Posts Tagged With: Austin City Limits

“Austin City Limits” — from within Austin’s city limits

ACLI’m bummed to be missing Saturday night’s Yesterday’s News/Strangers Almanac show back home at Raleigh’s Berkeley Cafe. But I’ll be in a fun place, Austin for the Texas Book Festival, and at least there will be something decent to watch on TV that same night — “Comin’ Right at Ya” subject/star/co-writer Ray Benson playing on “Austin City Limits” with Asleep at the Wheel, alongside Sturgill Simpson plus guests including the Avett Brothers (with whom the Wheel will play on New Year’s Eve), Amos Lee and various Texas Playboys.

That’s cool, even if the timing of it is pretty ironic for yours truly: The book festival brings me to Ray’s hometown on the same weekend he’s on a television program I would have been able to watch from anywhere in the country. The Wheel and “ACL” go all the way back to the show’s very beginnings, episode no. 1 in 1976 (after Willie Nelson played the pilot), and the group has been on it enough times since over the years to be inducted into the “Austin City Limits” Hall of Fame this past June.

Anyway, check here to find exactly when and where in your area it will air. Here in Austin, looks like it’s on at 7 p.m. local time on public station KLRU-TV. And in the Raleigh/Durham vicinity, it comes on at midnight Saturday on UNC-TV.

AATWACL

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Happy Memorial Day, from Whiskeytown

Ryan Adams grew up in a military-base town, so maybe that had something to do with why he wrote one of the best Memorial Day songs there is. So dig “Houses on the Hill,” as performed by Whiskeytown in 1998 on “Austin City Limits” — and on this day, remember the people you should…

Eisenhower sent him to war
He kept her picture in his pocket that was closest to his heart
And when he hit shore
Must have been a target for the gunman…

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Old friends: Ryan Adams and Peter Blackstock

RyanPeter

Peter Blackstock, left, and Ryan Adams circa 1997.

So Ryan Adams played an “Austin City Limits” taping Wednesday night down in Texas. Alas, I was not there. But UT Press American Music Series co-editor Peter Blackstock was, reviewing the show for the Austin American-Statesman, and his presence did not go unnoticed from the stage. Ryan spotted Peter in the crowd during his opening solo acoustic set and gave him a shout-out as founder of No Depression magazine while noting that he’s “looking more and more like Jerry Garcia every day.”

Later, Ryan happened to be looking Peter’s way when he yawned, and he called him out on it: “Peter Blackstock, you come to my show and fucking yawn? What the fuck is that?” That led to Ryan inviting him to go jogging the next day (Peter replied via Twitter that he was game; but no word yet on whether or not that happened). And Peter’s name also came up while Ryan was telling stories about NASA and the band Kiss, with Ryan asking if Peter was getting everything down in his notes. At the end of the three-hour show, Ryan singled out Peter to thank him for coming.

As you can see from the picture above, Peter and Ryan go way back, to the mid-1990s Whiskeytown days, when Peter was putting Ryan on his magazine’s cover. It hasn’t always been friendly, especially when Peter unfavorably reviewed Ryan’s 2001 album Gold by likening it to “Pyrite” (inspiring one of Ryan’s more infamous online blowups, as recounted on page 151 of “Losering”). That came up Wednesday night after Ryan played a version of that album’s “When the Stars Go Blue” so beautiful, it reduced at least one person in the audience to tears. Ryan gave the audience member in question, an Austin musician named Nakia, a hug before declaring that Peter “fuckin’ hates that song” and dubbing him “the Austin Music hall monitor.”

A lesser person (me, say) probably would have recounted at least some of this in the show review. But Peter stuck with the music, and you can read his review here. I’ll be curious to see if any of the banter winds up in whatever “ACL” airs, which should show up sometime in 2015. Meanwhile, based on the Twitter exchange below, Ryan and Peter seemed to end the evening on friendly terms.


PeterRyanACL


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Memories of South By Southwests past: Whiskeytown and Jenni Sperandeo

supabroadThis week will take me to Austin, Texas, for South By Southwest, the big annual music-industry hootenanny I’ve been attending for 26 years (check here for dispatches I’ll be filing for the paper). It’s a time and place that inevitably brings back memories of Whiskeytown because Austin during SXSW served as the setting for some key events in the “Losering” story, including the band’s big coming-out show in 1996 (see Chapter six); Ryan Adams making the deal for Bloodshot Records to put out his first solo record in 2000 (an event that happened in a bathroom — see Chapter 12); and the 2001 dust-up that inspired Ryan’s Gold song “Harder Now That It’s Over” (see Chapter 14).

But my most vivid personal SXSW memory of Whiskeytown is one of those small moments you remember without trying, or even really even knowing why you do. I was walking down Eigth Street in Austin’s downtown club district in 1998, when someone in a parked car waved me over. That turned out to be Jenni Sperandeo, who was then Whiskeytown’s co-manager.

“Get in,” she said. “I’ve got something you need to hear.”

So I did and she fired up a cassette tape of something Whiskeytown had recorded over Christmas; a scathing rocker that was the least twangy thing I’d ever heard them do. But it was great and I was pretty blown away. A desire to seize the tape and flee briefly flitted through my mind, an impulse I restrained. Later, however, I found myself wishing I’d made off with it. That was the first time I ever heard “Rays of Burning Light” from Whiskeytown’s Forever Valentine, one of Ryan’s greatest “lost” albums. Fifteen years later, it remains unreleased, so thank God for bootlegs.

Jenni and I talked for a bit that night before I resumed my club crawling, and in my memory the conversation was pretty upbeat. There still seemed ample cause for optimism about Whiskeytown at that point, even though Strangers Almanac hadn’t been a hit and the band was well into its revolving-door-lineup period. But they had just played a triumphant “Austin City Limits” taping that spring, and Ryan was still writing great songs. It seemed like only a matter of time before they would break through.

Alas, what none of us knew in March of 1998 was how much closer Whiskeytown was to breaking up than breaking through. Two months later, it was announced that Universal was buying PolyGram, a merger that would eventually liquidate Whiskeytown’s label and put the band into limbo; and Jenni would be out as Whiskeytown’s manager by that fall, dismissed in the wake of a semi-disastrous tour opening for John Fogerty (see Chapter 11).

All these years later, Jenni still works in the music industry. She became president of Dangerbird Records in 2012 — a label whose roster includes Fitz and the Tantrums, Butch Walker, Silversun Pickups and other notables. Her memories of Ryan and Whiskeytown are, shall we say, complicated. Not without fondness, but also rather jaundiced. When I got Jenni on the phone in 2011 to interview her about her time managing Whiskeytown, she had plenty to say, going back to Ryan begging her and Chris Roldan to manage his band almost as soon as they met.

At first I was, “You people are nuts. You’re great but you’re a kid and also crazy”…It was difficult to know who [Ryan] was at that time. He was self-mythologizing from the very beginning. Even as I was talking with him, I’d be thinking, “Well, there’s a very thick layer of bullshit on all of this except for the fact that you’re very talented.” He’d say all this shit about himself and his family and where he’d come from, a great deal of drama, but it was hard to tell if any of it was true…Me being a girl, I think he felt like he could stare soulfully into my eyes and get his way. He probably did, owing to my youngness and the stupidity of it all. Maybe a little less with Chris, but he was not as tied up with them as I was.

For all that, Jenni really believed in the band and the music. That was enough to make her willing to put up with it all.

It was challenging in some ways, but they were such a great band. What gets lost in translation about Ryan and how he ended up where he was was how great Whiskeytown was. I don’t know that he’s ever had that good a band around him, and that was the last time he had to take input from other people. I think Phil [Wandscher] gets lost a lot, he’s why they didn’t sound like just another rock-leaning alt-country band from that time. It’s not like Caitlin was a strong personality with him in that way. He encouraged her to be serious about it, and I don’t think she really was at that time. Phil provided the creative push for him there. Even now, I go see Jesse [Sykes] and Phil play and he’s amazing – and left-handed! Dude is a stunningly good guitar player, which Ryan was not. If you listen to those records, it’s that Phil piece on top of Ryan’s voice and the redeeming vocal part from Caitlin that makes it all work.

Maybe Jenni will have something else for me to listen to if I bump into her in Austin this week.

ADDENDUM: Jenni posted this link to her Facebook page with the following note, which engendered a quite-lively discussion:

I still don’t know whether to be embarrassed or proud of this, but it does sure remind me of that tingly feeling you have when you know you are right.

SECOND ADDENDUM (3/18/13): For those who care, I did SXSW 2013 recaps here and here. I’m just glad I didn’t have to contend with this guy.

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