TV's Austin City Limits branches out but retains intimate feel

Fri Oct 12, 2012 7:48am EDT
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By Corrie MacLaggan

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - As tens of thousands of music fans converge on the Texas capital for the Austin City Limits Music Festival this weekend, one performer will make a stop at the original "Austin City Limits" - the longest-running music show on American television.

Jack White, the former White Stripes rocker who plays the festival on Saturday, is scheduled to tape an "Austin City Limits" TV episode on Sunday. Last year, five ACL festival acts - Coldplay, Arcade Fire, the Head and the Heart, Gomez and Randy Newman - made the same trip.

"The festival is raucous, loud, tons of people, tons of stages," said drummer Tyler Williams of the Seattle sextet the Head and the Heart. "The TV show is a very intimate thing."

What was once a humble TV show focusing on the music of Texas has now become a multi-headed juggernaut that pulls in international artists: TV show, live music venue, and annual outdoor music festival. The ACL brand name has become widely known beyond Austin, which calls itself "the Live Music Capital of the World."

The Public Broadcasting Service show, now in its 38th season, began as a showcase for Texas singers and songwriters, with a 1974 pilot that featured Willie Nelson.

But it later expanded to include a wide variety of genres, from jazz to rock. The current season, which began October 6, features artists as disparate as Radiohead, Bonnie Raitt, Norah Jones, Bon Iver and jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding.

"Austin City Limits" moved into new, bigger digs last year, but still has its signature backdrop of the Austin skyline, which has been updated to reflect the city's changes. The show manages to retain its feeling of intimacy by having the stage jut out into the audience, with the crowd wrapped around on three sides.

The show's new home doubles as a concert venue known as ACL Live at the Moody Theater.   Continued...