Tonight at 9pm PBS will air a two hour the special Austin City Limits Celebrates 40 Years which will take a walk down memory lane with the long running music program. Performances from past ACL guests like Alabama Shakes, Willie Nelson, Jeff Bridges and Gary Clark Jr. among others, will feature alongside a retrospective look at ACL’s influence on music television. Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard and Bonnie Raitt will kick off the show with a cover of “Wrap It Up,” the 1969 soul hit of Sam & Dave, with Jimmie Vaughan, Gary Clark Jr., and Grupo Fantasma on horns. Season 40 episodes in October will see Sam Smith, the Avett Brothers, as well as Austin’s own Spoon and Ryan Adams and future Season 40 episodes will see the likes of Jeff Tweedy, Nine Inch Nails, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
On Saturday, October 4th, the ACL stage will see Beck return to kick off the 40th season with his first Austin City Limits appearance since 2002. Tape back in April, Beck’s performance will feature a setlist that spans his career, and is heavy on his most recent LP, Morning Phase. The hour long set that airs at 11pm closer is an epic, nine minute long rendition of “Where It’s At.” What fans of the the forty-year old show may notice while viewing these two specials is how much ACL has changed the way music on television is experienced by people. Not only that, but the show drastically influenced country music as roots music derived from it, and is now a highly recognized, very powerful, and much beloved Texan brand.
This evolution of Austin City Limits’ identity is the focal point of author Tracy Laird’s book, Austin City Limits: A History. As a show that began with episodes being taped on the top floor of Building B in UT Austin’s College of Communications back in 1975, ACL has certainly come a long way. “What I love about the show is that the minute you try to pin it down with a label, then you’re going to find a list of exceptions,” Laird says. “So the ‘mainstream-country’ years, not only Ray Charles is in there, and B.B King, there’s Jerry Lee Lewis and George Thorogood and people who don’t fit that label. I think it’s because the label has never been the thing. It’s been the quality of acts performing there that’s driven the people making the show happen,” she adds. “I think that’s why it’s still around.”