By John T. Davis
Editor’s note: This article was originally published May 17, 2013
The canonization of Lloyd Maines came off without a hitch Thursday night.
Well, OK, so the revered steel guitarist and producer isn’t exactly an archbishop now or anything. He didn’t get a funny hat or a big ring for folks to kiss. But make no mistake about it, the gala event at ACL Live, benefiting public television station KLRU and "Austin City Limits" and starring the Dixie Chicks, the Court Yard Hounds, Joe Ely, Natalie Maines and Ben Harper and more was a celebration of All Things Lloyd.
And why not? Not only is the Grammy-winning Maines a pioneering steel guitarist, most notably with the original Joe Ely Band, he is also a celebrated record producer, having helped shape the direction of Texas music through his work with Ely, Robert Earl Keen, the Dixie Chicks (their multi-platinum "Home" was his baby), the Flatlanders, Terri Hendrix, Jerry Jeff Walker, Terry Allen, and many more.
The evening raised money to benefit KLRU and help manage the digitized footage of some 8,000 hours of "Austin City Limits" performances. Maines looms large in that legacy. By all accounts, he has performed on more episodes of the show — at least 17 — than any other performer in the 39-year history of the program. He played on almost every song Thursday night as well.
Maines was honored, said "ACL" producer Terry Lickona, "to celebrate the thousands of (sidemen) who are not necessarily front and center" on the program. "It’s also away to pay respect to Lloyd as a producer and a musician."
The night was nothing if not a family affair. The show might have marked the only time that all three iterations of the Dixie Chicks — the band itself, the spin-off Court Yard Hounds (featuring sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison) and Natalie Maines, performing songs from her new solo album, "Mother," with partner Ben Harper — might ever share the same stage.
Natalie’s mom and Lloyd’s wife, Tina, sat out in the audience with some of the grandkids beaming. "It’s a compliment for sure," she said of the evening. "He’s such a big part of the community."
Terry Allen (who invoked the audience to "Praise the Lloyd!"), Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis, Joe Ely and a powerhouse one-off pairing of Carolyn Wonderland and Terri Hendrix performed before a brief intermission. Maines has had a hand in all their music, in the case of Allen and Ely, for decades.
During the break an audience member asked Maines, who was onstage tuning up, if he didn’t at least rate a guitar tech on his big night. Lloyd, ever the journeyman, just grinned. "Never have, never will," he said.
After the sold-out audience reconvened, it was off to the races, with the Court Yard Hounds previewing material from their second album, to be released this summer.
After five songs, Emily Robison casually said, "I think we’ll have Natalie come on back out here," and just like that, the Dixie Chicks were onstage for the first time since they performed at a fundraiser for the Bastrop fire victims in 2011. It was their first non-crisis-driven Austin concert appearance since 2006.
And they were rapturously received, with shouts and standing ovations following each of their six numbers, including "Truth," "Cowboy Take Me Away," "Traveling Soldier" (performed with Bruce Robison, the song’s author), a still-defiant "Not Ready To Make Nice," "Wide Open Spaces" and a set-closing, all-hands-on-deck rave-up of, what else, Buddy Holly’s "Not Fade Away." The entire cast, it should be noted, donned paste-on copies of Maines’ signature moustache for the finale.
Leaving aside all the political detritus that has accreted to the Chicks over the past decade, one is left marveling again at how much sheer fun the band is to watch. One hopes there’s more Austin shows in their future.
As for Lloyd Maines, he gave every appearance of enjoying his moment in the sun without taking it too seriously. "So this is what it’s like being king for a day," he said as the crowd applauded. Praise the Lloyd, indeed.