The origin and history of the popular annual music festival, from local TV to nationally recognized brand.
Each September, throngs of music lovers flood Austin, Texas, to participate in Austin City Limits, which is renowned as an event that brings together an amalgam of different musical styles and genres, celebrating contemporary pop and rock acts as well as more traditional performers. In addition to small and local indie acts, ACL also books nationally recognized headliners like the Black Keys, Coldplay and Willie Nelson. The ACL TV show, which debuted in 1974 with a performance by Nelson, was conceived as a stand-alone concert series. Other national networks toyed with similar concert shows to varying success, but it was ACL that proved it had a substantial and lasting audience, outliving all of its early competitors. In the beginning, the show represented the burgeoning music scene in Austin that was described alternately as “hip hillbilly,” “redneck rock” and the more palatable “progressive country.” The scene itself was indebted to the city’s large campus community and represented the somewhat confounding intersection of cowboy and hippie culture. Within only a few seasons, however, Laird (Music/Agnes Scott Coll.; Louisiana Hayride: Radio and Roots Music Along the Red River, 2004, etc.) deftly points out that ACL had already begun evolving outside the confines of genre and would serve as the foundation for the development of the music festival’s reputation as a leading industry force. Tracing the history of ACL alongside the cultural changes that have helped shape Austin’s current scene, Laird presents an informed and lively discussion that legitimizes Austin’s claim as the “live music capital of the world.”
A slim though impressive narrative history that will be a welcome addition to any audiophile’s bookshelf.