It was 35 years ago today, or tonight, that Austin City Limits, inspired by Jan Reid’s book The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock and the exploding Outlaw country music scene in Austin, aired their first episode. And who better to book for the first show than the Improbable Willie Nelson.
It was 1974; two years before Wanted! The Outlaws would be released, letting all of country and all of the world know about the power of Outlaw music. Austin, Texas was awash with some of the most powerful talent country music had ever seen, not to mention the rock performers as well. Sensing that this burgeoning scene was something special, the local PBS station KRLU decided it wanted to start showcasing and chronicling these great performers. From one of the best live sound stages ever constructed on the campus of the University of Texas, Austin City Limits began ith a full hour of Willie Nelson unleashed.
In celebration of their 35 year anniversary, they have released the full pilot episode of Willie Nelson, and you can watch it by CLICKING HERE. Think whatever you want about Willie or his music now, but there may never be a better performance of Outlaw country music then what happened 35 years ago tonight. This is Willie in his prime with an unbelievable band: hungry but happy, wanting to prove to the world that they didn’t need Nashville. Oh they proved it all right.
What has happened to Austin City Limits, especially in the past two seasons, is confusing, alarming, and a tragedy of the highest proportions. For 30-plus years it was a cornerstone of the Austin music scene, and now it has become a puppet to targeted demographics and corporate sponsors like Budweiser. It has always catered to a few national performers, usually still in the context of the country/roots rock scene, but now that is virtually all it is focused on.
The whole reason ACL was created was to highlight local artists, and use the national artists to help gain them attention. Now the season is filled with names like Dave Matthews, Pearl Jam, and Ben Harper, while local lesser-known Austin artists are only given token gestures. And forget the spirit of the Outlaw movement: to celebrate the 30th anniversary, the performer is Kenny Cheseney.
But I won’t be watching Kenny tonight, I will be watching Willie. Then I’ll hit YouTube and watch some clips of some of the amazing performers from ACL in the past, and hope that maybe ACL will find its footing and get back on the track that made it one of the best live performance television institutions ever.
Happy Birthday Austin City Limits.