BTS: ACL Live and 3TEN

Sometimes, we get invited to little functions here in the business end of the music industry in Austin, TX. We are quite fortunate to have one of the great venues in the world in our backyard, a venue that takes its name from one of the great music television program in the world. ACL Live is coming up on seven years as the home of Austin City Limits show tapings and has not rested on their reputation. Small tweaks have been made throughout the years, but the first major overhaul of the show experience was just completed. The lighting system has been fully revamped, all LED with more and better housings with variable colors, new pattern and motion capabilities and less power consumption and downtime for maintenance.

This seems as good a time as any to take a little tour ACL Live and little brother venue, 3TEN, and learn what’s up in the bat cave.

I have been to ACL Live for show many shows and tapings. Historic stuff, Radiohead, Nick Cave, Tony Bennett. Dancing, moshing and photographing. This was the first time I got to see the back-office.

Full-timer at the venue and fellow music photographer, Jac Malloy, escorted us through the facility. We started where every show begins, stage right, through the corridor the bands emerge from backstage. There is a common area with posters from tapings through the years. Despite its young age, the venue exudes the weight of history, photos of performances long ago by the television show’s photographer, Scott Newton, are prominently interlaced with other pieces of ACL history. A little further back through a hallway is another gathering room, one featuring a giant wooden Waylon logo and the biggest joint in Willie’s arsenal. It is functional and it has hot-boxed the backstage (the last bit is pure fabrication on my part, or is it?). The dressing room has been recently redone, still smelling of new paint. The fun story here is the Aretha button. Anyone that went to Aretha Franklin’s show may have noticed it was a bit warm. She doesn’t appreciate having cold air blown on her, so they shut the AC down for a bit pre-show. To solve that problem, there is now a switch installed to allow an artist to control the AC in the dressing room independently. Among all of the artist spaces, there are private entertaining rooms for those that are so inclined,deals get done. There is a “smoking” lounge, Willie’s Porch, which overlooks Guadalupe, so those of wanting to catch a glimpse of the headliner’s park yourself across the street.

Enough of posh artist stuff, let’s talk about the guts. You may not realize that ACL Live has two different stages. The standard stage is designed for the standard audience, but you may have noticed a slight difference for tapings. The TV show’s stage is a bit lower deeper and narrower as the cameras eye prefers. If you have been to a taping, you also may have noticed the extra seating and camera jibs, all of which is stored in the venue. The freight elevator is large enough to haul a pickup truck to the floor level, something they had to test to auction off Matthew McConaughey’s character’s truck from True Detective. The loading dock is also Willie’s green room; his tour bus is parked out off street whenever he is at the show. This can feed into both the big venue and the little venue. 3TEN is a accessed via a short hallway and you enter the venue, again, stage right. The entire space is LEED certified due to its efficiency, which only improves with the addition of LED show lighting.

And if you thought the lights were good before… ACL Live is now up to 50-something programmable lights (depends on how you want to count the single housing, multi-light mount) and it is gorgeous. Pencil beams can pin point anywhere on stage or on the floor, shapes can be programed and projected by compositing the patterns from several housings. They ran through a demo and damn, it is impressive meaning if you aren’t impressed by lighting at an ACL Live hosted concert, it is the artist’s fault as what is possible is amazing.

Thanks to the ACL Live team. They can host weddings, funerals, gaming tournaments, fundraisers – private events of any kind. …and a concert or two. They did over 200 events last year. It takes a huge staff to keep all of it running and from that there is a sense of ACL Live being a living, breathing thing.

In case you were wondering, that backdrop in the photos is from Jimmy Kimmel’s SXSW residency.

One comment

  • Ha, smoking porch. Knew a few musicians who just lit up in the green room before a performance. But alas it’s not as intimate as the Studio 6a.

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