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'ACL' producers share backstage bits, within 140-character limits

Patrick Beach
Leslie Nichols helps bands as they get ready to take the stage inside the 'ACL' studio and takes a chatty, friendly approach to tweeting.

The two halves of the "Austin City Limits" Twitter brain sit in the show's studios on the University of Texas campus, finishing each other's thoughts, often, but of course, in succinct, 140-character fashion.

Left brain is Emily Joyce, the show's associate producer and digital and interactive director who at @acltv posts tweets about schedules, tapings, ticket giveaways, links to streaming video and the like — press releases, basically. She has 7,400 followers on Twitter.

Right brain is associate producer Leslie Nichols, who's the seat-of-the-pants tweeter. Because she's "more of an acquired taste," her followers at @theotherleslie stand at about 5,600. She's the one likely to tweet "@acltv and I are getting our picture taken by the @statesman today for being so awesome at the Twitters."

A couple of other vintage Nichols tweets:

"We just had to send one of the camera crew to the clinic. He cut himself on one of Charlie Sexton's cheekbones. #acltv

#icrackmyselfup"

And:

"Ahhhhhh. Ordinary People. I think I just saw some panties land on the stage. #acltv #johnlegend #theywerenotmine"

Id, meet ego. Ego, id.

Days the show tapes are big fun for Joyce and Nichols' followers, who enjoy a fly-on-the-wall perspective on what's going on — and without having to find parking on campus.

You wouldn't necessarily expect a television music show well into its fourth decade to have a lively presence on the microblogging site, but there you have it. Joyce thinks she might have been tweeting before Nichols. Nichols says she decided to get started tweeting last year "on a drunken night at Mardi Gras" in New Orleans. They drove back to Austin for a Willie Nelson taping and that show, recorded Feb. 23, 2009, was the first show they tweeted.

"I was the more reluctant tweeter," Joyce says. "Still am ... I'm definitely a subscriber of the 'if you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all' school when it comes to tweeting."

So if you subscribe to either of these feeds, you're not likely to get "OMG Eddie Vedder has the hugest blackhead!"

But: "You have to be an impulsive, never-met-a-stranger type of person," Nichols says. "What started out as jokey has become —"

"— an important part of our digital presence," Joyce says.

(A word our two is in order for those of you reading this story in the "newspaper" rather than online and as such might not know much about Twitter: It's a site where you can post what you're doing, feeling, eating, whatever, in no more than 140 characters. People who follow you on Twitter can therefore burgle your house when you tweet that you're getting a burger at Fran's. There are a number of celebrity tweeters, including the indefatigable Roger Ebert, and businesses use Twitter to promote their brand, post news, announce new products and the like.)

And Joyce and Nichols' tweets make for a better experience for fans of the show.

"It's bigger than just Twitter," said Maury Sullivan, KLRU's senior vice president of community engagement. "There's also Facebook. Social media has really allowed us to connect with our fans more deeply... You can have a question and one of the producers will give you an answer in real time. We haven't been able to do that before. And there are so many people who work on the show, and it's allowed the general public to get to know those people a little bit and give those us working behind the scenes a voice. The performances are always intimate, but now I feel like the whole experience is intimate — what's happening during camera rehearsal, what notables might be in the audience. It's really opened the show up and allowed us to share the quirky things that happen on occasion."

The conversation works in two ways. Artists tweet, too, remember. Rosanne Cash is pretty active; Steve Martin has recently hopped on. Both of those performers have tapings that will air in November.

Traffic was heavy for Arcade Fire and Pearl Jam, but on most any taping day you'll see these two in the studio control room, each on a laptop with a front row, ultimate insider's look for what's happening. If you can't be at a taping — and only a few hundred folks can — it's maybe the best way to follow what's going down in the studio. And fans love it.

Nichols: "The most mundane things — tape changes, retakes —"

Joyce: "They love it all."

Nichols: "We're just sitting there looking for material."

They've also used Twitter to "demystify the process" of the show's move next year into the Block 21 development downtown. They've tweeted photos as they toured the new joint and, as Nichols put it, "addressed the intimacy issue."

Get your mind out of the gutter. She's talking about the size of the new venue.

Joyce's main gig, in addition to being one of the producers, is overseeing the digital side of "ACL." Pretty much everything you see at austincitylimits.org she's had a hand in. She's been on the job about eight years, a tenure that in a houseful of graybeards still makes her the new kid. Nichols spends a lot of time working with bands starting right after they're booked and until the taping ends, making sure they have everything they need to perform and be comfortable, be it equipment or Fiji water. She's been on the job for about a decade.

And then the tweeting happened and took on a life of its own. There wasn't any meeting in a conference room about establishing a Twitter presence for "ACL."

"I wouldn't necessarily say we have a strategy," Joyce says, and then nods in Nichols' direction. "This one went rogue."

"We just did it without asking," Nichols says.

And it's a good thing they did. From them you can get interesting and useful information.

At least it's more useful than that last tweet from your friend about how her sour cream has expired.

pbeach@statesman.com