ACL Live at the Moody Theater
Backstory and Context
For more than three decades, the famous public television show Austin City Limits was taped in Studio 6A on the University of Texas Austin campus. Though the studio helped foster the intimate performances that became the show’s trademark, it was not originally built for live music, and especially not for the internationally-acclaimed program that ACL had become. Some of Studio 6A’s notorious issues included restroom inaccessibility and a continually shrinking audience space, since fire marshals had decreased the room’s capacity from 800 down to 300 over the years.
There had always been talk about moving Austin City Limits to a new home, but the conversation got more serious in the early 2000s. Eventually KLRU, the PBS Austin affiliate that produces Austin City Limits, made plans to move into a brand-new theater in downtown Austin. KLRU reached an agreement with the venue, wherein they reserve the theater for 45 days of the year, and the rest of the year it is used for other performances and events. The new building was custom-designed to be both a state-of-the-art recording space for ACL, as well as a live music venue that could host larger performances.
Steven Durr designed the theater’s space and acoustics, utilizing modern technology while maintaining the intimacy established at the old studio. Just like in Studio 6A, the farthest seat in the house is only 75 feet away from the stage. Other elements were carried over from the old location and are used exclusively for Austin City Limits tapings. These include the iconic Austin skyline backdrop, which was re-built to incorporate the city’s newer skyscrapers; the relatively small and low stage; and a smaller space with an 800-person limit (the theater’s full capacity of 2,750 is used for non-ACL performances).
ACL Live at the Moody Theater is a part of Block 21, a massive real estate development project in downtown Austin’s 2nd Street District. In addition to the venue, the project includes an associated music venue called 3TEN ACL Live, the W Hotel and Residences, and restaurants, retail stores, and office space. The entire project cost around $300 million, with $40 million going toward ACL Live at the Moody Theater. The main investor in the project, Stratus Properties, Inc., recently sold Block 21 to Ryman Hospitality Properties, Inc., for $275 million.
ACL Live at the Moody Theater officially opened in February of 2011. Willie Nelson, who was the featured musician on the first episode of Austin City Limits back in 1974, played a pair of performances to inaugurate the new theater. Willie Nelson’s connection to the new venue was cemented in two other ways: just before the theater opened, the stretch of 2nd Street where it is located was officially renamed Willie Nelson Boulevard; and on April 20th, 2012, an eight-foot, one-ton bronze statue of the singer was unveiled in front of the venue. The Steve Miller Band was the first group to tape an ACL episode in the new home of the show, which is now in its 45th season.
- Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater, Austin City Limits Live. Accessed May 15th 2020. http://acl-live.com/venue.
- Langer, Andy. A New Venue Expands the Possibilities for 'Austin City Limits', The New York Times. February 12th 2011. Accessed May 15th 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/us/13ttvenue.html.
- Nagy, Evie. Austin' New Limits: ACL Live at the Moody Theater , Billboard. March 3rd 2011. Accessed May 15th 2020. https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/1179083/austins-new-limits-acl-live-at-the-moody-theater.
- Mix Staff. Pollstar Award for 'Austin City Limits' | Moody Theater Wins Best New Venue Award for 2011, Mix Online. April 1st 2012. Accessed May 15th 2020. https://www.mixonline.com/live-sound/pollstar-award-austin-city-limits-moody-theater-wins-best-new-venue-award-2011-368854.
- Cohen, Jason. The Five Coolest Things about the Willie Nelson Statue, Texas Monthly. January 21st 2013. Accessed May 15th 2020. https://www.texasmonthly.com/the-culture/the-five-coolest-things-about-the-willie-nelson-statue/.
- Austin's Mixed-Use Block 21 to Sell for $275M, December 13th 2019. Accessed May 15th 2020. https://www.connect.media/austins-mixed-use-block-21-sell-275m/.
- Associated Press. Austin adds Willie Nelson's name to downtown street , Houston Chronicle. May 27th 2010. Accessed May 15th 2020. https://www.chron.com/entertainment/article/Austin-adds-Willie-Nelson-s-name-to-downtown-1706811.php.