The backbone of austin

Pearl Jam, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles: Scott Newton's iconic images of Austin City Limits performances

1970 was an auspicious year for Austin: Eddie Wilson opened the doors to the Armadillo World Headquarters and lit the fuse for an explosive Austin music scene; that same year, a 21 year old photographer named Scott Newton moved to Austin and walked through the Armadillo's doors to see a show on a whim.

Slung on Newton's shoulder was his Canon AT-1 camera. He often carried it and thought he'd take a few photos at the show.

If one believes there are no such things as happy accidents or coincidences, then Newton's life is an exhibit to study. He had no training as a photographer, but literally stumbled into his life's calling.

In the spring of 1979, Willie Nelson’s secretary, Jody Fischer, picked up the phone and did what Newton was too shy to do—she called Terry Lickona, the producer of Austin City Limits, and made a fateful recommendation on his behalf. 

After 36 years and 33 seasons of freelancing as the house photographer for the television show Austin City Limits, Newton's photographs have been collected and displayed in the Keller-Pfluger Gallery located on the Mezzanine level of The Moody Theater in the W Hotel Austin.

He's shared some of the highlights displayed the new gallery.

Willie, the revolutionary

Willie Nelson wears his revolutionary status well.
Photograph taken in Season 6, 1980.

Beyond her years

You must surrender to Esperanza Spalding's miles of stage presence and gusto at age 23. 

This shot serves as an example of the collaboration that can occur between two artists, even subconsciously.

A musician and a photographer who each practiced in their art intuitively conspire to set up a potent and personal shot—a moment in line with Newton's mantra, “Get it to glow, somehow.”

Together, not separate

What does the most popular American rock and roll band of the 90s bring to Austin City Limits? Clout, vigour and a mob scene.

Shooting Pearl Jam requires a different awareness, Newton explains. He watched the group move as a unit and interpreted “all of the band members as an organic whole.”

Season 35, 2009

The masterful diva

Dolly Parton is a force of nature, on or off the stage. She is a woman who, in Newton's opinion, is channeling something greater than herself. Newtons says that one of the highest things he can do is "show the invisible but immense spirit."

This shot was one of the last shots Scott took using black and white film before going digital.

Season 26, 2000 

A quiet moment

The glorious achievement of ACL Live at The Moody Theater is that it maintains the level of intimacy once extended by the old studio.

For perspective, the previous studio on the University of Texas campus held under 300 guests, who were seated on bleachers surrounding the stage on three sides. The new ACL Live venue seats over 2,700 on three stacked levels. 

Yet, somehow, the experience with a performer like Norah Jones can remain as poignant and personal as ever.

Season 33, 2007


Newton believes this image of Ray Charles is one of the best shots he has ever taken. He says, “Ray Charles was rocking and all over the place, flopping around, dancing. I saw him keep arching back from the piano and got into position.”

He still remembers that capture as if it were today.

Season 9, 1983

A ringmaster

It is Newton's job to observe everything happening in the venue, at every moment. He takes anywhere from 1,000 to 1,800 shots per show and sifts through every one of them when editing.

He captured Manu Chao as the ringmaster while everyone on stage with him melded into one immense spirit.

Manu Chao knows how to dissolve boundaries and relies on the music to bring the crowd together into one big pulsing-to-the-music happy family.

Season 34, 2008

Owning Texas' heart

The front and center Natalie Maines is a striking totem that grounds the Dixie Chicks as they rock the heavens.

Newton says his radar went off when he saw the composition of the sisters triangulated on stage.

Season 32, 2006

Encapsulating energy

“This is not a publicity shot," says Newton. To him, it accurately tells the story of Damian Marley, even with his face turned away from the camera.

The composition, the diagonals, the luminescent color, the waving flag, the stomping foot and raised arm, the hair flying personify his life force. 

A frenetic circus

Shooting a band as large as Arcade Fire, capturing their power and framing everyone into the shot requires some planning. Dramatic movement in the foreground and a clear focus on the band members in the background was Newton's solution.

The female lead, Régine Chassagne, is not physically in the shot, though her black and white projected image is lingering towards the back of the stage.

Newton says, “It was like photographing Cirque du Soleil.”

Season 33, 2007

The golden couple

Johnny Cash was on his best behavior. To Johnny, playing on the Austin City Limits stage was as epic as playing the Grand Ole’ Opry. He took it seriously and had the Carter family clan with him.

His love for June was clear. Her love for him was obvious. “It was a real country act,” Newton says.

This was the last shot Scott took at that show.

Season 12, 1987

Something to talk about

Bonnie Raitt is an excellent guitar player, songwriter and astounding performer. Knowing each of these traits can change the perspective of this portrait. It straddles the line of posed and candid. She's vulnerable in her spontaneous joy, yet royal as a queen.

Season 28, 2002