Sure, "Sunny Came Home" is Shawn Colvin’s biggest hit and a song she’d rarely skip in concert. But what if we got to hear her play it with Sarah Jarosz, a younger-generation Texas artist for whom Colvin was a beacon of inspiration? Yes, "Skin Deep" is one of Buddy Guy’s most memorable tunes — but how about if Austin legend Jimmie Vaughan, dynamite singer Shemekia Copeland and young phenom Christone "Kingfish" Ingram joined him on it? And as wonderful as the Lyle Lovett/Robert Earl Keen song "This Old Porch" may be, rarely is there an opportunity to hear them sing it together. How great would that be?
This is what makes the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame special: It creates performances that are unique to this celebratory concert event at ACL Live. Thursday evening, the sixth annual inauguration ceremony welcomed Lovett, Guy and Colvin into an elite group that now includes 20 performers with a three-hour show that included cameos from some of the honorees’ best friends and most grateful followers.
Colvin got the spotlight first, with Jackson Browne providing a heartfelt induction speech that focused on the high quality of her writing, singing and performing. "Shawn’s songs became a standard for me," Browne said. Accepting the award, Colvin responded in kind about Browne’s words: "He’s my hero, and he just inducted me into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame. I could easily die now."
READ MORE: Our 2019 interview with Shawn Colvin
Browne joined her for an acoustic-duo rendition of the title track to her 2006 album "These Four Walls" before Central Texas native Jarosz stepped out to play mandolin and sing harmony on "Sunny Came Home." The highlight of Colvin’s short set was when world-class musicians Larry Klein (on bass) and Steuart Smith (on guitar) joined her for "Polaroids" and "Diamond in the Rough." The three had toured together for a stretch in the early 1990s but hadn’t performed together in 25 years. The reunion clearly meant a lot to Colvin, who called the Klein and Steuart "the best band I ever had."
Hometown guitar hero Vaughan subsequently took the stage to induct Guy, a living legend of the blues who’s appeared on "Austin City Limits" four times (including last year). Vaughan fondly remembered when Guy first came to Austin to play at Antone’s in the mid-1970s during the club’s first year. A video clip of Guy’s past ACL appearances included the late Clifford Antone’s introduction at his first taping in 1991.
After accepting the award with a warm embrace from Vaughan, Guy — who accessorized his trademark polka-dot shirt for this august occasion with a splendidly whimsical pair of overalls — gave a colorful speech in which he praised formative influences such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Vaughan joined him and his four-piece band for "Damn Right I Got the Blues," followed by Copeland’s deep-soul swagger on the playful "Cognac" and Ingram’s hot guitar leads on "I Just Wanna Make Love to You." All three guests drove it home on the moving "Skin Deep" finale.
After a half-hour intermission, master of ceremonies Keen returned for the part of the show that was most personally near and dear to him, the induction of his 1970s Texas A&M classmate and close friend Lovett. On hand to induct was Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn, who befriended Lovett in the early 1990s and directed the official video for Lovett’s gorgeous song "North Dakota."
Penn clearly had spent some time on his induction speech, and he got a rousing response for his characterization of Lovett arriving on the scene in Penn’s hometown of Los Angeles decades ago: "When Lyle Lovett rode into town, he did it with a trojan horse that was the final smashing of our snobbish gates. Was he Buddy Holly reborn? Hank Williams evolved? Benny Goodman on acid? And where oh where did he get his hair?"
Lovett, who has appeared on the program more times than any artist except Willie Nelson, gave special thanks in his acceptance to the "Austin City Limits" crew, saying, "They are the people who make this great music series what it is." He then welcomed to the stage Willis Alan Ramsey, an early mentor who became a close friend and collaborator, for what was like the flip side of Lovett’s 1998 album "Step Inside This House" that featured Lovett covering songs by Texas writers. The tables were turned here, as Ramsey delivered a delightful rendition of "If I Had a Boat" from Lovett’s 1988 album "Pontiac."
Edie Brickell, a last-minute addition to the bill this week, took the lead on "I Loved You Yesterday" before Lovett sang an as-yet unrecorded song, "12th of June," in a stripped-down quartet arrangement with members of his iconic Large Band. Then came the evening’s crowning moment. Keen and Lovett both recorded "This Old Porch" early in their careers, but their versions are so different from each other that they almost seem like two entirely separate songs. What a treat, then, to hear Keen sing the first verse using Lovett’s exquisite arrangement. Lovett took the second verse before they joined voices at the end, smiling knowingly at the line about "all of those sons-o’-bitches who said we’d never get back up."
The grand finale was almost a denouement by contrast, but a well-chosen one. All hands were on deck for Lovett’s home-state-pride romp "That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas)," with the full Large Band lineup stepping on the gas as a cast of more than two dozen drove this latest Austin City Limits Hall of Fame celebration home in style. Colvin rested her hands gleefully on Guy’s shoulders when he scorched a solo. Klein and Vaughan traded joyous laughs in the background. From Browne on one end of the stage to Ramsey on the other, everyone sang along in one of those moments that make this a very special night in Austin, year after year.
READ MORE: Review of the 2018 Austin City Limits Hall of Fame show