Austin Country Showcase – KRLU Studios Austin City Limits Taping (Austin, TX)
It was only appropriate. On the same the Country Music Association was holding its awards show in Nashville and on network TV, extravagantly celebrating the blandness of mainstream country, the folks at Austin City Limits saw fit to honor their city’s booming country music scene.
This taping (which will air sometime in early ’97) was an unusual event for the nationally broadcast public TV show, which itself veered a bit too far toward play-it-safe mainstream options during its most recent season. Of the six Austin artists on this night’s lineup — Libbi Bosworth, Mary Cutrufello, the Derailers, Wayne Hancock, Don Walser & the Pure Texas Band, and Dale Watson — not one is on a major label. The exposure they’ll receive in front of 3-4 million viewers could significantly bolster their sales — but all economic considerations aside, this was a night that proudly portrayed the musical variety and quality Austin has to offer.
Each group was limited to twenty minutes, and the set changes were mercifully brief, making the show less of an endurance test and more of the hoedown it was intended to be. Mary Cutrufello led off the proceedings; while she was the least “country” of all the acts on the bill, her gritty guitar playing and roots-rock grooves left the crowd buzzing.
Next up was the Derailers, whose mix of Texas honky-tonk and the Bakersfield sound packs quite a wallop. The impression they’ve already made on the Austin scene is extraordinary, given that they’ve only been here a couple years. Although their set was too brief to set off the fireworks they’re known for, the pop hooks of songs such as “Jackpot” and “My Heart’s Ready” and the edgy harmonies of Tony Villanueva and Brian Hofeldt radiated.
Don Walser followed and turned the evening into a lovefest. With pure vocals, his trademark cowboy yodel, a distinguished yet easygoing stage presence and the swingin’est band in Texas, Walser earned the only standing ovation of the show. Backed by the flame-throwing pedal-steel play of Scott Walls and the always-tasty piano of Floyd Domino, Walser ripped it up with “The John Deere Tractor Song” and “The Party Don’t Start (Till The Playboys Get Here)”. Of all of the performers on the show, Walser surely deserves a reprise with his own segment on Austin City Limits.
Following Walser was no easy task, but Wayne “The Train” Hancock didn’t seem fazed. His act is retro to the core; his nasal whine and the fact that he performs without drums cause many to remark on the resemblance to Hank Williams. But Hancock’s songs are straight from the ’90s and on this night, his take on the moody “Thunderstorms and Neon Signs” was chilling.
The surprise of night was the glowing set delivered by Libbi Bosworth. Perhaps the least-known of all the acts on the bill, she won over the crowd with her crystal clear vocals and classic Nashville-style songs. One of the highlights of the night was at the end of her set, when she brought out Dale Watson for a sparkling duet on “After The Fire Is Gone”, a song Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn took to Number One in 1971. Watson then finished off the night with a swagger. His voice recalls Merle Haggard and his songs are pure country, but his tattoos and cocky attitude prove he’ll never be ready for Nashville (and vice versa).