The 3rd annual Austin City Limits Hall of Fame show took place in the Texas capitol at the resplendent Moody Theatre. This year’s inductees were Bonnie Raitt, Kris Kristofferson and the late B.B. King.
Featuring an Austin-rooted array of guest musicians honoring the inductees, the beautiful theatre is the home for the PBS music series of the same name. Performing songs in tribute were such Texas-based artists as Willie Nelson, Rodney Crowell, Gary Clark, Jr. and Z.Z. Top front man Billy Gibbons. Rarely does one get to attend a concert featuring Willie Nelson performing at a venue that literally sits on Willie Nelson Boulevard.
First up for induction duties was the talented Crowell doing the honors for Kristofferson, known for authoring such musical gems as “Me & Bobby McGee” and “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” among many others. Crowell noted that a chief element of Kristofferson’s songwriting skills was his vulnerability, so rare for male songwriters in 1960s Nashville.
Kristofferson performed two songs, including “For The Good Times,” and then his Highwaymen buddy Nelson took over the stage for a lively version of “Me & Bobby McGee,” a huge hit for Janis Joplin and covered by endless artists, including the Grateful Dead.
Bonnie Raitt was the next honoree and the red-headed siren was inducted by no less a musical legend than Mavis Staples. The two close friends then sat down for their brief set, which started with a bluesy, soulful version of Bob Dylan’s “Well, Well, Well.” Taj Mahal then joined in for “Gnawin’ On It.” Nelson returned for a version of the late Stephen Bruton’s “Getting Over You.” Bruton, a longtime friend of Raitt’s, was a leading member of the Austin music scene for years. Capping the set was a thunderous version of one of Bonnie Raitt’s biggest hits, John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love,” sung with plenty of zeal and soul by Staples and Raitt.
The final set and induction belonged to the king of the blues, Riley B. King. Since his passing in 2015, B.B. King’s legacy of showmanship, passion and grit has only grown. His longtime backing band took over the stage and they beautifully laid down a monster groove on every song in tribute to their late leader. Clark and Gibbons led the way for most of the set, tossing off guitar chops with ease, and Raitt joined Clark for a beefy version of perhaps King’s best-known song, “The Thrill Is Gone.” But leave it to Willie to lead everyone home. Nelson returned for a joyful reading of his own song, “Night Life,” another big hit in King’s decades-long career.
The grand finale, “Every Day I Have The Blues,” wasn’t actually the final song, since this show will be debuting on PBS on New Years Eve 2016-17. So, while the many guitarists jamming on “Every Day I Have The Blues” was an absolute highlight, all the performers remained and led the crowd in a slightly-awkward version of “Auld Lang Syne.” Hearing performers throughout the night shout “Happy New Year!” seemed strange at first, and then it all made sense. Fortunately, when this show does air on TV, it will make all kinds of musical sense.