Seeing a favorite act tape an episode of "Austin City Limits" at Studio 6A has been unlike any other live music experience in town. When you think about all the amazing acts who've performed on that stage over the past 36 years, it makes your head swim. No other venue in Austin not the Armadillo and Liberty Lunch and the Black Cat and the Cactus combined has the history to match. It'll truly be the end of something special when "ACL" hosts its final taping in 6A with Lyle Lovett Monday before moving to its new studio on West Second Street next spring.
What moment stands out?
My favorite "ACL" taping was Fats Domino in October 1986. Nothing else has come close. His band that night was led by the New Orleans legend Dave Bartholomew, who wrote such classics as "Ain't That a Shame" and "I'm Walking" for Mr. Domino and "I Hear You Knocking" for Smiley Lewis. I never thought I'd get the chance to see Fats Domino perform, yet there he was, so close that I could see his sweat hit the floor.
We've asked a slew of local notables to name the all-time favorite "ACL" taping they attended and got these answers.
— Michael Corcoran
John Pierson, indie film guru: Arcade Fire (2007). Dynamic set, high energy, great sound, wonderful visual variety with TEN band members, and great to be on the floor watching the ace "ACL" camera crew try and capture it all. 1,000 times better than standing far away in a damn field.
Rich Brotherton, guitarist and producer: For getting to see legends in action, there was a bluegrass show with Bela Fleck, Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas that included special guests Earl Scruggs and Vassar Clements (2000). The young hot dogs stopped in the middle of every song and started over because somebody squeaked a note or something, but Earl and Vassar came out and blazed straight on through like the pros they are and were, and they played great.
For sheer dynamic contrast, there was a taping that started with baby-voiced Alison Krauss and super-quiet Union Station, followed by Danny Gatton with a total of about 16 amps for a 5 piece band (1992). Awesome as he was, folks were walking out with hands over their ears before it was done.
Angela Davis, ‘Dudley & Bob Show' producer: John Prine (1983). I was an ACL intern. On my first day, John Prine was the musical guest and I was a big fan. I was in the studio while he was rehearsing and he ran out of cigarettes and they sent me across the street to the 7-Eleven to buy him a carton. I was thrilled to be purchasing cigs for one of my heroes! And I definitely thought I'd "arrived" in show business.
Joe Nick Patoski, writer and music historian: Texas Playboys and Clifton Chenier (both 1976). My favorites were from the first or second seasons: Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys (the last time in their fullest post-Bob glory) and Clifton Chenier and His Red Hot Louisiana Band in their most classic lineup including Buck Senegal on guitar, Cleveland Chenier on rub-board and the great John Hart on saxophone. Best live band I've ever seen, and they managed to translate that effectively on television.
Britt Daniel of Spoon: Stevie Ray Vaughan, W.C. Clark (1989). The first ACL taping I ever saw was the Stevie Ray Vaughan/W.C. Clark taping in the fall of 1989. I had just moved to Austin and my uncle Graham, who managed W.C., got me in. I've never much been the guy that gets off on guitar virtuosos, but I was blown away that night. I've really never seen anything like it before or since.
Jody Denberg, former KGSR program director: Leonard Cohen (Halloween 1988). I've never seen anyone perform so masterfully. Mr. Cohen was in peerless command of language, the stage, his bands' arrangements, the audience (even those costumed) and his self-proclaimed "gift of a golden voice." Although he returned to Studio 6A again in 1993 for another fine show (and songs from both the '88 and '93 tapings were included on his "Cohen Live" CD) I don't think any mortal could come close to what he did in that initial show; it was immortal.
Roland Swenson, SXSW director: Elvis Costello and the Imposters (2004). I've seen Elvis many times since his first tour brought him to the Armadillo in 1978, but this was one of the two or three best shows I've seen him do. Most acts do their 55-minute set for the "ACL" taping, then walk off and maybe do an encore. But not Elvis; he kept playing and playing, obviously having a great time.
David Brown, host of KUT's ‘Texas Music Matters': Asleep at the Wheel (1986). It was the first time I'd been to Studio 6A. Having grown up watching "ACL'" (sitting cross-legged on the living room floor with my folks on the sofa), getting to go to 6A was a bit like someone pulling the curtain back on the Wizard of Oz. The ‘skyline' was far less impressive than I thought it would be ... but the intimacy of the room, combined with Ray Benson's airtight arrangements, took my breath away and turned me into a superfan.
Richard Skanse, editor, Texas Music Magazine: Ray Davies (2006). He played pretty much the same set (heavy on his wonderful solo debut as well as Kinks gems) as from his previous night's show at the Paramount, but of course my "ACL" seats were much better. And I gotta admit, it's a rush to be in a few audience shots in a concert taping of my all-time favorite artist and songwriter.
Eddie Wilson, Threadgill's owner: Willie Nelson and Family (1974). None sticks out at this memorable moment like the pilot with Willie. The set was thrown together with remnants of the discontinued kids' Spanish show, the audience was tiny and made up largely of Armadillo staff and friends rounded up with the promise of free Lone Star and a chance to see Willie without having to work. And he delivered a perfect show. The rest, as they say, is toast.
Louis Jay Meyers, director of Folk Alliance: Michael Nesmith (1993). As close to seeing the First National Band as I will ever get. John Jorgensen on guitar and the incredible Red Rhodes on pedal steel not long before he passed away. That was special because not only did Red do all of Nesmith's recordings, he played all the steel tracks on the legendary Willis Alan Ramsey record. A couple years after seeing Nesmith there, I had the opportunity of playing the show with Willis (as steel guitarist).
Margaret Moser, Austin Chronicle writer: Lucinda Williams (1999). The one that stands out for me is one that never ran, the first Lucinda taping for "Car Wheels." I don't remember why they re-taped it, but they did. I saw both, and that first one had a spontaneity I didn't see the second time around. Jim Lauderdale was playing with her and really gave her sometimes-spare presence a richness and depth I still remember.
Because of high demand, there are no standby tickets for Monday's taping, and all the tickets for a simulcast at Hogg Auditorium have been given away, according to KLRU. The Lyle Lovett episode is scheduled to air Jan. 29.
Our staff faves
Peter Mongillo, writer: Calexico (2006). I had moved to Austin a year earlier, and had never experienced anything like it — for the price of standing in triple-digit temperatures for an hour, I drank free beer and saw what was more or less a private concert. Calexico brought out Mexican opera singer Rolando Villazón to sing and play (or dance on) the tarima, and Sam Beam and his sister Sarah of Iron and Wine joined the band on a few numbers. We didn't have club shows where I grew up, and everything I had seen to that point was in arenas. To see a show in a room that small blew my mind.
Patrck Caldwell, music writer: Alejandro Escovedo (2006). Three years after a hepatitis-C health scare that nearly killed him, Escovedo returned to the ‘Austin City Limits' stage with every excuse to be contemplative. He was performing behind the often-melancholy John Cale-produced ‘The Boxing Mirror,' and every last one of the many stories on Escovedo in the press was hung (understandably) on the hook of his dramatic resurrection story. But that 2006 taping, more than anything else, was about celebration. Clad as always in his Sunday best, and backed by seven ludicrously talented bandmates — making ‘the Alejandro Escovedo Ocho,' in Waterloo Records owner John Kunz's words — Escovedo put on a show so passionate, so magical, so riotous that it's still one of my favorite nights of music ever. I particularly remember Poi Dog Pondering violinist Susan Voelz shredding on first song ‘Put You Down' — quite literally; by song's end a half-dozen snapped strings seemed to hang from her bow. ‘Thanks, that was fun,' said Escovedo afterwards, grinning ear-to-ear. No kidding.
Sharon Chapman, entertainment editor: Pearl Jam (2009). I was lucky to get to escape the rain and mud at Zilker Park and go to the Saturday night taping during the Austin City Limits Festival. I'd never seen PJ in a small setting, and two-plus hours of incredible music from one of my all-time favorite bands was great. But I'll always remember the reverence and care the band members showed the war veterans in the audience. The whole crowd, really, was awed by the Wounded Warriors in our midst, who were special guests of the band, and it added another layer to a great show.
Kathy Blackwell, features editor: The Pixies (2004). For years, the Pixies topped my list as the band I'd most want to see live but probably never would. The combination of my dream band at my dream venue was almost too much to handle. I went with my friend Juliana, who had come into a pair of tickets from a family friend at the last minute. We sat as close to Kim Deal as we could, and she rewarded our side with the widest smiles imaginable — and everyone around us seemed to reciprocate tenfold. It was an intense lovefest, with the audience just trying to keep it together during ‘Debaser.'