Blackstock: Willie Nelson, Double Trouble, Emmylou Harris and more musical heavyweights celebrate ‘Austin City Limits’ first Hall of Fame inductees
“Austin City Limits” creator Bill Arhos had the best line of the night Saturday at the long-running TV show’s first-ever ACL Hall of Fame induction ceremony: “It’s a little intimidating to be in a class of the first inductees, and three of the four have bronze statues around town.”
Arhos may be the statueless man out, but his role was the most crucial in the origin of “Austin City Limits,” which is celebrating its 40th season of filming with several special events. This one was the biggest yet, with Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble and Darrell K Royal joining Arhos in the show’s new Hall of Fame. The physical Hall of Fame space will be on the second floor of ACL Live at Second and Lavaca streets.
Saturday’s event was filmed at “ACL’s” original home in Studio 6A on the University of Texas campus. Footage will be included in a 40th-anniversary special that will air in prime time on PBS this fall, along with scenes from an upcoming June 26 concert at ACL Live. Executive producer Terry Lickona revealed on Saturday that the lineup for the concert would include Gary Clark Jr., Kris Kristofferson, Sheryl Crow and Jimmie Vaughan, with actor Jeff Bridges serving as host.
Both Nelson and Double Trouble performed as part of the induction festivities. Nelson kicked things off with an hourlong set in which he and his longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael were backed by an abbreviated version of Lyle Lovett’s Large Band.
Lovett himself joined in to duet with Nelson on “Funny How Time Slips Away,” and singer Emmylou Harris came aboard to take the lead vocal on “Crazy.” All three performed together on a few numbers, most notably a touching cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho & Lefty.”
The set concluded with the formal inductions of Nelson, Arhos and Royal (whose wife Edith accepted on the late coach’s behalf). Doing the induction honors were actor Matthew McConaughey for Nelson, Lickona for Arhos, and former UT football coach Mack Brown for Royal.
Next came the induction of Vaughn & Double Trouble, accepted by the legendary guitarist’s surviving bandmates Chris Layton, Tommy Shannon and Reese Wynans. “Stevie is still here,” Layton told the crowd as he gazed around the studio, where Vaughan and the band delivered two indelible performances in the early and late 1980s. “He’s here in this building.”
The band then proceeded to summon Vaughan’s spirit with a slew of special guests. Guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd and singer Mike Farris got the house rockin’ with, appropriately, “The House Is Rockin’” before blazing through “Look at Little Sister” and “Crossfire” with the help of the three-piece Grooveline Horns. Doyle Bramhall II followed with a soulful three-song set highlighted by “Change It,” a song his late father wrote for Vaughan.
Bramhall stuck around to accompany charismatic steel guitarist Robert Randolph on the night’s most rousing number, a celebratory “Pride and Joy.” The only guy who could follow that was Buddy Guy, the legendary Chicago blues guitarist, who drove the show home with “Let Me Love You Baby” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb” before a mass cast assembled on the show-closing “Texas Flood.”
From stage left, the grand-finale front line consisted of Shepherd, Bramhall, Randolph, Nelson, Guy, Willie’s son Lukas Nelson and Lovett, with Layton, Shannon, Wynans and harp player Raphael backing them. In a Facebook post on Sunday, Lickona marveled that Nelson and Guy had somehow never previously met.
Lickona called it “one of the most remarkable days in Austin City Limits history” — even as they made a quick turnaround to start writing even more history, with Sunday’s taping of Beck at ACL Live to air as part of the 40th season lineup this fall. (See my colleague Deborah Sengupta Stith’s review on the Austin Music Source blog at austin360.com.)
Jack, Lyle … and Allen Shamblin
Lovett’s appearance with Willie followed a short solo set Friday at ACL Live to kick off the conclusion of the two-night Mack, Jack & McConaughey benefit for children’s charities. Though the show ran well past midnight after a late start on the heels of a lengthy live auction, most of the crowd hung in for the long haul.
Co-host Jack Ingram played a couple of songs but mostly shared the spotlight with more than a dozen other songwriters, including “Nashville” musical director Buddy Miller, a former Austinite who played to the home crowd by covering the late Stephen Bruton’s “Heart of Hearts.” In an ironic twist, a story posted Sunday by Nashville daily the Tennessean speculated that the ABC drama might shoot its upcoming third season in Austin.
Other highlights as the show marched into the late hours included poignant songs by Butch Walker, Kevin Welch and Jon Randall along with comic-relief tunes by Scott Miller, Bruce Robison and Hayes Carll. But the real star was Allen Shamblin, a member of the Texas Heritage Songwriters Association Hall of Fame, who sang the Miranda Lambert hit “The House That Built Me” (which he wrote with Tom Douglas) and the Bonnie Raitt staple “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (written with Mike Reid).
His performance perfectly realized Ingram’s goal of drawing a big crowd to appreciating the sincerity and creative genius of those beyond the spotlight. Shamblin doesn’t look or act like a Nashville star, but on the ACL Live stage Friday night, he stood taller than all of them.