Award shows are often an occasion to create unforgettable collaborations, and the ACL Hall of Fame induction is no exception. Each year this event reminds us why the Austin City Limits TV show, that has helped put so many careers on the map, has enjoyed unparalleled success for 42 years.
On Wednesday, October 12, ACL Live at the Moody Theater was a scene of thunderous applause and countless standing ovations as the third annual ceremony honored three repeat Austin City Limits performers: Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, and B.B. King. The sold-out show included performances by Willie Nelson, Rodney Crowell, Mavis Staples, the B.B. King Blues Band, Taj Mahal, Gary Clark Jr., Eve Monsees, Billy Gibbons, and Raitt and Kristofferson themselves.
After realizing they weren't in fact being inducted into the Hall of Fame but only co-hosting, husband and wife team Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally attempted to get their country on by spewing ridiculous down-home clichés and donning white cowboy hats. Their antics added well-received comedic touches to the three-hour show that packed a ton of musical prowess into a cohesive package.
The evening started off with a tribute to a man who has written some of the most iconic and most covered songs in American music history: Kris Kristofferson. Rodney Crowell, an accomplished writer and performer in his own right, had the honor of inducting his long-time friend into the elite class of artists welcomed into the ACL Hall of Fame. "There's nobody more deserving ... I love Kris. He's the stuff," Crowell said during an interview before the show.
Meeting Kristofferson for the first time at Johnny Cash's house is a pretty fond memory for Crowell. That was in the early 1980s when Crowell was still in the beginning stages of his career. He said he must have sung Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through the Night" more than 500 times in hotel lounges during his late teens. "When I started a career as a writer myself and I wrote 'Until I Gain Control Again,' I sort of quietly said, 'Well thank you, Kris Kristofferson.'"
Calling Kristofferson one of the biggest influences on his songwriting and one of the greatest poets of our time, Crowell explained what he has meant to the craft. "Kris was the first songwriter to really introduce male vulnerability ... and a real sensual dialogue. Basically, he introduced the subtlety of the bedroom to country music," he said. "He invented it, and with a poet's sensibility and a poet's flair."
Kristofferson seemed entirely humbled when accepting the honor from Crowell, telling the crowd, "This is as good as it can get!" Crowell sang "Chase the Feeling" and also performed his personal favorite, "Help Me Make It Through the Night," before welcoming Kristofferson to the stage to sing "Lovin' Her Was Easier" and "For the Good Times." And, of course no tribute to Kristofferson would be complete without "Me and Bobby McGee," sung by none other than his fellow poet and highwayman Willie Nelson.
The tributes to blues legends B.B. King and Bonnie Raitt had the packed house on its feet. Mavis Staples inducted "little sister" Raitt, calling her "the most beautiful spirit I know" and "the whole package" before singing "Well Well Well" with the fiery trailblazer. While accepting the honor, Raitt said, "I am a lucky woman. My heart is bursting!" She also acknowledged what Austin City Limits meant to her career, saying, "If it wasn't for ACL, I don't know if I'd have this kind of standing in the business."
Raitt showcased her unparalleled voice and guitar skills, singing with Taj Mahal and Willie Nelson. She wrapped the first half of the show with a fan favorite from her 1989 album Nick of Time, "The Thing Called Love."
Billy Gibbons' induction of B.B. King was followed by half a dozen King songs featuring the B.B. King Blues Band, Billy Gibbons, Gary Clark Jr., Eve Monsees, Bonnie Raitt, and Willie Nelson. Raitt and Clark collaborated for a second time on "The Thrill Is Gone," having performed it in tribute to King with Chris Stapleton at this year's Grammy Awards. By this time, there was such a strong electricity in the air it had Nelson's arm hair standing on end (literally) as he and Clark once again brought the house to its feet with "Night Life." The King of the Blues may not have been present Wednesday night, but his presence was certainly felt by all.
King's personal assistant and tour manager, who accepted the honor on his behalf, called him "the revered elder statesman of the blues" and talked about what joy his music and energy brought to music fans everywhere.
KLRU CEO and general manager Bill Stotesbery inducted Austin City Limits executive producer Dick Peterson (2000-2008) into the Hall of Fame for the integral role he played in setting the professional standards that helped the show succeed.
In what has become a thrilling tradition for the audience and the artists alike, all of the night's performers gathered onstage for a finale that included "Every Day I Have the Blues," "Auld Lang Syne," and "Eyes of Texas." Never have we seen so many people smiling while singing and listening to the blues.
The Hall of Fame induction will be broadcast as a special on KLRU on New Year's Eve.