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06/27/2014

Behind the Scenes at Austin City Limits' 40th Anniversary Show

Austin's latest guitar great, Gary Clark Jr., didn't first learn about the blues from knocking around the club scene in his hometown. In fact, his introduction to the world beyond the pop radio dial came through television, when Austin City Limits aired a three-episode tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan. The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time As music legends and ACL vets like Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow and Jeff Bridges buzzed backstage at Thursday's 40th anniversary taping of the popular live music series, Clark talked about the impression those shows made on him as a developing musician. "As a young guitar player I soaked that up because it was just different and new and it was from my home," he told Rolling Stone. "I couldn't believe this was going on in my own town. After that Stevie show I would watch religiously because I had to know what was going on." Testimonials like this were easy to come by at an event that drew an all-star lineup of performers including Kris Kristofferson, Alabama Shakes, Jimmie Vaughan, Robert Earl Keen, Joe Ely, Doyle Bramhall II and Latin funk rockers Grupo Fantasma. The four-hour show hosted by Crow and Bridges and set to air on October 3rd as the kickoff to the series' new season featured plenty of the dream collaborations these kind of nights are built on. The wish list pairings kicked off with Raitt, Clark and Alabama Shakes' Brittany Howard teaming up for the Fabulous Thunderbirds' "Wrap It Up" and Crow and Kristofferson taking the stage for "Me and Bobby McGee" soon after. Howard's simmering blues wail was a highlight throughout the night, both on her guest appearances and on a pair of her own band's songs, including the restrained and slow-building "Gimme All Your Love." Raitt praised both the young singer and the aforementioned Clark, suggesting that the quality of talent in the room spoke to the influence the show has attained since debuting with a Willie Nelson performance in 1974. "It feels like home to me," she said of her multiple ACL appearances, the first in 1981. "It's perfect for roots musicians, and to see Brittany again and have two generations of blues and rhythm & blues artists this is a perfect chance to just hang because these people are like family to me." Thanks to a house band of Austin musicians led by famed producer and steel guitar player Lloyd Maines, the show's Texas roots were apparent throughout the night, with Keen and Ely even teaming up near the end for a run through the Highwaymen's "The Road Goes On Forever" that saw the audience clapping and singing along loud enough to nearly overtake the performers.

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