ACL Opens Its Vault Due To Covid-19

Monday, April 27th 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has weighed heavy on the mental health of so many, but music can help reduce stress and anxiety. While the country is sheltering at home, the team at Austin City Limits has opened the vault to classic episodes for folks to enjoy. Decibel’s Judy Maggio checks in with ACL executive producer Terry Lickona to talk about how ACL is weathering the Covid-19 storm.

Judy Maggio: Well, let's start with the big picture. I know that you're one of the producers of the Grammys, you know a lot of the well-known musicians. How is the music community in general handling all of this, and what are some unique ways they're dealing with it?

Terry Lickona: Long story short, Judy, everybody is in limbo. If not, a frozen state of uncertainty about what happens now, and when will things begin to ease up, and when will we be able to get back to what we always took for granted in terms of Austin being the live music capital of the world. Being able to go to your favorite club or to go see a show at the Erwin Center or at ACL Live, you know, and nobody truly knows the answer to that.

It's really tragic in many ways that Austin has lost that stage, literally, where people can go and see and experience live music. But on the other hand, of course, Austin being the way it is, it creates an opportunity and there have been so many really cool live streams with local artists. Some of them obviously well known, some totally unknown, but just taking advantage of the fact people are at home looking for things to see or do and wanting to stay in touch with the music.

JM: What have you guys done for Austin City Limits as far as getting your music out there during this time where you can't do any of the live tapings like we're accustomed to doing?

TL: Well, I think the best idea we had in terms of dealing with that was to literally open up our archives and offer dozens of Austin City Limits episodes, not just from our most recent season but from years past.

The live streams are great, that being said, not the same. The audio and video quality is not too great sometimes, sometimes pretty bad and you don't have that shared experience that you do when you go to see a show with an audience. And Austin City Limits goes without saying, has the ultimate when it comes to video, audio quality, The magic that happens on that stage and in that room every time we do a show. So for people to be able to go back and look at some of these episodes, I think it is another great outlet, escape, distraction from the day-to-day news and so forth.

JM: The loss of John Prine to coronavirus is a real big blow to the music industry. Could we have your reflections on his career and his talent? I know he was on the Austin City Limits stages as recently as 2018.

TL: In many ways, John Prine meant as much and represented as much about Austin City Limits as Willie, or Lyle and some of the other classic artists who've done the show. John Prine appeared on Austin City Limits eight times over the years. There aren't many other artists who can claim that and deservedly so as well. We were lucky to have him in our very early years, I think it was season three he made his first appearance a very young John Prine. And then as recently as just a year and a half ago towards the end of 2018 when he did the show for what turned out to be the last time. But one thing about John Prine that never changed he's such a brilliant songwriter and he's just such a sweet, loving person, self-effacing, modest and funny as all get out.

JM: Austin PBS is moving to brand new digs at Austin Community College and one thing we're leaving behind is the original Studio 6A. Could talk about the importance of that listening room and what its meant to the history of our community?

TL: Studio 6A at KLRU on UT campus, it just has an aura, a magic about it that's impossible to define. You can almost close your eyes and hear the music coming from the walls, the echoes of at least all of the people who stood on that stage down through the years, decades worth of music. Rock and roll and all of its sub genres was performed and captured as a document, as an archive of American music and beyond. It's a very meaningful place, it's really sad to be moving out of that studio, but you know, to KLRU's credit, they preserved Studio 6A, so if you walk in the door today it looks almost exactly like it did the last time we did a show there. The stage is still there, the bleachers, the skyline backdrop. But knowing now that this time it's for real, that when KLRU moves to its beautiful new home Studio 6A will be no more. It'll just be an empty TV studio.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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