As celebratory as the second annual Austin City Limits Hall of Fame ceremony set out to be on Thursday evening at ACL Live, there was no escaping the concern when honoree Guy Clark wasn’t there to accept his induction as planned. It was J.T. Van Zandt, son of Clark’s best friend and fellow inductee Townes Van Zandt, who provided some reassurance.
Notifying the crowd after intermission that Clark had been “taken out precautionarily to the hospital,” Van Zandt stressed that despite the unfortunate turn of events, it meant a lot to him that Clark and his late father were being inducted as part of the same ceremony. In terms of Texas folk singers, J.T. said, Townes and Guy were “both sides of the coin. It kind of starts and ends there.”
The performances of their tunes by several artists they influenced bore that out on this night. J.T. himself followed Laura Marling and the duo of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings in doing the honors for Townes, while Lyle Lovett and Jason Isbell brought Clark’s songs to life.
Clark had been at the venue early in the evening but was taken to the hospital just as the show got started, a backstage source reported, adding that his vital signs were good. ACL executive producer Terry Lickona said in a statement that “Guy apparently had a bad reaction to a medication he was taking for some recent surgery. As a result he was not able to accept his award in person tonight.”
Lovett accepted on Clark’s behalf, after giving a heartfelt induction speech in which he talked about the many ways Clark had mentored him. After Lovett’s exquisite performances with the house band of “Step Inside This House” and “Anyhow I Love You,” Isbell followed with a moving solo rendition of “Desperadoes Waiting on a Train” before Rawlings joined him for “Black Diamond Strings.”
Clark’s induction followed a show-opening tribute to Loretta Lynn, who had been presented with her Hall of Fame trophy in April when she performed at Gruene Hall in New Braunfels. After a video clip of that presentation was shown, Patty Loveless performed Lynn’s classics “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” before Vince Gill joined her for the duet “After the Fire Is Gone.”
The show’s most joyous moments came at the end of the first set with the induction of Tex-Mex accordion legend Flaco Jimenez. Master of ceremonies Dwight Yoakam did the honors, noting that Jimenez was as proud of his military service in the Korean War as he was of his Grammy-decorated musical career.
Jimenez’s short but sweet acceptance speech prefaced an upbeat six-song set with conjunto band Los Texmaniacs as the anchor and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo providing a spark on guitar and vocals. Midway through, Yoakam came aboard to sing lead, with Jimenez’s colorful accordion accents propelling the extended cast on “Streets of Bakersfield” and Warren Zevon’s “Carmelita.”
Following an intermission, the Van Zandt segment produced the night’s most profund moments. Welch, giving the induction speech, talked of how Townes always seemed to exist in “a world between worlds” — between Texas and Tennessee, country and folk, the physical and the metaphysical. Recalling his famous quote about “the blues and zip-a-dee-do-dah” being the only two kinds of music, she appreciated that Townes “made me feel better about being on the blue team.”
She and Rawlings carried that torch with their take on “Dollar Bill Blues” after playing the mournful ballad “Tecumseh Valley.” British singer-songwriter Laura Marling followed with “Colorado Girl” before J.T. Van Zandt returned for a stirring rendition of the desolate tune “Nothing” that evoked vivid memories of his father.
Austin western swing institution Asleep at the Wheel proved a fitting closer. Having followed Willie Nelson’s pilot episode by playing the first formal “Austin City Limits” show 40 years ago, they were an easy choice for induction. Leader Ray Benson’s longtime friend Vince Gill did the honors and then joined the group for part of its four-song set before the night’s entire cast returned for a grand finale of Van Zandt’s “White Freight Liner Blues.”