Interview: Austin City Limits Producer Terry Lickona

By: Arlene R. Weiss

Saturday, September 28, 2002 and Sunday, September 29, 2002 marked a historic milestone event and a dream come true for PBS’s televised live music showcase, “Austin City Limits,” with the inception and staging of the inaugural Austin City Limits Music Festival. The first ACL Music Festival was a major success and watershed music event. Since the Festival’s first kickoff year in 2002, it has progressed from its beginnings into a landmark annual event. It is recognized and acclaimed by music artists, music fans, and music industry mavens as one of the most anticipated, significant, and influential yearly music festivals.

At the time of that first ACL Music Festival, I was deeply honored to once again interview venerable and esteemed “Austin City Limits” producer Terry Lickona, discussing the first ACL Music Festival. Lickona explained that with so many stages at the event, the “trickiest part” of the festival for the contracted sound and technical crews, who also provided all of the set up, breakdown, and lighting for the multitude of guitarists, their guitar techs, and the various music artists at the event was “setting and directing the sound from each stage so it wouldn’t interfere with the sound coming from neighboring stages. The experts paid special attention to this problem to assure that the sound from each stage would be as isolated as much as possible.” Thereby for example, the incendiary axe work of Eric Johnson and Alien Love Child on The Heritage Stage didn’t filter over into acoustic songstress Emmylou Harris on the Chevrolet Texas Stage.

Throngs estimated at 75,000 in attendance were calculated for the entire weekend, far exceeding original projections of 30,000 to 40,000 proving indeed that “If you build it they will come!” Included were audience members from around the globe, and an international barrage of music industry big wigs, press, and media. Rumors of celebrity drop-bys included Academy Award winning actor, (and one heck of a guitar picker, who had just done some recording at friend Willie Nelson’s Austin recording studio), Robert Duvall, as well as his entourage, who were filming a new movie in Austin at the time.

That very first “Austin City Limits” Music Festival was a resounding success, so much so that it has blossomed into what has now become a greatly anticipated international music and arts event. The 2012 ACL Music Festival is already in the planning stages, with the original two-day event growing into what is now a three day festival. This year’s fest will be held this October 12 through October 14, 2012 in Zilker Park in Austin.

The festival also has evolved from its original inception booking more locally flavored, Austin grounded, roots oriented music and singer songwriters, into one of the largest and most prestigious international music festivals attracting some of the biggest names in music. 2011’s artist lineup boasted a vast array of glittering A-List music stars, including Coldplay, Kanye West, Arcade Fire, Cee Lo, My Morning Jacket, Alison Krauss & Union Station, The Walkmen, Manu Chao, Bright Eyes, and the legendary Stevie Wonder.

Here’s a fond look back with Terry Lickona discussing the inception of the “Austin City Limits” Music Festival.

This is part I of a two-part interview. Read part II here!

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Arlene R. Weiss: Hi Terry, how are you! What was the impetus for you, KLRU and “Austin City Limits” putting together this very first ”Austin City Limits” Festival?

Terry Lickona: We have talked for years about staging a festival under the “Austin City Limits” name as a fundraiser as well as a way to fill a void since the city had no annual event like this and it seemed like it would be such an obvious success in a city that bills itself as “The Live Music Capital Of The World.”

Arlene: How were you able to finally put things together now, this year?

Terry Lickona: It finally happened because we were able to form a partnership with Capital Sports And Entertainment Group, based here in Austin, and which started out as the management firm for Tour de France champ and Austinite, Lance Armstrong. They were expanding into music entertainment and wanted to produce a major festival and were in the position to assume the financial risk, which we as a non-profit public television station, were not. In effect, it was a three year licensing deal between them and KLRU-TV, the owners of all rights pertaining to “Austin City Limits.” The idea of doing an outdoor “Austin City Limits” concert has been kicked around for several years, and we’ve even discussed it with other concert promoters. But Capital Sports And Entertainment were the first serious business partners to come to the table prepared to take on the challenges as well as the financial risk.

Read parts I, II, and III of our first interview with Terry Lickona herehere, and here!

Arlene: How much involvement does “Austin City Limits” have in the event, and what type of involvement, be it stage direction, set lists, production, liaison to the guitarists and artists in their performances, recording and videotaping to take place, and especially, booking the many musically diverse and talented artists?

Terry Lickona: The talent was all booked by Charles Attal, the owner and talent booker of Stubb’s BBQ, a famous restaurant and music venue here in Austin. He was contracted by C.S.E. and his goal was to book a broad eclectic mix of talent reflective of the type of authentic roots music that “Austin City Limits” has showcased for the past 28 years. There were some serious financial constraints because we were trying to book 70 acts with a limited budget, so everybody agreed to take a cut in their usual fees.

I have been, in effect, a consultant working with Charles Attal, the talent booker, and Charlie Jones, the Director of the whole event, but they booked all the talent. (Editor’s Note: Charlie Jones was CEO of Capital Sports And Entertainment at the time of this interview, September 2002. Jones co-founded concert promoter, C3 Presents in 2007 with Charles Attal and Charlie Walker which now annually produces the ACL Festival, Lollapalooza, and many more music events.) It’s up to the artists to decide what their set lists will be, or if they have any! My staff and the ACL crew are not at all involved in the production of this event. C.S.E. will be providing all the production and technical crews.

Arlene: How were you able to convince Charlie Sexton, Doyle Bramhall II, and Double Trouble’s Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton, to reunite as The Arc Angels, and why did you decide to book them as the headlining closing act for the entire event on Sunday?

Terry Lickona: This idea came from Charles Attal, who called Charlie Sexton about it. Charlie thought it was a great idea and he talked to all of the other guys. As fate would have it, their individual schedules were open on that date and they all thought it would be a cool thing to do, especially since it’s the finale to the entire weekend.

Arlene: Why did you decide to set up a total of six stages, quite a large number and undertaking for such an event and concert, for all of the performing guitarists and artists?

Terry Lickona: Six stages are fairly typical for an event of this size, spread out over 15 acres. There are two main stages, so the others are smaller and will feature smaller bands and more acoustic music. We’re trying to create the same ambiance of other outdoor festivals such as the internationally famous New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival, where they have multiple stages as well. This way, music fans can wander from stage to stage to check out different types of music and either get a sample of everything or stay for an entire set if it’s one of their favorites.

Arlene: How are Capital Sports and Entertainment and the guitarists’ technical crews going to coordinate such a vast number and array of stages and artists, performing continuously, in terms of set up, breakdown, engineering, sound, lighting, basically all technical aspects of their gear?

Terry Lickona: Capital Sports And Entertainment have contracted sound, lighting, and technical professionals who are experienced in staging these outdoor concerts and festivals. The set up, breakdown, etc., are all pretty standard. The trickiest part will be setting and directing the sound from each stage so it doesn’t interfere with the sound coming from neighboring stages. In other words, you wouldn’t want the jam band sounds of String Cheese Incident drowning out the soft acoustic music of Nickel Creek. The experts are paying special attention to this problem and assure us that the sound will be isolated as much as possible.

Arlene: What are your plans so far for the ACL camera and production crew, videotaping and recording all of the guitarists and artists for the ACL archives, and how is ACL going to coordinate its technical, camera and recording crews with the many performing guitarists and artists to record and videotape them?

Terry Lickona: We have no plans to record any of the performances from this festival. It would be an enormous undertaking and would probably cost more than the proceeds from the entire festival, or possibly as much as it costs to produce an entire season’s worth of shows back in the studio. If this first festival is a huge success, hopefully by next year, we might be able to find additional sponsorship money to enable us to record at least some of the performances. We will have a couple of documentary crews working on site to capture the “color” of the festival, with a few snippets of various performances, but it is mostly for archival purposes with no specific plans in mind for producing a program out of this material.

Arlene: What’s your reaction to the wonderful public response to this event prior to its even taking place, with people from all over the globe expressing interest?

Terry Lickona: First of all, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that there has been an overwhelming response to the festival. “Austin City Limits” has such a strong following, not just locally, but all over the country and even the world, and its reputation lends credibility to this event and assures people that the production standards will be first class and the performances will be what folks have come to expect from the show. Secondly, there has been a void for many years for this type of festival in Austin, where true music fans can gather in a comfortable environment that is laid back, Austin style, and family friendly.

Arlene: Tell me about the international interest and hype that has made the festival so attractive, attracting international press and media including “Access Hollywood” and Esquire Magazine ,who will be covering the Festival, as well as Hollywood elite including Robert Duvall?

Terry Lickona: C.S.E. has hired a New York based PR firm to generate as much media interest in this event as possible, but the very fact that it carries the “Austin City Limits” name has made it fairly easy to attract widespread media coverage. Robert Duvall is a long time Austin fan, he’s a friend of Willie Nelson, and in fact, he recorded out at Willie’s recording studio here in town. He’s in town filming a new movie, (Editor’s Note: The film Robert Duvall was filming at the time in Austin in 2002, was Secondhand Lions, released in 2003), and apparently, he heard about the festival and decided to bring a group along. We had nothing to do with reaching out or trying to coax him into attending.

Arlene: Terry, thank you very much for doing this first interview prior to the festival. All my best to you, and wishing you, everyone at CSE, KLRU, “Austin City Limits,” and all of the artists the very best and good luck on this very first ACL Festival!

Copyright January 9, 2012 By Arlene R. Weiss-All Rights Reserved
Copyright October 4, 2002 By Arlene R. Weiss-All Rights Reserved

One Comment

  1. Interview: Austin City Limits Producer Terry Lickona Part II | John Pape Online Blog (7 years ago)

    […] Here’s a fond look back with Terry Lickona, producer of “Austin City Limits,” in an interview right after the first ACL Festival came to a close, and read our pre-ACL Festival interview with Terry here. […]