Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello — they're among the legions of music legends who have graced the stage of the famed Austin City Limits television music show.
That storied history and the show's lengthy run of 35 years propelled the program to a new honor Monday as an official historic site designated by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
"It just seemed natural that we try to do something down here in Austin around the longest-running musical series in the history of television. What this program has done in trying to create this incredible archive of material of both iconic and emerging, cutting-edge artists is remarkable," said Terry Stewart, president and chief executive of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.
The Texas-based music show studio will join nine other designated rock and roll landmarks across the country. Among them are the Whisky a-Go-Go in Los Angeles where the Doors were regulars; Brooklyn High School in the Cleveland area, where Elvis Presley played his first concert north of the Mason-Dixon line; and WJW Radio also in Cleveland, where disc jockey Alan Freed is credited with popularizing the term "rock and roll."
Austin City Limits, which is broadcast nationally on PBS, has hosted more than 800 performances on its stage from assorted musical genres, said executive producer Terry Lickona. It was inspired by the Austin live music scene, but its musical performers artists have hailed from around the world. Lickona noted that the show will tape its first hip-hop program this season with Mos Def and K'naan.
The television show is embarking on its 35th season beginning Oct. 3 with the Dave Matthews Band.
"That studio ... has seen a lot of history over the last thirty-five years. It's more than just a television studio or a big black box," Lickona said.
The upcoming season will feature a joint performance by Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel. Nelson was on the original pilot episode for the show recorded in October 1974, and Asleep at the Wheel performed on the first official season show.
The program is recorded in a studio at the University of Texas that seats 300 people and is well known for its nighttime images of the university tower and Texas capitol in the background. There are plans to start broadcasting in 2011 from a new downtown studio that's under construction and will accommodate about 2,500 people.
Lickona said producers are trying to "capture the same unique vibe and atmosphere" of the campus studio.
A plaque marking the historic designation from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will be placed at both studios, Stewart said.
A ceremony for the historic designation is set for Oct. 1, the day before the annual Austin City Limits music festival starts. Music panel discussions are planned for that weekend featuring artists who have a history with the television show and veteran show staff members.