Nashville Film Festival: A Song For You

A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story will be an integral part of this year’s Nashville Film Festival, kicking off this week [April 14, 2016]. From Ray Charles to Willie Nelson, this documentary offers up a full serving of 40 years worth of incredible music; from the standpoint of the audience and the performer. It features interviews both from the past and present, showcasing the true indentation ACL has made on the music world.

The film has many makers that can be attributed for it’s success, but the real vision came from director/producer, Keith Maitland, when he realized he wanted to re-create that “backstage” feeling he used to get from sneaking backstage for every show he saw from the time he was fifteen.

I’ve had a couple of projects through the PBS system and one day out of the blue an exec at PBS in DC called me and said she knew of some producers looking for an independent filmmaker for a project – and had I ‘ever heard of Austin City Limits?’I was like, ‘yeah, I’ve heard about it.’ I was pretty excited actually because I’m a huge fan of live music in general and that show in particular. I live in Austin and I’ve been to tapings and had some knowledge of the history,” Keith explained in our interview session as a precursor to the film’s showing in Nashville this week. “Willie Nelson and Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, so yeah, I was interested to meet with them to say the least,” he laughed. 

I was curious to know if Keith’s original vision for the film had to change at all throughout the course of the process.

We wanted to give a comprehensive look – a backstage pass and front row seat – to the 40 year history of the show, while also focusing on the current 40th season and the future of this American music institution. Like any documentary, there were some twists and turns along the way, and we always stayed flexible and adaptive with our eyes and ears open, but for the most part we ended up with a close approximation of what we were hoping to capture and present,” Keith surmised. 

For me the relationship that I got to build with up & coming artists like Thao and The Get Down Stay Down, and the time spent with some of my all time favorites like Willie Nelson and Pixies were true highlights of making the film,” Keith shared when I inquired about the most exciting parts. “And of course, capturing the energy of Beck’s live show and interviewing him (he said he hadn’t done an on-camera interview in years before that) – it really adds so much to the film,” he said. 

You may still be wondering though, why the film is titled, A Song For You. I was too.

When I started on the research for the film, I started at the beginning with Willie Nelson’s pilot performance from 1974. I love Willie and have seen him dozens of times but I’d never seen anything like that early performance – and his rendition of Leon Russel’s ‘A Song For You’ really spoke to me – he’s expressing such a direct artist’s perspective but it also represents the way the show’s relationship to its audience feels to me. It means a lot on a lot of levels – and it’s an incredible performance – Willie as most people haven’t seen him.” 

Like I said, spending time with Willie and with Black Francis were real highlights (I’m a fan first),” Keith said. “But I also got to interview Jeff Bridges, and although a lot of that didn’t end up in the film, it felt great to spend some time with the dude. Beyond that – Tim Delaughter, Brittany Howard, Carrie Rodriguez, Sturgill Simpson, St Vincent – I mean they’re all great interviews,” he confessed, giving great insight into the line-up of the film. 

I’m just happy to take the story behind the Live Music Capitol of the World to fans in Music City and enjoy some great music together…” 


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