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Arts & Culture

'A Song For You' Celebrates 40 Years Of ACL

Courtesy Photo
Beck, onstage at Austin City Limits

For four decades now, diehard music fans have enjoyed Austin City Limits, a live performance program that has outlasted similar shows from the 1970s like The Midnight Special and The Old Grey Whistle Test. Keith Maitland, whose new documentary about the show, A Song For You, premiered at this year’s South By Southwest Festival, says viewers can thank in part PBS (and viewers like you!).

“I don’t think there’s any chance that Austin City Limits would have survived in the commercial television environment of the ‘80s or '90s. The needs of commercial television with commercial breaks, and ratings and sponsors… that works against the entire approach of the show,” Maitland explained in an interview this week.

“The show lets people perform either a half-hour or an hour long set. It lets the artist choose what songs get broadcast. And it sets a very high bar for authenticity and artist appreciation that you just can’t find anywhere else,” Maitland continued.

For A Song For You, Maitland was given access to decades of tape, close to 800 performers. The finished documentary includes Willie Nelson (natch), Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ray Charles, Alabama Shakes, and more. The film also tells the story of how the television show eventually spawned a music festival that attracts nearly a half-million people each fall. “But there would be no music festival without the show,” Maitland is quick to add, “…and it’s questionable whether the ACL Festival would have achieved the success it did without that stamp of approval from a proven name in authentic music appreciation. It’s an American music institution.”

"A Song For Your" screens on Saturday, March 19 at 4:15 p.m. at the Topfer Theatre at ZACH in Austin.