still connects most directly with country audiences. Musgraves talked about growing up in small-town East Texas, then zeroed in on the Austin folks when she spoke of living here for a short time a decade ago before moving to Nashville. She recalled residing on the north side near MoPac and 183, paying her dues working for a local booking agency. “I had to do the whole back end of the thing,” she said, “and now I’m on the other side of the curtain.”
It’s pretty clear Musgraves loves this side of the curtain, given how she plays up her image as a performer. A silver-sequin saddle gleamed and twirled slowly high above the stage, and she joked about the way she’d prepped for the cameras: “I don’t know if you noticed, but I put my hair up extra high for y’all.” Mid-set, as her band played a brief instrumental prelude to “High Time” (from 2015’s “Pageant Material”), she even had a couple of handlers come onstage to give her a makeup and hairspray touch-up.
None of it would work without the music, though, and Musgraves consistently delivers. Backed by six excellent musicians who fleshed out guitar-bass-drums basics with banjo, pedal steel, cello and keyboards, she made new songs such as “Slow Burn,” “Lonely Weekend” and “Golden Hour” sparkle and shine. Reaching back to her first album, she let the crowd sing the final verse of “Follow Your Arrow,” and opened her encore with a moving solo rendition of “Merry Go Round.” A cover of Brooks & Dunn’s “Neon Moon” followed and didn’t quite hit the mark, but she closed strong with “High Horse,” the most upbeat number on the new album and one that gave her a chance to break out some sweet dance moves at the end.
This is TV, and artists who tape “Austin City Limits” always have the option of redoing songs they weren’t quite sure about the first time around, though it doesn’t happen very often. (I’d say about 15 percent of the time, judging from events I’ve attended.) Musgraves felt a need to revisit three numbers, which may pay off on the broadcast when it airs. It felt somewhat anticlimactic in-person, partly because “High Horse” had been such a great closing moment. Some folks left after that, and they didn’t miss much; retakes of “Love Is a Wild Thing,” “Family Is Family” and “High Horse” did not sound noticeably better the second time around, from my vantage point.
1. Slow Burn
3. Love Is a Wild Thing
4. Velvet Elvis
5. Golden Hour
6. Happy and Sad
7. Keep It to Yourself
8. Lonely Weekend
9. High Time
10. Family Is Family
11. Follow Your Arrow
12. Space Cowboy
13. Rainbow Encore:
14. Merry Go Round
15. Neon Moon
16. High Horse Retakes:
Love Is a Wild Thing
Folks may have noticed by now that John Prine has a way with words. At 71, he’s become an elder statesman of American songwriting, a role he accepts and even appreciates, as he noted in a Monday afternoon discussion with KUTX’s Elizabeth McQueen at Waterloo Records. Tuesday night, he followed with a master class of sorts at ACL Live, taping “Austin City Limits” for the eighth time in his storied career.
“I guess I’m just going to keep on doing it till I get it right,” he said of those multiple appearances on the long-running TV show, giving us that Prine wit right out of the gate. “It’s a damn good place to come to, and it’s hard to leave.”
The motivation for this latest taping, his first in more than a decade, is “The Tree of Forgiveness,” released in April and somehow the first Prine album ever to reach the top-10 of the Billboard album charts. Nine of the 16 songs he played on this night were from that album; the only track left out was “God Only Knows” (not the Beach Boys classic but a song Prine started writing with legendary producer Phil Spector decades ago and recently finished).
Prine seemed like an old soul even when he was a young man writing songs destined to be classics such as “Hello in There” and “Angel From Montgomery,” the latter of which he played early in Tuesday’s show to set up the new material. It’s no surprise, then, that his writing has been so strong in his later years. Most legacy artists would be pushing it to play a set so dominated by their newest material, but Prine can pull it off because what he’s doing now is as good as, maybe better than, anything he’s ever done.
Even the stories that prefaced the songs were golden. “Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone)” has the kind of crazy title that almost requires an explanation. The audience broke out in laughter when Prine related a friend’s tale from youth about farmers who brought their eggs to town, dropping off their daughters at the roller rink where the local teenagers would take notice.
Even better was the prelude to “Lonesome Friends of Science,” a tune Prine cooked up after getting peeved that astronomers had suddenly declassified Pluto as a planet, then clarified it was a dwarf planet. “That was like kicking a guy while he was down,” Prine cracked, before launching into the jaunty tune about how Pluto “got uninvited to the interplanetary dance.”
He touched on the Trump era with “Caravan of Fools,” a darker number written with his longtime cohort Pat McLaughlin and Black Keys leader Dan Auerbach. Noting that the song is “about impending doom,” he said he hesitated to call it a political number, but noted that it “has more verses than there are original members in the cabinet of the present administration.”
A solo section toward the end of the 75-minute set gave Prine a window to reach back for a couple more favorites from his past. He chose “Everything Is Cool” from 1991’s Grammy-winning “The Missing Years” and “Illegal Smile,” the very first track on his 1971 debut album. The latter tune turned ACL Live into a hootenanny for the final verse, the crowd gleefully singing along, “Won’t you please tell the man I didn’t kill anyone, no I’m just trying to have me some fun.”
He also used the solo section to introduce Tyler Childers, a rising star from Kentucky who joined Prine on “Please Don’t Bury Me” and then got his own moment in the spotlight for “Lady May,” the closing track on his 2017 album “Purgatory.” Childers knew how fortunate he was to have the opportunity, saying simply, “Well this is awesome.”
Prine’s terrific band — multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin, guitarist Jason Wilber, bassist Dave Jacques and drummer Kenneth Blevins — returned for the final three songs. The brackets were older favorites “Lake Marie” and “Paradise,” but the linchpin was “When I Get to Heaven,” the last tune on “The Tree of Forgiveness.” Bouncing back and forth between spoken recitation and joyful singing, it’s the most uplifting song about leaving this world you could ever hope to hear. When Prine gets to heaven, he tells us, “I’m gonna get a guitar and start a rock ’n’ roll band, check into a swell hotel, ain’t the afterlife grand?”
1. Six O’Clock News
2. Angel From Montgomery
3. Knockin’ on Your Screen Door
4. Caravan of Fools
5. Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone)
6. Boundless Love
7. Summer’s End
8. I Have Met My Love Today
9. Lonesome Friends of Science
10. Everything Is Cool
11. Illegal Smile
12. No Ordinary Blue
13. Please Don’t Bury Me (with Tyler Childers)
14. Lady May (Tyler Childers solo)
15. Lake Marie
16. When I Get to Heaven
It was the second “Austin City Limits” taping of St. Vincent’s career and her third concert at ACL Live since February, but on Monday night, “ACL” executive producer Terry Lickona introduced her by remarking about what a unique experience the 35-year-old Dallas artist also known as Annie Clark had in store for the audience.
“We’ve never seen anything like it in front of our cameras,” he said.
For her tour dates earlier this year, Clark appeared solo, taking the stage with nothing but her guitar. This time, she performed the same set she played at Coachella (Coachella setlists with “ACL” scrawled across them were handed out to media before the show) with a three-piece backing ensemble that included Toko Yasuda on bass, keys and vocals and two male artists, rendered as faceless mannequins, on electronics and drums.
The band eschewed the standard “Austin City Limits” stage, instead performing on a wide narrow plank with a high bank of flashing lights at their back, creating a “Tron”-like fantasy world where humanity must battle technology to prosper. Dressed in bright orange, thigh-high stiletto boots with an artfully cut bodysuit to match, Clark took the stage as the guitar-wielding anime heroine leading the fight.
Human emotion vs. digital coldness was a motif she returned to several times during a set that mixed in older tracks, while drawing heavily from her excellent 2017 album “Masseduction.” She moved like a wind-up doll at the beginning of “Pills,” and robotic voices announced the beginning of “Digital Witness.”
Even on “New York,” the drummer led the audience in a fast clap, creating a driving pulse behind the most vulnerable song on the new album, adding an extra level of poignancy to the emotion breaking through Clark’s voice.
And this was the key to the show’s brilliance, the way it explored the power of contained emotion when it breaks free, through the defiant guitar wailing on songs like “Cheerleader,” “Rattlesnake” and “Fear the Future” and her vocal explorations on “Cruel” and the haunting cinematic harmonies on set closer “Slow Disco.”
Clark didn’t speak much during her main set, which is almost surely the set we’ll see at the Austin City Limits Music Fest later this year, but when she returned to the stage after a raucous call for an encore, she graciously talked about the “mind blowing performances” she’s seen on “ACL” and what an honor it was to be invited back. After blasting through “Hang On Me” with the band, she treated the audience to a few old tracks from her early days in Dallas playing “coffee shops, bad bars and, on a couple of occasions, a pizza parlor.”
“What a wonderful way to come back to the home state,” she said.