A Song for You is one of the most eloquent love letters to Austin and music in general that I’ve seen in a musical documentary in quite some time. The film, which tells the story of the legendary Austin City Limits television series on PBS, features interviews with Terry Linkona (the show’s longtime producer), several people involved with the making of the show, and a wide variety of interviews with musicians who’ve played on the program (Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Bonnie Raitt, and so on). The film, which is making its world premiere during the music portion of SXSW, couldn’t be a more fitting place to debut a doc on the greatest musical television show of all time.
Its fascinating watching the doc as a time capsule of what Austin was like in the 1970s. This is years before the hipsters and condos invaded this wonderful haven of hippies and rednecks. It’s because of this reputation that Austin was starting to get that the Austin City Limits television series came around to being in the mid-70s. It’s also really wild to hear stories as to how Linkona was able to get Ray Charles early on in the show’s run (he pitched the idea to him while Charles was in his underpants in his dressing room at the Frank Erwin Center), and how Lightnin Hopkins insisted on getting paid upfront instead of receiving a check for the gig two weeks later. There’s a lot of history with this show and this city, and A Song for You captures all of it so eloquently.
Directed by local director Keith Maitland, who also has the documentary Tower about the 1966 UT tower shootings playing at the festival, the film has that local and authentic feel to it that you couldn’t really get if a filmmaker from outside of Austin was making this film. It feels real and genuine, every single frame of archival footage/photos that are edited on-screen. I also like how they made the film, in that its your traditional documentary with talking head interviews discussing the show, but also showing certain artists prepare for tapings of the show, and how big of a deal it is for them to be able to perform on the television show. It’s really fascinating to see the process of how the show is made and broadcasted, and that’s why this documentary was a standout for that reason.
I didn’t really have any complaints with the film because it felt so personal and made for me. I’m a huge fan of the show, and I’ve grown up with it and the artists who’ve frequented the show for years. I even teared up during several sections of the film, particularly the section when they show Townes Van Zandt on ACL (granted, I get teary eyed every time I see archival footage of Townes Van Zandt just because of how brilliant of an artist he was). It’s for this, and the reasons listed before as to why A Song for You is one of the highlights of the SXSW Film Festival. It’s a shame that they played the film this late into the festival, as I felt that the film would’ve been a huge hit early on. But its hitting right as the music portion of the fest is occurring, so I guess it all works out. Please check out the film at the fest if you can, and hopefully we can all see the film again once it gets theatrical distribution.