Friday, July 10, 2009

Austin City Limits - Our First Time

The experience of Austin City Limits [ACL] (and it is necessary to clarify that I mean the 34-year running TV show on PBS, and not the more recent annual ACL festival) is shrouded in mystery. People don’t talk about it much, either before or afterward. I will break that unwritten rule to some degree here.

It has always been very difficult for most people to get in. If you are not “connected”, then you need to do your homework to try and be prepared for the ticket giveaways. There are several ways that it’s done – most commonly through the years (I believe) there would be an announcement on the radio telling you where to go get them, beginning NOW… and then if you weren’t at that spot at that time you would not get tickets. The rest of this story is that the show tapings are not given much press, so the average Joe music fan will not even know that it happened until the episode airs.

For a couple of years now (and only discovered very recently by me) there has been a blog bearing info on all things ACL-TV including ticket giveaways. They also feature online drawings for the tickets – which is how we got ours. These tickets are called “Space Available.” The venue capacity is 320, the Space Available people can go in after the invited guest-listers, and they give away a LOT more tickets that they will be able to seat so they make no promises about you getting in, even with a ticket. They distributed line numbers at 5PM, and let us go in at 7:40. If you were old enough, there was free beer waiting before entering the studio – which is as close to a sanctuary for modern music as you will find.

::: some would argue in favor of the Grand Ole Opry as the music show of longevity, but it has changed venues over its many years, and carved itself into a deep genre niche in the 1970s when they shunned almost all the “longhairs” [Opry wiki entry] while Austin embraced them, Willie Nelson's outlaw redneck/hippie combo changed American music, and the ACL studio stayed in the same place, meaning that you just might be seeing the same piano that Ray Charles played :::

ACL started out by featuring mostly Texas artists of all types, but has branched out over the years to feature music from all over the musical and geographical map, all either established or rising stars. Look at this amazing list!

We’ve been wanting to see a taping of ACL ever since we’ve lived here, and would have been happy to see nearly anyone, whether it was somebody really big, or even someone we weren’t that familiar with, but it was really special to be able to see one of our favorite Austin bands, the Band of Heathens, on their own turf with their peeps in the house, get to play on Austin City Limits.

Some notes on the experience.

Happily, the ticket line was outside but shaded from the beating-down 105° sun. I had been expecting to fry on the sidewalk.

(photo snagged off Maggie's Austin)

If you’ve seen the show, you know that the set looks like the stage is outside in a park with the Austin night skyline in the background. When we walked in, I couldn’t conceive of how they were going make that plain-looking room come alive, there was an extremely drab mural painted on the wall – then they switched it on, and voila! It all appeared like magic. It’s quite complicated and done with artful lighting. I only wish that the real Austin skyline wasn’t getting so complicated with all the new towering view clutter being built, but that’s another issue.

The sound in there was incredibly good, They never sounded better, or played better, or looked better (in the great lighting and with that backdrop) – it was really very exciting for the audience and the band too. We were in the front row dancing area (so, yeah, we will be on the teevee) and it was fun dancing (do I get carried away sometimes? Yes, I guess so, I just can’t be still. Some things just make me so happy so that nothing can blot it out, at least for the duration and sometimes the high will go for days depending on the intensity of the joy. That’s why I seek out those things.). I don’t know if it was my amazing sense of rhythm or what, but – much to my surprise – Colin Brooks threw me his tambourine – and the other big surprise is that I caught the sucker without missing a beat. I will never forget that. Nope. Never.

We won’t get to see the Heathens in Austin again until September for one show at Antone’s (new CD then maybe?). They are touring this country until then, touring Europe after that, then back home again in December. Check their schedule and go see them if you can. Meant to be seen live (or on Austin City Limits this November with Elvis Costello) (I will post a heads-up later).

[addendum 7/11] here's another posting from someone who went to this.

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Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I am so jealous, and also happy that you finally got in.

ellie said...

Holy cow you've been wanting this for ever. What's the video count for you now??????

Blueberry said...

I had pretty much given up on getting to attend a taping unless a band I worked for happened to be scheduled. (and that could still happen!! no news of it yet though.)

Then I found that acltv blog, which can make it easier. Also, next year ACL-TV will be moving to a new, much larger facility (3000-4000? have to double-check) so more people will be able to get in but it won't have the same intimate atmosphere that a capacity of 320 provides.

Unknown said...

I told Colin if the video of him throwing the tambourine makes it onto the airing of our show I wouldn't make him buy me a new one... otherwise- I take him to the music store in Aschaffenburg, Germany when we go there in September, and he buys me a new one......
I thought you would get a kick out of the story behind the launching of the tambo into the audience...

John Chipman

Blueberry said...

Hey John, thanks for dropping by! It's a very cool souvenir but if you want it back, I can bring it to the Antone's show.


I mean it. And thx for the story!

Unknown said...

No way it is yours to keep...

Blueberry said...

Thanks! You guys rawk.

WeezieLou said...

ACL - quite the hidden treasure! i've been a few times. but haven't really been able to do crowds for awhile - maybe later. glad you fot to go!