Musicians, celebrities attend final taping of Austin City Limits on campus

Allistair Pinsof

It’s the end of an era for Austin City Limits. Music fans and country singer Lyle Lovett met for the final taping Monday at Studio 6A on campus, the home of the longest-running music show for the past 36 years.

As the lights dimmed and the cameras turned on, Lyle Lovett stepped onto the stage he once looked upon as an audience member in the mid-1980s. Lovett and his backing band, tightly packed from one end of the stage to the other, opened with Eric Taylor’s “Whooping Crane,” a somber song for a bittersweet evening. An audience of music lovers, celebrities (Jeremy Piven), local icons (Lance Armstrong) and Austin City Limits alumni, including founder Bill Arhos, looked on in silence.

“We’re really proud of what we’ve done all of these years, and the shows that have happened in this studio and the memories of people who have stepped on to that stage, but we’ve never been ones to dwell on the past,” said Terry Lickona, executive producer of Austin City Limits. He has worked for the program for 33 years.

Beginning in February, the music series will broadcast from downtown. The new venue, called the Moody Theater, will maintain a similar floor layout to replicate the intimacy found on the sixth floor of the Jesse H. Jones Communication Center on Monday night. It has been in the works for five years and will offer a mezzanine, upper balcony and retractable bleachers to fit 2,000 people, as well as the capability to broadcast performances in 3D, Lickona said.

For UT alumnus Scott Newton, this transition brings many new challenges. Newton has been taking photos for the program for 32 years. His images line the walls of Studio 6A and have recently been collected in his anthology,“Austin City Limits: 35 Years in Photographs.”

“It’s my room. I know it backward and forwards,” Newton said. “I don’t need a light meter. I just know from looking at it what the exposure setting is going to be. There will be some differences when we move, but I don’t know what those differences are yet.”

Lowell Fowler has been attending performances since the show’s first season. For Fowler, the venue holds many memorable nights of watching Coldplay, Pearl Jam and Lucinda Williams perform on the stage that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame labeled a landmark in 2009.

“You just can’t get more intimate, can you?” Fowler said. “The performers are right there and they are talking to you right there.”

Associate producer and UT alumna Leslie Nichols finds there are some things she won’t miss after her 10 years at Studio 6A.

“I won’t miss fall semester and the influx of new freshmen trying to figure out how to park and drive around campus, but I will miss the energy of being at one of the largest university campuses in the world,” Nichols said. “It will be a lot different downtown.”

Studio 6A was never built for live-music recording. It’s on the sixth floor, with bathrooms three floors below and limited access to elevators and fire exits. The fire marshal’s restrictions limited the seating from 300 to its original 600.

“When we walk into this building and studio, we pretty much know how things are going to go down and what to expect,” Lickona said. “But when you move everything lock, stock and barrel to a brand new $40 million facility, it’s a little scary. It’s a little intimidating. We’re not going to know until we do that first show and turn the camera on.”