Rock Hall commemorates 35 years of Austin City Limits

(Above: Roy Orbison performs “(Oh) Pretty Woman” on “Austin City Limits” in 1983.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

The musical landscape of television was of a different world when “Austin City Limits” debuted on Public Television 35 years ago. Brief performances on late night talk shows or segments on “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” were the only options for fans hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite act.

Baloons and the capital building, trademarks of the Flaming Lips and Austin City Limits.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame celebrates the show that put long-form performances on the air with the new exhibit “Great Music. No Limits. Celebrating 35 Years of Austin City Limits.”

“There were certainly music shows on television before, like Ed Sullivan, ‘Shindig’ or ‘Hullabaloo,’” said Jim Henke, vice president of exhibitions and curatorial affairs for the Rock Hall. “But ‘Austin City Limits’ was the first show where the performers didn’t lip synch and were provided with a platform that extended beyond just a song or two.”

The exhibit includes photographs, setlists, documents and video footage of the show’s greatest moments.

“A big part of the exhibit are the photos from the show. We have 30 or more pictures of artists ranging from B.B. King, Dolly Parton and Elvis Costello to Pearl Jam, R.E.M. and the Dave Matthews Band,” Henke said. “We also have a lot of different documents, including lots of early stuff like the proposal for underwriting the pilot episode and several handwritten memos.”

The memos show the evolution of the show’s title from “River City Country” to “Austin Space” before finally settling on the current title.

The Hag on ACL.

“We also have three setlists from Wilco’s performance where you can see which songs were added and changed before they went on,” Henke said.

“MTV Unplugged,” “Sessions at West 54th Street” and “Soundstage” are but a few of the shows Austin City Limits has inspired during its run. In 2002, the show spun off into the three-day Austin City Limits Music Festival.

“The show started out with Willie Nelson on the first episode then expanded,” Henke said. “If you look at who’s appeared since then it’s been a nice mix of artists.”

Henke pointed out recent episodes with Ben Harper sitting in with Pearl Jam and Mos Def with K’Naan as examples of the show’s continued innovation.

“The producers don’t just book established artists. They’re looking at younger artists as well,” Henke said. “Our video reel has everyone from Ralph Stanley and Bill Monroe to Damian Marley. It’s not just focused on one era or genre. I think this is not only what made the show so innovative, but has given it such longevity.”

For museum hours and ticket and general information, visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Website.

Keep Reading:

Rock Hall Celebrates 50 Years of Motown

George Kalinsky: Painting with Light (Rock Hall photo exhibit)

Rock Hall celebrates the 40th anniversary of Woodstock

(Below: The Polyphonic Spree party on Austin City Limits in 2004.)


Holiday Marketing Can Reveal Bands’ Inner Grinch


By Joel Francis

The Kansas City Star’s Back To Rockville blog

Your favorite band’s opinion of its fans will not be found on the concert stage, but under the Christmas tree.

For years the holiday season has been the dumping ground for record labels. Greatest hits albums from nearly forgotten artists (last year: Sugar Ray, this year: Staind) and reissues with bonus tracks are both designed to cash in on the holiday shopper. While most best-ofs are aimed at the casual buyer, and some can be a great starting place for a uninitiated fan daunted by an artist with a tremendous catalog, reissues take straight aim at the dedicated fan.

Few artists are able to find the balance between old and unreleased material and introduce themselves to new fans without appearing to gouge long-time fans. The Dave Matthews Band finds that balance this year with “The Best of What’s Around, Vol. 1.”

This set gets props for being selected by the band’s fan club and coming with a second disc of unreleased live performances that don’t overlap the material on the first disc. Plus it’s available at a one-disc price. That’s a lot better than most greatest hits with the obligatory two new tracks tacked on to the end.

Which is exactly what U2 does on their collection, “18 Singles.” This is the third best-of compilation from the band in the past decade, a figure which matches the number of studio albums they’ve given us in the same span. It is impossible to summarize the band in one disc and here the band doesn’t even try. Eight songs post-date the millennium, leaving 10 tracks to cover the first two decades of the band. Three albums, “Boy,” “October” and “Pop,” are ignored completely. It’s unclear who this is trying to appeal to, but the band’s intentions could be summed up by playing the intro of Pink Floyd’s “Money.”

For all their humanitarian efforts and “everyman” appeal, it is appalling that U2 would stoop to such a low marketing ploy. They manage to make matters worse with a “deluxe edition” of “18 Singles” that includes at 10-song DVD at nearly double the price. This is not a new practice. U2 have been releasing their concerts on DVD in two editions from some time now. The bare-bones disc of the full concert usually runs about $10, while at double the price the “deluxe edition” adds a second disc of content that barely holds up on first viewing. U2 are shamelessly profiting off their hardcore fans — the ones who made the band what it is today — with this tactic.

Unfortunately U2 are not alone. Last spring Bruce Springsteen released the excellent “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions” album. This fall it is back in the “American Land Edition” with five more songs. Columbia Records, the same label that brings us The Boss, released no fewer than three versions of the Los Lonely Boys debut album in 2004 and 2005. First came the standard issue. Then, when the band started to take off, Columbia pushed an enhanced version with Spanish-language tracks. Finally came a DualDisc version with videos and a surround-sound mix of the album.

When artists and the labels lament over the money lost through downloading, piracy and hard-drive swapping they should remember that it is ploys like this that turn fans away. It’s never profitable in the long run to spit on the fan who bought the album when it was first released and boosted its all-important SoundScan numbers. This is a trick akin to the repairman who keeps finding one more thing to fix, and it is capable of damaging years of devotion and goodwill.

Fortunately some artists are getting this right. Wilco has provided a free EP of exclusive content for fans who bought their last two studio albums. A code in the CD booklet may be keyed in to the band’s Web site to access the downloadable songs and artwork. Those who purchased Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy’s solo concert DVD this fall can put the disc in their computer to download high-quality audio versions of all the songs in addition to two bonus tracks. Sure, the system isn’t flawless, but it rewards those who buy and acts on good faith.

All bands thank their fans, but what is expected to be put under the tree speaks much louder than concert-concluding platitudes. Like the Grinch, it appears that The Boss and Bono need a visit from Dave and Wilco to have their hearts expanded a few sizes.