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Austin City Limits’ Hall of Fame Fireworks

Willie Nelson & SRV among the inaugural inductees

By Jim Caligiuri, 11:55AM, Mon. Apr. 28, 2014

Texas Flood: (l-r) Doyle Bramhall II, Robert Randolph, and Willie Nelson putting on a grand finale Saturday, 4.26.14.
Texas Flood: (l-r) Doyle Bramhall II, Robert Randolph, and Willie Nelson putting on a grand finale Saturday, 4.26.14.
photo by Scott Newton/Courtesy of KLRU-TV

Saturday night, Austin City Limits went old school. The program, celebrating 40 years on TV, returned to KLRU’s Studio 6A to induct its inaugural Hall of Fame class. That the choices were obvious – Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, UT football coach Darrell Royal, and ACL creator Bill Arhos – in no way diminished the proceedings.

In fact, it was a star-studded night with more than a few surprises.

ACL Executive Producer Terry Lickona kicked off the evening with, “It sure feels good to be back on this stage,” a thought then echoed throughout the nearly four-hour taping. He gave way to Academy Award-winner Matthew McConaughey, acting as emcee, to introduce Nelson. Four decades ago it was Austin’s Red Headed Stranger who taped the pilot for a show that now bears the legend “longest-running music program in television history.”

While Nelson’s voice isn’t the powerhouse it once was, he can still mesmerize. For starters, he hasn’t lost a lick of guitar prowess, ripping off deep leads on his battered acoustic on what’s become standard fare: “Whiskey River,” “Still is Still Moving,” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.” He was joined by Lyle Lovett for a stirring “Funny How Time Slips Away,” then Emmylou Harris interpreted “Crazy” with wisp of Patsy Cline.

Lovett and Harris chimed in for Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho & Lefty,” introduced by Nelson as “the best song ever written” and he should know. Lovett took a solo turn with Harris singing backup on the haunting “Walk Through the Bottomland” before Nelson’s musical portion of the night ended with everyone joining in on Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light.”

The induction of Nelson, Arhos, and Royal followed, each with a video tribute highlighting their importance to Austin City Limits. Arhos got off the best line of the night with, “It’s intimidating when three of the four other inductees have bronze statues around town.” Former UT football coach Mack Brown inducted coach Royal, who passed away in 2012.

Royal’s video explained his love for music and ACL, as well as the picking parties he held at his home after football games. It was his friendship with Merle Haggard that led to the country singer agreeing to appear on the show, which in turn led to even more famous names taking guest turns. Royal’s family, including his wife Edith, appeared genuinely touched by the recognition.

After a break to reset the stage, McConaughey inducted Stevie Ray Vaughan, who died in a 1990 helicopter crash. The surviving band members, Chris Layton, Tommy Shannon, and Reese Wynans, were obviously enthused to be part of the night. Down under in Australia, big brother Jimmie Vaughan accepted the award via video tape. The Double Trouble trio then performed with a variety of friends.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Mike Farris proved it takes two men to replicate the power of Vaughan’s guitar and vocals, adding Austin’s Grooveline Horns for a perfect reading of “Crossfire.” The son of SRV’s favorite co-author, Doyle Bramhall II showcased his southpaw guitar style and was joined by steel guitar dynamo Robert Randolph for a hair raising duel on “Give Me Back My Wig.” One of the last original blues legends alive, Buddy Guy, joined the fray.

“I wasn’t here when Willie started, but I came soon after,” he quipped before showing off some fancy guitar tricks on “Mary Had A Little Lamb.”

While setting up for a finale that included almost everyone involved, Lickona announced there would be an even bigger 40th anniversary celebration on June 26 at the Moody Theater with Jeff Bridges, Gary Clark Jr., Jimmie Vaughan, Sheryl Crow, Kris Kristofferson, and more to be announced.

The night ended with a blast of “Texas Flood,” a tune Vaughan made iconic. Nelson and Guy traded licks. Shepherd and Lukas Nelson let it all hang out. And Lovett’s forceful vocals demonstrated he can be a bluesman too.

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