Everybody Loves Austin City Limits


Highlights from Season 22: Libbi Bosworth, Eric Johnson, Walter Hyatt, and Lyle Lovett

Everybody -- all over the world -- loves Austin City Limits. The PBS broadcast show, now in its 22nd season, is not only a beacon for Austin and its "Live Music Capital of the World" designation, it's also the best calling card the Texas Tourism Division could wish for. Yes, everyone loves ACL -- everyone, it seems, except for Rolling Stone.

According to the show's executive producer Terry Lickona, two weeks ago ACL's publicist Laura Bond got a call from someone enquiring as to whether Sheryl Crow was taping an upcoming segment for this season. When Bond answered "yes," the caller went ballistic. How could they book Sheryl Crow? She's not country, not folk, not blues. That's the last straw! "You tell Terry Lickona that I'm gonna take him down a notch or too," recounts the executive producer. And this person was? "Anthony DeCurtis, Rolling Stone."

To be fair, Lickona says he doesn't really think it was DeCurtis that phoned (calls to the magazine's offices went unreturned), but rather someone else with a grudge. Those calls, says Lickona, have been plentiful over the past two decades, thanks to a huge and varied viewing audience. "The Heartland, the Midwest, the South, they tend to prefer country and less pop, blues, and roots-rock stuff," explains Lickona. "They're constantly battling the big Northeast markets like New York and Washington, who think the show is too country -- typical elitest bullshit. There are more Texans in New York than Austin. Then there's the mandate from PBS to try and reflect the makeup of all America -- ethnic diversity -- which is why we started doing conjunto and zydeco."

Somehow, though, ACL has managed to strike a balance that keeps most everyone happy, and this, says Lickona, is the key to the show's enduring success. That, and keeping the underwriters happy. Remember, this is public television we're talking about here, not ABC and Seinfeld. The money -- $700,000 for a 13-show season -- has to come from somewhere, and while the government is busy cutting funding for the arts, hundreds of potential underwriters, who typically come aboard for only one season, are trying to get a performance schedule that suits their demographic.

"There's always been a little compromise in what we do," admits Lickona, "but by and large, it's been a wild ride in that we get away with pretty much everything we want to." This year, two of the show's most accommodating underwriters, Ford Trucks ("they signed on for three years, which we're thrilled about"), and the Texas Deptartment of Commerce, Tourist Division ("that's such a perfect fit it makes you wonder why it hasn't happened sooner"), have helped ACL tape one of its best seasons yet.

"I think this season is my personal favorite in many years," enthuses Lickona. "I think Lyle [Lovett] and Eric [Johnson] have given us their best performances ever. And the Austin Country show was the sleeper. Don Walser, Libbi Bosworth, Dale Watson, the Derailers -- all these people that had never been on the show -- they pulled it off like pros. There are several people in Nashville who are waiting for me to send that show."

In fact, they're not the only ones waiting for shows. Lickona says Sony is waiting for the "singer-songwriter" installment of ACL's compilation series, which has already seen the release of A Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan and The Best of Austin City Limits: Country Music's Finest Hour. "I spent most of the holidays looking through video of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, early Townes Van Zandt, Shawn Colvin, John Hiatt, Neil Young, Guy Clark. There's that, which is due in May, and then later in the year we'll be looking into the blues comp, the guitar players comp. There's 100 different themes -- accordion players!"

Meanwhile, however, there are 13 new episodes that begin airing this week. All but three of them -- a Robert Earl Keen/Jack Ingram set that taped last week (see "Dancing About Architecture"), an upcoming Etta James show, and Sheryl Crow -- have air dates listed below, though one should always consult their local listings for times, etc. And speaking of Crow, does Lickona, who says he managed to "bullshit my way into the producer's job" when the original producer, executive producer, and director all quit in the second season ("I knew an opportunity when I saw one"), see taping a Sheryl Crow segment as somehow contrary to the show?

"Not in the least," he says. "She's excited, we're excited -- we're getting all kinds of calls. Everyone's excited."

Everyone, except perhaps Anthony DeCurtis.

-- Raoul Hernandez


Season 22 Schedule

* January 25: Wynonna.

* February 1: "Songwriter's Special," featuring Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, and Kimmie Rhodes.

* February 8: "A Bluegrass Tribute to Bill Monroe," featuring a 1980 taping by Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys, as well as highlights from ACL's 1986 "Legends of Bluegrass" special with bluegrass greats like Ralph Stanley, Jim & Jesse and Mac Wiseman guesting with the father of the genre, who died in September 1996.

* February 15: "A Tribute to Walter Hyatt," hosted by Lyle Lovett and featuring a Who's Who of the late Hyatt's friends performing his songs (Hyatt was killed in the Valujet crash in May, 1996) -- David Ball, Champ Hood, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Shawn Colvin, Junior Brown, Marcia Ball, Willis Alan Ramsey, David Halley, and Allison Moore & the King Tears Band.

* February 22: "Best of Austin Country Showcase," featuring Don Walser, Libbi Bosworth, Dale Watson, Mary Cutrufello, the Derailers, & Wayne Hancock.

* March 1: Mary Chapin Carpenter, BR5-49.

* March 8: Travis Tritt, Wade Hayes.

* March 15: Eric Johnson, Kenny Wayne Shepard.

* March 22: Lyle Lovett & His Large Band.

* March 29: Son Volt, Gillian Welch & David Rawlins.

* April 5: TBA

* April 12: TBA

* April 19: TBA

[See the ACL/KLRU web site at http://www.klru.org/aclpreview.html for more information.]

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