Part two of the pilot episode for the new Austin-based, Willie Nelson-hosted TV show “Inside Arlyn,” a spotlight on local blues man Gary Clark Jr. taped last night at Aryln Studios. (The first, featuring Nelson and Merle Haggard taped earlier this week.)
Freddy Fletcher, owner of Arlyn Studios warmly welcomed the audience to the studio’s main room, an intimate space with candles flickering on the control room window ledges and artful globe lights hanging around the stage, with a story about the building’s history. In the ’60s, his mother — Willie Nelson’s sister who performs at Sister Bobbie — used to play piano in the space, then a restaurant called the Summer House. Later his uncle Willie bought the building where he ran a club called the Austin Opera House in the ’70s. Fletcher opened the studio in 1984. “There’s so much music in these walls,” he said.
More musical magic was on tap as Nelson and Clark entered together to hearty applause. For a two song intro, Nelson, backed by Clark’s band sang the blues, his characteristic emotional warble neatly adapting to capture the nuance of a musical form normally marked by guts and grit. Clark sang backup and expressed himself as he does best — coaxing a incredible range of color and tones from his guitar.
“I’m not gonna front,” Clark said as Nelson turned over the set, his voice trailing off. The 30-year-old blues upstart and sudden superstar was clearly moved to share a stage with Austin’s number one living musical icon. “Thanks for letting us mess up your songs,” he joked.
Last week, after announcing the show, Fletcher explained that part of his mission is to preserve the musical history of Austin. “Willie’s like the godfather and Gary Clark will be the guy who carries that torch,” he said.
Clark valiantly carried the torch on Wednesday night. Opening his segment with a rambling rendition of “Catfish Blues” he laid down 40 minutes or so of rootsy, rafter-rattling, gut bucket blues. No one cared that he skipped his biggest hit “Bright Lights,” perfectly happy to rock along to classic Clark numbers like “Don’t Owe You a Thang,” alongside new tracks from the album he’s currently recording at Arlyn Studios.
The warm reception from the enamored audience bodes well for the show’s appeal. Beyond that, it was a reminder of how much of a treasure Clark truly is for our city. An incredibly talented musician who moves in his own lane churning out wrenching ten minutes jams in an industry that clamors for three minute sound bites, Clark sings and plays with pure heart. His performances are always moving, often revelations. He’s a torch bearer who should make us all very, very proud.