If someone asked you to prove the breadth and depth of talent in Austin’s music community, Wednesday night’s All ATX concert at ACL Live would be a pretty good Exhibit A.
Titled “All Along the Moontower: Austin Gets Psychedelic,” the show, which benefited Health Alliance for Austin Musicians and the future All ATX Music Factory, featured a baker’s dozen of local acts performing in remarkably swift succession. From the opening blast of Bubble Puppy’s late-’60s psych hit “Hot Smoke and Sassafras” to the not-really-psychedelic but quite beautiful acoustic rendition of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Helplessly Hoping” by Ian Moore, Jane Ellen Bryant and Max Frost, this was an auspicious evening of Austin musicians putting fresh spins on a wide range of classics drawn mostly from rock’s flower-power era.
It’s not easy to shepherd 13 acts on and off the stage without the pace dragging, but the crew from ACL Live and All ATX, a local musicians’ advocacy organization, kept things running so smoothly that more than two hours passed with little obvious down time. Between-song banter from KUTX’s Jody Denberg helped, as did a few video montages that set the scene of ’60s culture. But the biggest boost came from the Austin musicians themselves, who consistently delivered performances well worth hearing.
In the interest of expediency, most acts performed just one song — from Water & Rust’s “To Love Somebody” (Bee Gees) to Gina Chavez & Jon Sanchez’s “Nights in White Satin” (Moody Blues”) to Hayes Carll’s brilliant banjo-driven take on “Whiter Shade of Pale” (Procol Harum). Israel Nash, playing early, and Max Frost, near the end, each added an original song to their cover (the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” and Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” respectively), and in both cases, the fresh material was engaging and well-received.
An early highlight came when Bright Light Social Hour followed its rendition of the Beach Boys’ “All I Wanna Do” by inviting Ray Wylie Hubbard out for a raucous version of Hubbard’s anthemic “Screw You, We’re From Texas.” In the spoken-word rambling verses, Hubbard tied the tune to the evening’s theme: “The first psychedelic band in the world was the 13th Floor Elevators!”
Indeed, Roky Erickson and his crew were the towering local psych band conspicuously absent form the lineup, though All ATX organizers said they’d tried to make that happen. The audience did, however, get a thoroughly enchanting performance of an Elevators song — complete with electric jug — from the Black Angels, who also covered Status Quo’s 1967 hidden gem “Pictures of Matchstick Men” and essentially capped the Austin-centric segment of the night with a perfect blast of utterly masterful psychedelia.
Backing many of the acts across the evening — from prodigal son Ian Moore to Sister 7’s Patrice Pike to guitar great David Grissom with singer Mike Cross — was a first-class house band led by musical director Dave Sebree on guitar with bassist Roscoe Beck, drummer Les Fisher and keyboardist Stefano Intelisano. When they were joined for a hot take on Sly Stone’s “I Want to Take You Higher” by soulful singer Malford Milligan, it marked the live debut of the new quintet Big Cat, who’ll play their first set of original material for fans on Saturday at Threadgill’s South.
The evening might have ended just fine with that gorgeous Moore/Bryant/Frost CSN cover, or perhaps with an extended set of original material from the Black Angels. Instead, the closing honors went to visiting headliner Todd Rundgren, whose performance ultimately felt out-of-step with the evening.
Rundgren’s heart was in the right place — “It’s a special night in a special town, and I’m so proud to be a part of it,” he said — but his performances mostly fell flat, whether due to technical difficulties he bemoaned early on or his own melodramatic vocal antics. His classic “Hello It’s Me,” set to a rhythm markedly different from the radio hit, was a disappointment, and one that he seemed to include only out of obligation. (“There’s not a single psychedelic thing about this next song,” he confessed in introducing it.)
But another Rundgren staple, “Love Is the Answer,” did serve as a fitting all-hands-on-deck finale just past the three-hour mark. First recorded in 1977 by his band Utopia — some of whose members flew in specifically to back Rundgren for this show — the song didn’t become a smash hit until England Dan & John Ford Coley recorded it in 1979. On this night, with all of the All ATX cast joining in, it rang true, reclaiming the heart and spirit of this third annual event. As Denberg said of his role as the show’s emcee: “I hope to do this for another 30 years.”
Twenty-five years ago, on the morning of Aug. 27, 1990, Austin woke up to the news that one of the brightest stars of its music community, guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, had died in a helicopter crash overnight after a show in Wisconsin.
Some personal studio and tour pictures of Vaughan also surfaced this year in “Home Today, Gone Tomorrow,” a new photo book by former Fabulous Thunderbirds and Vaughan Brothers manager Marc Proct. And at noon today, former KLBJ-FM DJ Ed Mayberry will present an extended radio remembrance of Vaughan on KUHF Houston Public Media.
Looking back at that morning 25 years ago, here’s what it was like for for us in the American-Statesman newsroom, as reflected on our front page the following morning.
The original A1 headline and story on Aug. 28, 1990:
SO LONG, STEVIE RAY
Vaughan, 4 others die in copter crash; Austinites hold vigil
By Denise Gamino
with Michael MacCambridge and Peter Blackstock
Once again, it was a day the music died. The red-hot blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan were silenced on a foggy hillside in Wisconsin early Monday when a helicopter crash killed the Grammy-winning Texas guitarist.
Vaughan, 35, who rose to worldwide fame in the 1980s while slinging his guitar in Austin clubs, had just completed an outdoor performance with guitar greats Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy and Jimmie Vaughan, his older brother.
When Vaughan was offered the only available seat on a Chicago-bound chartered helicopter leaving the Alpine Valley resort at 1:30 a.m., he accepted, according to his publicist.
Shortly after takeoff, the five-seat Bell Jet Ranger helicopter slammed into a fog-shrouded ski slope several hundred yards behind the open-air stage, authorities said. The passengers were thrown about 200 feet from the wreckage and were killed instantly. There was no fire, authorities said.
The crash, which occurred in southeastern Wisconsin about 70 miles north of Chicago and 45 miles southwest of Milwaukee, also killed the pilot and three members of Clapton’s entourage – a manager, an agent and a bodyguard – authorities said.
The Austin-based members of Vaughan’s band, Double Trouble, and Jimmie Vaughan, founder of the equally renowned group the Fabulous Thunderbirds, could not be reached for comment. It was not known how they had traveled from the resort to Chicago, where they were staying on Monday.
Vaughan’s death inspired Texas radio stations to play nonstop tributes to the guitar wizard who helped push Austin to the forefront of the national music scene.
At Zilker Park Monday night, about 3,000 fans gathered to remember Vaughan at a vigil sponsored by KLBJ-FM. Speakers set up by the radio station carried Vaughan’s music to fans who sat with candles in hand and mourned their guitar hero.
The loss of Vaughan also saddened the legendary musicians whose true-blue licks had inspired the young high school dropout, who learned to play the guitar at age 7 in his hometown of Dallas and had club gigs by the time he was 13.
“Stevie Ray Vaughan was like one of my children, and I felt a great loss when I heard the news,” B.B. King said in a statement. “He was just beginning to be appreciated and develop his potential.”
Guy, the Chicago blues guitarist who was a longtime friend of Vaughan’s, fought back tears after he learned of the crash. “He was one of the greatest I ever met. My head ain’t right yet.”
Memories of Buddy Holly
Vaughan joins a list of U.S. musicians who died in air crashes, including Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper in 1959; Patsy Cline, 1963; Jim Reeves, 1964; Otis Redding, 1967; Jim Croce, 1973 and Ricky Nelson, 1985.
The crash “is the worst accident to happen to Texas music since Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper went down in the ’50s. It’s a void no one can fill,” said Casey Monahan, director of the Texas Music Office.
“Stevie was perhaps the pre-eminent ambassador of Texas music around the world, ” Monahan said. But, “if you met him, he was one of the most humble and almost self-deprecating musicians you’d ever want to meet.
“People would go up to him, and say, `Oh, you’re the greatest,’ and he’d name off people like Buddy Guy and Albert Collins and say they are 10 times better than he would ever be. It was that level of humility that put Stevie in a class by himself among musicians.”
“I’m dumbfounded,” said W.C. Clark, who played with Vaughan in Triple Threat, which eventually evolved into Double Trouble. “I felt like a benefactor; I felt like I needed to take care of them,” said Clark, who celebrated his 50th birthday last year with an Austin City Limits show that also featured Vaughan.
“He was an easygoing person, really lovable. He loved people, but most of all he loved his music. He was really ambitious in his field, and I guess he proved that by the outcome of all the music he put out. He was just one of the best guitar players I’ve ever known.”
After addiction, new fame
Vaughan, who lived in Austin from 1972 to 1986 before returning to Dallas, overcame alcohol and cocaine to win two Grammy awards for his hot-rockin’ blues. In 1984, he was awarded a Grammy for best traditional blues recording for the song Texas Flood. This year, he won a Grammy in the contemporary blues category for the album In Step. He also shared a Grammy in 1985 for his participation in the Blues Explosion compilation album.
He sought help for his drinking after falling on a London stage in October 1986. He later told interviewers that his addiction nearly killed him. After his recovery, he’d often introduce a song by dedicating it to those still suffering from addiction.
Charity got a healthy portion of Vaughan’s earnings. He was proud to outdo by $1,000 the $9,000 donation Bruce Springsteen made to Austin’s Capital Area Food Bank in 1986.
Vaughan mesmerized his loyal, sold-out audiences with a flamboyant playing style that included the theatrics of playing guitar behind his back, over his head and with his teeth.
Sometimes it was difficult to tell whether Vaughan made his Fender Stratocaster or the audience scream louder. His quick fingers could make the good times roll faster than lightning.
He could be counted on to show up in flashy clothes – capes, colorful suits, beaded vests, and, always, a low-brimmed hat and funky boots. For his last concert, he chose purple pants.
The concert at the Wisconsin resort’s Alpine Valley Music Theater before an estimated 25,000 fans ended about 12:15 a.m. with a final encore jam by the five guitarists, who played Sweet Home Chicago.
As they played, anyone looking behind the stage could see the four helicopters lined up on the lawn.
Clapton’s manager, Roger Forrester, told Britain’s Sky News: “We had four helicopters, and Eric and I were in one directly behind it when it suddenly disappeared from view.
“Obviously we were not aware of the tragic circumstances until the early hours when daybreak broke and they discovered it on a ski slope directly behind the building in which we had just performed.”
In addition to Vaughan, killed in the crash was Bobby Brooks, 34, Clapton’s agent at Creative Artists Agency, who also represented Crosby, Stills & Nash; Whoopi Goldberg; Pat Benatar; Jackson Browne and Dolly Parton.
Also killed were Nigel Browne, a Clapton bodyguard; Colin Smythe, one of Clapton’s tour managers, and Jeff Brown, the pilot for Omni Flight Helicopters, Inc. of Chicago.
Weather’s role in crash
The hot, humid weather in Wisconsin’s dairy farmland apparently contributed to the heavy fog that settled in the region Sunday night.
Dominic Scaffidi, a National Weather Service forecaster at Sullivan, said fog had reduced visibility overnight to below two miles in parts of southern Wisconsin, a condition requiring pilots to fly by instruments rather than sight.
“It was extremely foggy,” said Nora Kinnally, director of artist relations for Alligator Records in Chicago. “It was to the point where our windshield wipers were going the whole time, and it wasn’t raining.”
Kinnally had been invited by Vaughan to spend the concert backstage. “I witnessed the greatest show of blues guitar players,” she said. “It was just amazing.”
After Vaughan’s helicopter went down, “the transmitter, the black box signal, was picked up by the Civil Air Patrol at 2 a.m., and the (Walworth County) sheriff’s office was notified at that time,” said Jim Wincek, marketing director for Lakeland Medical Center in Elkhorn.
The wreckage was found about 5 a.m., he said.
The bodies were taken to the Lakeland hospital, where autopsies were to be performed, Wincek said.
The National Transportation Safety Board dispatched an investigator to the crash site, but the public report on the cause of the crash probably won’t be completed for months, officials said.
“It was a high-energy impact at a shallow angle,” said Bill Bruce, the NTSB investigator.
Vaughan’s family — his brother and mother, Martha, of Dallas — were unavailable for comment on Monday. Family friends said the arrangements for services and memorials will be announced later. Vaughan was divorced.
“We’re in a state of shock,” said Vaughan publicist Charles Comer. “It was such a freak thing: There were four helicopters, and (Clapton tour manager) Peter Jackson told Stevie that they had three seats available on one of the first flights out. Stevie and Jimmie and his wife Connie were going to take that. Then after a few minutes, Peter came back and said there was just one seat.
Then Stevie asked Jimmie, `Do you mind if I take it?,’ and then he went ahead on that one.”
“It’s such a tragic waste. When you think that he helped so many people. It was just absolutely incredible. It was the last seat.”
Members of Double Trouble — bassist Tommy Shannon, drummer Chris “Whipper” Layton and keyboardist Reese Wynans, all of Austin — were unavailable for comment Monday.
Double Trouble’s rise
Vaughan formed the band in 1981 and reached stardom two years later with the group’s first album, Texas Flood. The band earned a platinum album with Couldn’t Stand the Weather in 1984.
Guitar Player magazine listed Vaughan as the best electric blues player in 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1988, and named him to its “Gallery of Greats” last year.
Among the songs that earned Vaughan fans around the world are Love Struck Baby, Little Sister, Crossfire and Voodoo Chile, a Jimi Hendrix song that always prompted favorable comparisons with the legendary guitarist.
Vaughan often received guitar reinforcement from his older brother. Sometimes they simultaneously played a double-neck guitar, with Jimmie standing behind his little brother and stretching his arms around him in a sort of backward bear hug.
Jimmie recently left the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Epic Records is scheduled to release a joint record by the two brothers next month, and they had talked of touring together.
Stevie Ray Vaughan “was the best thing I’ve ever heard in my whole goddamn life,” said Austin blues singer Lou Ann Barton, who often shared the stage with Vaughan. “There’s nobody out there or ever has been that can play like Stevie. Everybody’s got their own style, but nobody had it perfected like he did.”
“We all kind of raised each other down here,” she continued. “He deserved everything he got. He came from nowhere, like me, but he went places, and he had a full life. We’re all just so proud of him. … My heart just goes out to his family.”
Drawn … by the blues
“It’s been an unbelievable day. We’re all completely in shock,” said Clifford Antone, owner of Antone’s nightclub, which was instrumental in the early stages of Vaughan’s career.
Antone remembers the early days around the time he first opened a club in 1975. “We were all just kids here in Austin trying to find our way, out on the streets together. We were drawn together by being a few kids that dug the blues. It’s a strong bond that goes back many years because we all came up the real hard way.”
Chris Thomas, a rising blues-rock guitarist who recently released his debut album on Warner Bros., said Vaughan “is definitely one of the main reasons I moved to Austin” in 1986. “He was one of the reasons I felt Austin would be a place that would accept what I did with the guitar.
“It seems like the great ones, the ones who really have something to offer, they don’t let ’em stay here. As soon as they’re gone, you really realize how much the music means and how much you’re going to miss what they did.”
What I want to know is where to get giant curtains with the outline of my face on them. When Sam Smith — Grammy winner, platinum-record-haver, mainstream soul revivalist — first spoke from behind such flamboyant drapery at the Frank Erwin Center on Saturday night, the audience response came as an ear-splitting scream of catharsis. Then, the curtain came down, and the noise really started.
A few bars into “Life Support,” the unlikeliness of the whole evening struck. For one thing, a babyfaced 23-year-old everyman packed the Erwin Center for a show that at times veered into smooth jazz territory. For another thing, a gay man sang love songs about men and recounted brazenly queer experiences in that same almost-full Texas arena, where throngs usually squeeze in for Longhorns basketball games.
Every single person — well-coiffed moms; black, white and Hispanic families; jumping teenage girls; gay men, women and teenagers; an adorable father-daughter pair compulsively dancing in the general admission section on the floor — sang and swayed and shouted. Underestimate the unifying power of radio-friendly ballads at your peril.
For his part in selling those arena tickets, Smith cashed every check his big-voiced reputation has ever written, gushing with appreciation and emotional clarity. On “Leave Your Lover,” the first big hit of the night, Smith’s falsetto was a crystalline mortar shell, the power of lines like “Leave your lover/leave him for me” hitting the stands like a blanket of diamonds at gale force. Smith’s technical ability has never been in question. His songwriting and connection to those big notes, however, has. When Smith sang a scornful kiss-off like “I’m Not the Only One” or a longing come-on like “Lay Me Down,” it was not sexy, really. It was gutsy, it was candid, it was vulnerable. But unlike his forebears in soul, it was not babymaking music, as they say.
Smith emphasized often over the course of evening the honesty, personal vulnerability and diaristic nature of his debut album, “In the Lonely Hour.” With repeated assessment of pre-“Hour” music as sub-par, Smith obviously found personal and artistic liberation in recording. That was most apparent in “I’ve Told You Now,” a somber tale of drunk dials gone wrong. The scorching “Nirvana” was a good thesis for Smith’s oeuvre, too: pure feeling on rafter-shaking blast, coming out of a face that wore every insecurity contained in the lyrics.
Though the rafters certainly shook Saturday night, Smith didn’t. Almost a year ago, he brought his stationary soulfulness to ACL Fest, and the uneasy, stagebound shuffling was apparent. Time did not loosen Smith’s boots: a stiffness to “Like I Can” (despite a blistering drum solo) gave way on “Restart” to the same weird, shoehorned-in electric slide tutorial he brought to Zilker Park in 2014. We wouldn’t ask “Crazy”-era Britney for vocal coaching, Sam, and we won’t ask you to teach us how to death drop.
In a show where weepy ballads were the meat, the flashy, pop-minded potatoes came at the right time toward the end. A roaring cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Tears Dry On Their Own” turned into a medley as Smith give his backup singers the stage for their own rendition of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” The star took backup duties. “La La La” provided the arena with its most kinetic moment of the night; if Smith is taking career advice, it would be nice to circle back on the next album to the house-inspired electro-pop that made him famous in the first place. The last number before the encore, “Money On My Mind,” broke into CeCe Peniston’s triumphant “Finally,” the welcome return of a trick Smith pulled out at ACL Fest.
The encore’s reliably lush acoustic version of “Latch” caused couples across the arena to latch onto each other. A unifying “Stay With Me” closed the evening out with the kind of kumbaya sweetness that only a bonafide radio juggernaut can. However, the most memorable moment of the night, for this writer’s money, came halfway through the set. Smith, fresh off of that Winehouse cover, explained that the inspiration for his debut album was his unrequited love for a person he had fallen head over heels for. When the singer mentioned that that person was a man, a teenage boy next to me threw his arms up and cheered.
Smith’s show tore down curtains of all kinds, and that’s worth a cheer from a single voice or from an entire arena.
This Sunday, 311 is playing ACL Live. It’s been 25 years since a group of Omaha teens haphazardly smashed together elements of reggae, rap and rock to create a distinct sound that would rapidly propel them to the top of radio charts while earning them a rabid fan base. The group celebrates their silver anniversary with the lineup that made them famous still intact. Their 2014 release “Stereolithic” garnered little praise, but they have a new box set “Archive” that packages bonus tracks, B-sides and demos with a 60-page book of rare photos and memorabilia that should please longtime fans.
You have two days to still catch the show Sunday at 8 p.m. at ACL Live, but whether you make it there or not, you can still have a chance to win the “Archive” box set with our giveaway! Email the correct answer to the following trivia question to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “311 Giveaway” by 5 p.m. Sunday before the show, and we’ll pick a random winner!
Q: The band draws their name from an Omaha police code for a crime. What is it?
The winner of the archive box set will be notified by email on Monday. Non-winning participants will not be notified. Austin360 does not store personal information of giveaway participants. Your email will not be used for any purpose other than winner notification.
Josh Abbott Band, Randy Rogers Band, Pat Green, George Strait and Sturgill Simpson are among the country musicians most distinctly popular in Austin, according to Spotify.
Texas country acts like Robert Earl Keen, Aaron Watson, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Kyle Park, Whiskey Myers, Cody Johnson, Stoney LaRue, Hayes Carll, Wade Bowen, William Clark Green and Cory Morrow also make up a sizeable part of the list.
Beyond country, locals to the Live Music Capital of the World are also well represented on the 100-song Spotify playlist, showing that Austin has love for its own.
Austin names include Bob Schneider, Shakey Graves, Uncle Lucius, Bright Light Social Hour, Balmorhea, Reckless Kelly, Ghostland Observatory, Charlie Robinson, Max Frost, Jamestown Revival, Spoon, Wild Child and Kaleo (recently arrived from Iceland).
A number of Houston rappers, namely Z-Ro, Big Moe, Slim Thug and Fat Pat, are also distinctly popular in Austin, according to the playlist.
Finally, Austin also apparently listens more to SXSW darling Courtney Barnett, up-and-coming soul singer Leon Bridges and folk-rock outfit Houndmouth than most other cities.
For the full playlist of the songs you are supposedly already listening to, check out the playlist below:
And make your way over to the Spotify Insights blog for more on how Spotify cross-checked their Austin data against data from other cities and for how Austin compares to other Texas cities.