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Austin City Limits blows roof off Moody Theater with 40th season celebration

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Sheryl Crow
Sheryl Crow Photo by Scott Newton/Courtesy of KLRU
Bonnie Raitt ACL Live 40th Anniversary
Bonnie Raitt takes the stage.  Photo by Scott Newton/Courtesy of KLRU
Jeff Bridges at ACL Live 40th Anniversary
Jeff Bridges Photo by Scott Newton/Courtesy of KLRU
ACL Live 40th Anniversary
Musical guests took over ACL Live at the Moody Theater for the celebration. Photo by Scott Newton/Courtesy of KLRU
Sheryl Crow
Bonnie Raitt ACL Live 40th Anniversary
Jeff Bridges at ACL Live 40th Anniversary
ACL Live 40th Anniversary

If 40 seasons of Austin City Limits has proven anything, it's that KLRU knows how to put on a show. On Thursday night, the local PBS station threw a talent-packed party to pay homage to the landmark TV series' history-making run. Show alum Sheryl Crow and Jeff Bridges hosted the musical magic at ACL Live at the Moody Theater, that featured rare duets and collaborations the sold-out audience devoured.

Coined as an "All-Star Benefit Concert," the lineup was packed full of some of the biggest names in music — all of whom have appeared on Austin City Limits. Among the musicians on the bill were Bonnie Raitt, Alabama Shakes, Kris Kristofferson, Robert Earl Keen and Gary Clark Jr. Rock and blues legend Raitt kicked the night off with "Wrap It Up," with an assist from Jimmie Vaughan, Gary Clark Jr. and Alabama Shakes lead singer Brittany Howard. 

 It was a magical night that showed why after 40 seasons, Austin City Limits is still a beloved and ground breaking series. 

Kris Kristofferson honored ACL with a performance that included a duet of "Me and Bobby McGee" alongside Sheryl Crow. Crow's co-host Bridges, Alabama Shakes and Gary Clark Jr. rounded out the first half of the show. In a touching moment, Bridges honored the late Stephen Bruton, an influential Texas musician, by performing "Fallin' & Flyin'" (co-written by Bruton) from the movie Crazy Heart. Howard showed the unreal power of her vocals performing "Heartbreaker" and "Gimme All Your Love" with her band, while Gary Clark Jr. channeled Stevie Ray Vaughan with a lengthy version of "Bright Lights."

The second half of the concert saw a who's who of Texas talent, including Grupo Fantasma, Jimmie Vaughan, Robert Earl Keen, Joe Ely and Doyle Bramhill II. Grupo Fantasma got the audience dancing with their Latin funk sound and full horns section, while Vaughan and Raitt treated the audience to a playful rendition of "The Pleasure's All Mine." Raitt also garnered laughter and cheers from the audience when she said, "When I think of Texas, I don't think of Rick Perry. I think of Clifford Antone!"

With Clark on guitar and Crow on harmonica, their duet on "Freight Train" was one of the evening's highlights. Crow shared memories of her first Austin City Limits appearance in 1997, saying doing the show was when she realized, "I've made it."

And what would a night of Texas music be without an appearance from Robert Earl Keen? A little more than three hours into the taping, Keen jolted the audience to its feet and had everyone dancing and singing along to "The Road Goes on Forever" followed by "I Gotta Go" (backed by the Grupo Fantasma horns).

The wonderful night of music was put on with the help of musician/producer Lloyd Maines, who assembled the all-star band that backed most of the performers. At the end of the evening, ACL Executive Producer Terry Lickona presented Maines with the fifth spot in the first class of ACL Hall of Fame inductees, saying Maines "represents what the best of ACL is all about." Maines holds the distinction of appearing more times on Austin City Limits than any other musician, debuting on the show in 1978 with Joe Ely.

To end the evening, all of the performers returned to the stage to sing Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away." The performance was a fitting end to a magical night that showed why after 40 seasons, Austin City Limits is still a beloved and groundbreaking series.

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Thursday night’s show followed an April induction of the first class of ACL Hall of Fame honorees  — Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, Darrell Royal, and show creator Bill Arhos (and now Maines). Austin City Limits holds the honor of being the longest-running music series in American television history. Its 40th season premieres on PBS on October 4.

If you didn’t manage to catch them live, you can see Thursday’s captivating performances as part of a two-hour primetime special, "Austin City Limits Celebrates 40 Years," airing October 3 on PBS. The special also includes performances from the April Hall of Fame induction. And check the Austin City Limits website to enter your name into a drawing for tickets to attend the remaining 40th seasons tapings, including Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, White Denim, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down and Eric Church.

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