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Austin City Limits

Classic: Townes Van Zandt Tribute (#2604)

"Classic: A Townes Van Zandt Tribute" unites Van Zandt's friends and family for an hour-long tribute that includes performances of more than a dozen of his timeless songs. While never giving him the popular recognition that came to his peers, Van Zandt's songwriting -visceral, candid and poignant - earned him the respect of many well-known artists. The hour-long special also includes vintage footage of Van Zandt's Austin City Limits' performance recorded for the series' first season on PBS in 1976. Austin City Limits producer Terry Lickona recalled the charged atmosphere of the occasion: " Without a doubt, one of the most emotional hours in Austin City Limits history - nothing compares to the gathering of such exceptional talent, the outpouring of love, the collection of powerful songs and the magic that resulted. Townes Van Zandt in so many ways was the epitome of Texas songwriting - and in many ways the very roots of Austin City Limits itself." Recorded in December 1997, performances include Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris' duet of " Pancho and Lefty" and Nanci Griffith's rendition of "Tecumseh Valley," a song she first heard Van Zandt sing in an Austin bar more than 25 years ago. Steve Earle delivers a moving performance of "Fort Worth Blues," while Lyle Lovett sings the despairing "Lungs." Guests Peter Rowan, famed Nashville producer Jack Clement, and Van Zandt's oldest son, John Townes, also perform. The finale is a rollicking performance of "White Freight Liner," one of Van Zandt's most widely covered tunes. Born John Townes Van Zandt more than 50 years ago to a pedigreed Texas family in Ft. Worth, Van Zandt received his first guitar at age nine. By his father's wishes, he learned to play " Fraulein," a song he would sing for the rest of his life. Yet his own songwriting became his hallmark, though the voices of others carried his work to a wider audience. In the 1970s Emmylou Harris and Hoyt Axton recorded "Pancho and Lefty," a song also recorded by Bob Dylan and made famous by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. Harris' and Don Williams' recording of Van Zandt's gentle love song, "If I Needed You, " topped the country charts in 1981. Despite sporadic recordings, erratic performances, and a ruinous lifestyle, Van Zandt and his songs earned his place in the American music pantheon and gave him the love and admiration of fans worldwide. Beginning with First Album in 1967, Van Zandt released more than a dozen albums in his 30-year career. Though his albums were released on small, poorly distributed labels, he earned his fans on the road, singing in folk clubs and juke joints across the Southwest and Europe. His final album, The Highway Kind, was released in 1997 on Sugar Hill Records. His death on New Year's Day in 1997 did not surprise his friends or his family, who were aware of his continual abuse of alcohol and drugs. Writing about a tribute at New York's Bottom Line shortly after Van Zandt's death, New York Times critic Neil Strauss noted his songs reveal an obsession with time, irreversible eternity, and the agony of wasted moments. By all accounts Van Zandt lived the heavy blues and lonesome balladry heard in his music. [57 minutes] Closed Captioning

This episode has not aired in the past few months on Iowa Public Television.

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Series Description: AUSTIN CITY LIMITS continues its longstanding tradition of showcasing the best of original American music and beyond. Musical styles range from contemporary and traditional pop to rock, country, blues, bluegrass, Latin, folk, roots and more. All find a home on the AUSTIN CITY LIMITS stage.

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