Austin City Limits [ACL]
- Tracey E.W. Laird
American syndicated music television program. It is the longest-running music performance television program in broadcast history. Recorded at the public station KLRU in Austin, Texas, and housed at the University of Texas, ACL aired its pilot episode, featuring Willie Nelson, in 1975. Nelson’s rise to iconic status during the same era ensured the show’s auspicious beginning. During more than three decades ACL has evolved from its original focus on Austin’s progressive country scene to an eclectic mix of musical genres. In some ways its growing prominence mirrors that of Austin itself, particularly the reputation of its music scene.
The station executive Bill Arhos founded ACL and produced its first few seasons. In its fourth season he turned production over to Terry Lickona, whose musical vision has continued to shape each season. Under the latter’s guidance ACL has maintained an artful balance between local acts and musicians from further afield. High quality musicianship and production values have remained constant threads throughout changing trends in programming, notably mainstream country in the 1980s and Americana in the 1990s. Early seasons included performances by Taj Mahal and Tom Waits. Guests during the 1980s ranged from B.B. King to Bonnie Raitt, and Flaco Jimenez to Queen Ida. Los Lobos and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band appeared in the 1990s, as did Nanci Griffith and John Prine. In the 2010s ACL featured a wide variety of styles, from Coldplay to Damian Marley, the Gourds to Miranda Lambert, the Decemberists to K’Naan....