Austin City Limits delivers music for country lovers


Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Many Texas twenty-somethings grew up on fiddle and banjo, and the Austin City Limits Music Festival has plenty to satisfy their love of twang.

Country-flavored acts Asleep At The Wheel, Randy Rogers Band and Trampled By Turtles help the mostly rock and pop festival harken back to its Texas music roots, Jason Mellard, a history lecturer at Texas State University, said.

“The festival is based on Austin’s close connection with country music,” Mellard, who specializes in Texas and country music history, said. “That’s how Austin first got on the map of music — with progressive country in the ‘70s.”

ACL owes its prestige to the television program of the same name that began in 1976 with acts like Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker to showcase the Texas take on blues and country. The show featured Asleep At The Wheel on its second episode, and the western swing band has been an opening act at the festival every year.

“It’s a great time to see a band. People are raring to hear music because they haven’t heard anything yet,” Ray Benson, the Philadelphia native who started Asleep At The Wheel in 1969, said.

“There are people who come every year because to them it’s a tradition.”

Benson said ACL always features country artists, but not mainstream acts like Taylor Swift. Instead, the festival showcases bands that bring something creative to country, western and bluegrass music. Asleep At The Wheel blends country, blues, Americana and more.

“ACL always has country acts that are not down the middle Nashville acts,” Benson said. “Country music has so many facets.”

Just ask Ryan Young, the fiddle player in Minnesota-based bluegrass band Trampled By Turtles. The band doesn’t identify with the country genre but counts Hank Williams as an influence. Members’ tastes range from fellow Minnesotan Bob Dylan to eclectic punk rock and world music.

“Maybe something I heard in a group from Ghana will relate to something we’re playing and I’ll steal from it a little bit. Timmy [Saxhaug], our bass player, might bring in some sort of Motown flavor,” Young said.

He looks forward to being back in Austin and said Trampled By Turtles gained a following in Austin more quickly than most cities. The band appeals to an audience that might not normally gravitate to country and bluegrass, he said.

“We get a lot of people that come up to us after a show and say ‘I don’t really like the kind of music you play or the genre you are in, but I love your band.’ And then they’ll buy all the CDs,” Young said.

Previous ACL country acts include Lyle Lovett, Alison Krauss and Texas superstar Pat Green. The country and bluegrass acts at ACL tend to have elements of Americana, said Mellard, which helps them appeal to a wider audience.

“There are people who are drawn for the indie elements that are at the core of ACL, and they probably won’t know Randy Rogers,” Mellard said, but any large crowd in Texas will have its country music fans.

Those fans will likely be front and center when Texas country power house Randy Rogers Band takes the stage Sunday. On a phone call from New York City, Rogers said the band members love to play stages in their home state.

They’ve matured musically and exploded on the country scene since they last played ACL in 2006. The festival provides a great chance to see other musicians in action and play for a different type of audience, Rogers said. The band is a “left of center country artist,” he said.

“I like the fact that our fiddle player Brady [Black] will be jammin’ his ass off at a predominately rap, pop and rock festival,” Rogers said. “I’m thankful to ACL for inviting us and realizing there is a large fan base that does like their country music.”

The happiest ACL goers enjoy a wide range of genres. Like a lot of folks, Rogers can’t wait to catch the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the main stage Sunday night right after his band’s set.

Printed on Friday, October 12, 2012 as: Country music remains strong