45 Years Ago: ‘Austin City Limits’ Premieres on PBS
Forty-five years ago today, on Jan. 2, 1975, Austin City Limits premiered on PBS. The show's inaugural episode, which aired as part of a PBS pledge drive, featured Willie Nelson as its very first guest.
ACL's original first episode actually taped on Oct. 13, 1974, and included an appearance by BW Stevenson. But when that recording was found unusable, Nelson became the first guest on the now-iconic show, singing "Good Hearted Woman," "Whiskey River," "Okie From Muskogee," and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."
Austin City Limits was so popular that it was quickly made into a regular series. Although the show was designed to focus on Texas music, including Texas swing and Tejano music, it soon became known as a place for talent of all genres to perform. The Foo Fighters, Alabama Shakes, Björk, Bruce Hornsby, Suzanne Vega and Nine Inch Nails are among the many, many artists who have graced the ACL stage.
In 2014, Austin City Limits aired a star-studded prime-time special in honor of its 40th anniversary, hosted by Jeff Bridges, Sheryl Crow and Matthew McConaughey. Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, and Kris Kristofferson were among the performers during the two-hour show.
“This is a huge milestone for us,” ACL executive producer Terry Lickona said at the time. “This show captures the essence of what Austin City Limits is all about. We set the bar high for this celebration, and we exceeded it! The lineup of talent speaks volumes about the respect that artists have for ACL."
Austin City Limits is the longest-running music program in television history to date.
Also in 2014, Austin City Limits launched the ACL Hall of Fame. Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Asleep at the Wheel, Loretta Lynn, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt are among the inductees so far. In 2019, Robert Earl Keen hosted the ceremony for the ACL Hall of Fame induction of Shawn Colvin, Lyle Lovett and Buddy Guy.
More information on Austin City Limits, including a TV schedule, can be found on the program's website.
This story was originally written by Gayle Thompson, and revised by Annie Zaleski.