As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the creative arts, the music community has been ravaged relentlessly and live music has been one of its biggest victims. Venues across the country struggle to survive without a steady stream of shows and concerts to bring the necessary revenue to continue operating.
ACL Live, the venue that houses the long-running music TV show Austin City Limits, is but one of the hundreds of venues that are suffering. While the dearth of live music continues into its 11th month since the pandemic began, Austin City Limits is keeping the live music environment going by continuing with fully-produced performances on its stage, sans a live audience.
On Saturday, January 16th at 8:00pm CT / 9:00pm ET, Austin City Limits premieres a brand new episode, featuring Nashville’s husband and wife duo The War and Treaty, making their debut along with 2021 Grammy nominee Ruthie Foster, who returns for the first time in almost two decades. American Songwriter is premiering an exclusive performance of The War And Treaty’s “Take Me In,” featured on their critically hailed 2020 album Hearts Town.
Recorded live on ACL Live’s empty studio, due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, their performance suffers no lack of fiery swell or emotional authority that punctuates their exuberant fusion of Southern soul and gospel. The centerpiece of their five song live set, “Take Me In,” bursts in ebullience that amplifies its already powerful recorded version. An imperative plea for acceptance and care, the song is a slow build that grows in intensity before Michael Trotter launches into a cathartic verse of Ray Charles’ “America the Beautiful.”
“Right now a lot of people are feeling so deeply engulfed in pain and surrounded by negativity, and sometimes you just need to hear that you’re good,” says Tanya Blount Trotter, reflecting on the song’s radiant message. “No one’s trying to change what you think or how you talk or anything else about you. You’re just fine the way you are.”
With the current climate of political division and cultural belligerence as its backdrop, the song offers an olive branch to try to bridge the gap. “Likе a free-bird circling in the wind / I’ll fly to your cage so you can take mе in,” Michael sings, reflecting the need for peace and understanding. It’s a dramatic moment that anchors the performance—a highlight of the gorgeous set.
Now in its 46th Season, Austin City Limits has featured hundreds of performers from all genres of music, including Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Arcade Fire, Queens of the Stoneage and Cat Power. The longest running music series in television history, its production has helped affirm Austin’s reputation as the Live Music Capital of the World.
“To perform on the famed TV show is one thing, but to provide hope during a moment when our country desperately needs it is something Michael and I will never forget,” Tanya affirms to American Songwriter.
“We were seeing so much anger in the world as we were making this album,” Michael tells ACL, “so we wanted to give people something that told them, ‘Stop looking for the Next Dr. King or Malcolm or Mother Teresa, and start looking for the First You.”
Austin City Limits airs weekly on PBS stations nationwide (check local listings for times) and full episodes are made available here for a limited time, immediately following the initial broadcast.