Austin City Limits is undoubtedly one of the most influential music programs in the United States and was instrumental in cementing Austin, Texas as the “Live Music Capital of the World”.
Founded in 1974, the weekly series produced by PBS Austin was created by Bill Arhos, Paul Bosner, and Bruce Scafe in response to PBS’ request for original programming from its member stations. The idea was to showcase the “cosmic cowboy” sound that made Austin stand out from other music hubs.
Promoting a mixture of country, blues, folk, and psychedelia, the pilot episode was filmed on October 17th, 1974 and featured a singer/songwriter by the name of Willie Nelson.
Willie was known inside the industry but didn’t quite have the superstar image he has now. He had written hits like “Crazy” and “Hello Walls” for other artists but hadn’t yet experienced the solo artist success that came with his Shotgun Willie and Phases and Stages albums after moving to Austin in 1972.
Little did he or PBS know the long, storied future ahead of them when Willie first took that stage.
Right from the jump, the show was a hit, its deliberate lack of production slickness and a focus on audio detail resonating with audiences both in person and at home. The show continued from that point forward and has gone on to film over 900 episodes, become syndicated, had its recording archived at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and spawned an annual music festival that draws people and artists from all over the globe.
The synergy of Willie Nelson and ACL lead to explosive growth all around and a discussion of one can’t be had in good faith without mention of the other. Willie was and still is a regular guest on the program and in 2014 was inducted to the ACL Hall of Fame.
In fact, today is the 9th anniversary of his induction ceremony, which featured a slew of incredible performances, but my favorite is the classic Townes Van Zandt song “Pancho And Lefty,” played by Willie, Emmylou Harris, and Lyle Lovett.
Anytime you can get three music icons on stage is a magical moment, but doing so to celebrate and acknowledge both Willie and ACL for the importance each had in writing the history of country music, well, it’s just beyond words.
Cheers to the great Willie Nelson and hats off to all of those who kept and still keep ACL running.
I’ve got to get myself down there for a taping.