Though he hasn’t played every single Austin City Limits Music Festival — that honor goes only to Asleep at the Wheel — it’s fair to say that Gary Clark Jr. came of age with ACL Fest. A talented teenager when he played the fest’s first two years in 2002 and 2003, Clark has gone from local phenom to national sensation to worldwide guitar star. He returns to Zilker Park for the festival’s 18th year this weekend.
From his 2002 debut album “Worry No More” to this year’s 15-song tour de force “This Land,” Clark has become Austin’s most universally recognizable musician not named Willie Nelson. In preparation for his Saturday set — which follows two official ACL Fest Late Night Shows at Stubb’s on Thursday and Friday — we took a quick look back through the American-Statesman archives to trace the path of how he got here.
» RELATED: Gary Clark. Jr. to kick off season 45 of 'Austin City Limits' on Oct. 5
Sept. 19, 2003
From an ACL Fest preview: “Still a teen, Clark Jr. emerged as a rising star at last year's ACL Fest. After a steady year of gigging, the vintage blues ax-wielder is primed to blow ’em away again.” — Statesman staff picks
April 14, 2005
From a review of Clark opening for Keb’ Mo’ at the Paramount Theatre: “I'm not one to dwell on local opening acts, but Gary Clark Jr.'s performance couldn't be ignored. … Within minutes of his standing ovation, Clark's albums sold out in the lobby like cheap ACL Fest tickets.” — Jeff McCrary
Jan. 17, 2008
About Clark’s friend Eve Monsees: “Many great guitarists have an older brother to lead the way, like Stevie Ray Vaughan had with Jimmie. Clark's earliest guitar mentor was a girl his age who lived down the street. He has known Eve Monsees, who now leads Eve & the Exiles, since they were in the third grade together. When they were in middle school, Monsees started playing electric guitar and getting really good at it. 'I saw what Eve was doing and I said, man, I wanna do that, too,' says Clark." — Michael Corcoran
Sept. 13, 2011
From an ACL Fest preview: “No longer flying undeservedly under the radar, the Austin blues guitarist plays the fest after a whirlwind season that's included raves for his Warner Bros. debut, the ‘Bright Lights’ EP, a stellar performance at Bonnaroo and a night sitting in with the Roots on ‘Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.’" — Patrick Caldwell
Clark also offered his picks for that year’s fest: "Stevie Wonder is definitely the major one for me. I'm also really excited about Nas and Damien Marley, Cee Lo and Big Boi. They're all kind of along this same continuum, you know? It all ranges from rap to soul music, but it's all kind of in the same spirit. I love what those guys do, and I respect it."
March 20, 2012
From a SXSW interview: “Clark's SXSW schedule this year was packed so tightly with gigs and interviews that he'd be lucky if he got to sneak off by himself at all. 'Years prior, I could kind of do what I wanted, get into a little bit of trouble or whatever, but I got to be on point; I got stuff to do, so it's good,' he said.” — Parry Gettelman
Oct. 28, 2012
From an ACL Fest review: "Festival organizers C3 Presents estimated the crowd at 30,000. ... Clark commanded a level of attention at this year's ACL Fest usually reserved for a nighttime headliner — during a 2 p.m. set on Sunday. … ‘It was really a special moment for me,’ he said afterward. ‘I was proud to see my family, people I went to school with since I was a little kid, new faces, tons of them, that energy, to share that with so many folks here, after everything, it was one of the best times in my life. I'll look back on that forever.’" — Peter Mongillo
Oct. 2, 2015
From an ACL Fest preview: “Despite his humility, Clark embraces the role of Austin music ambassador. In late 2014, Freddy Fletcher, co-owner of Arlyn Studios and a principal at ACL Live, recorded a double-episode pilot for ‘Inside Arlyn,’ a proposed music television show hosted by his uncle, Willie Nelson. Fletcher’s idea was to celebrate the energy that will drive Austin’s musical legacy forward. 'Willie’s like the godfather and Gary Clark will be the guy who carries that torch,' he said at the time. Clark nods thoughtfully while he listens to this story. How does it feel to be the torchbearer for Austin music? ‘To be very honest with you, it’s something that I always kind of wanted,’ he says.” — Deborah Sengupta Stith
Feb. 22, 2019
From an interview for new album: “‘This Land’ is a grand statement for Clark, a 66-minute opus that builds upon his previous work but also rockets toward parts unknown. … ‘I think this all goes together,’ Clark says as we discuss the record in late January at his home base of Antone’s, the storied Austin club of which Clark is now part-owner. 'My platform was the blues, but I just had piles and piles of records and demos that were from this other world of music that I didn’t want to show anybody, because I felt like I couldn’t necessarily do that onstage at Antone’s. … But as you get older and you start to see it’s not just about you and your little world, I just branched off and did other things,’ he said. He settled on a way forward: ‘Let’s just put the digital with the analog together, and quit going crazy in my mind about what I should do, and just be what I am. Just make music for the sake of making music.’” — Peter Blackstock
» RELATED: Our critics' picks for weekend one of ACL Fest