Playback: Austin Cinema Limits
ACL doc fundraises, UT inherits Ian McLagan's personal collection, and ScoreMore for the kids
Merle Haggard heard the call of nature while taping an episode for Austin City Limits in 1986. The "Working Man's Poet" excused himself from the stage and, with no facilities nearby, took a piss on the wall – then promptly returned to singing. No "Merle peed here" plaque hangs inside the show's former Studio 6A at UT, but it's one of many priceless tales told in A Song for You: The Austin City Limits Story, a documentary currently making rounds on the film fest circuit.
The 96-minute movie takes us backstage at America's longest-running concert staple, detailing the PBS program's ragtag origins and evolution into what Pixies frontman Frank Black calls "the last smart music show on television." In between, there's defining performances – Townes Van Zandt in 1976, Stevie Ray Vaughan in 1983, and Wilco in 2000 – moving A-list testimonials, and insights about ACL's changing scope and relevance. Interest in the film already extends beyond Austin's city limits.
Executive Producer Terry Lickona reports that last weekend's screenings in New Jersey yielded capacity crowds, but if you want to catch A Song for You on the small screen, you may need to patron up. Filmmaker Keith Maitland has launched a fundraising effort for the indie doc's music licensing expenses, some $125,000, via Kickstarter, with rewards including key chains made of wood from the original stage. The clock ticks down on the endeavor; $44,000 has been pledged, but there's only 12 days left.
Meanwhile, the show's booking musical legends at an unprecedented rate with Iggy Pop, James Taylor, Robert Plant, and – tonight's featured artist – Paul Simon all gracing the skyline set in the past six months. Only Plant has previously appeared on the program.
"It seems like there's a sudden rush to do the show by these legacy artists who'd been holding out on us for all these years," acknowledges Lickona, who's been trying to book Simon for decades. The common denominator: All have migrated to indie labels and want to showcase current material. "They realize we're one of the few outlets left where people can still see and hear new music."
Nonetheless, Lickona points out the importance of striking a balance so ACL doesn't become a classic rock show. To that end, rapper Kendrick Lamar's episode airs on Saturday, 7pm. Plus, with the ACL Fest 2016 lineup now vetted, Lickona confirms he's in talks with Zilker Park headliner Radiohead to tape another episode come October. Britain's critical darlings, who played the program in 2012, just floated their latest LP, A Moon Shaped Pool.
Other ACL Festers on his wish list: LCD Soundsystem, Margo Price, Anderson Paak, and Foals. Even among recent booking triumphs, however, there's the ultimate one-that-got-away. Lickona reveals that the show's white whale, Prince, had repeatedly shown interest in the broadcast.
"Two years ago, I got a call from Prince's booking agent saying Prince was interested in doing Austin City Limits," recalls Lickona. "Apparently he was a faithful viewer. I guess what else are you going to do on those cold Minnesota nights? According to his agent, ACL is where he discovered a bunch of artists, including Grupo Fantasma and Esperanza Spalding, and he'd love to come and do the show.
"Well in the last two years, we've probably had a dozen conversations with someone in Prince's camp and we came close a couple times," he continues. "One time they said, 'How's your schedule next week?,' but next week came and went."
Lickona's hopes rose again in February when the Purple One embarked on his Piano & a Microphone tour. It was ACL's best shot and they did outreach.
"That was a dream that, like so many, died with him," laments Lickona.
Ian McLagan Collection Comes to UT
Twenty-five boxes of music, photos, art, documents, and mementos owned by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame keyboardist Ian McLagan have been donated to UT's Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.
Pictured clockwise from top left: a pen sketch of late wife Kim McLagan, a signed Faces photo, a Polaroid of friend Ron Wood (signed "Wonnie"), a ticket stub for a 1964 Beatles concert in Bristol, a Rod Stewart tour laminate with Mac's mug cut-and-pasted over the headliner, handwritten chord charts for "Light of Day" from when Mac backed Bruce Springsteen, "Little Mac's Garlic Chicken for Two" recipe with self-portrait, and a Faces tour pass for Kim – then married to Keith Moon – plus a daily planner opened to April 11, 1975, with Mac gleefully anticipating her divorce from the Who drummer.
The massive personal archive, donated by son Lee McLagan, who became the executor of the estate after his father died of a stroke in December 2014 in Austin – where the ivories-tickler lived for two decades – will be cataloged, processed, and organized into a special collection over the next year and may lead to a public exhibit.
Friends have organized a birthday concert honoring Austin's favorite transplant tonight (Thursday) at the Continental Club, 10pm. Performers, covering Faces, Small Faces, Ronnie Lane, plus Mac's solo material, and playing originals, include Lisa Marshall, the Footnotes, Aimee Bobruk, the Mooks, Shoulders, McLemore Avenue, Javier Escovedo, Nakia, and Mac's own Bump Band. $10 benefits Austin's SIMS Foundation.
Students of ScoreMore
Austin's preeminent hip-hop and trap promoters, ScoreMore – owned and operated by twentysomething UT grads Sascha Stone Guttfreund and Claire Bogle – have built their concert empire by staying ahead of the curve on youth markets. Specialists in the next big thing, the 6-year-old company has found success in Austin's crowded concert industry by programming entertainment that excites local student demographics.
Saturday brings ScoreMore's flagship festival, JMBLYA, to the parking lot of the Austin American-Statesman (305 S. Congress), after being held the previous two years at New Braunfels' WhiteWater Amphitheater. The all-day event, featuring Future, Rae Sremmurd, Carnage, Kevin Gates, and Post Malone, continues experiencing massive growth, selling out 10,000 tickets two weeks before the show, more than double last year's numbers. As usual, it's youngsters lining up: 59% of ticketholders are high school students or recent graduates.
Even so, Guttfreund is presently passionate about a different kind of student engagement. Partnering with educational nonprofit U Got This, JMBLYA will welcome 100 students from a variety of area high schools to show up early and take part in a panel discussion featuring music industry experts. Afterward, they'll tour the festival grounds, learning about different vocations in event production where they can receive training.
"I want to show students that there's a lot more ways to make a dollar than rapping," says Guttfreund. "There are so many people who work beyond the stage: front of house, monitor engineer, tour manager, catering coordinator, artist manager, doing permitting. These are real opportunities in the entertainment business."
Guttfreund feels the panel will help demystify students' perceptions of workers in the hip-hop industry.
"What they may perceive as a rap promoter is probably pretty different from the reality."
For the 27-year-old entrepreneur who was uninvited back to his high school after his sophomore year due to behavioral transgressions, the goal is to be real with students.
"You're gonna get in trouble, get some bumps and bruises, and that's okay, but this is a way to channel your energy in a way that will help you. If you want to work around music, that's great, because there are a million different paths."