Since then, the Johnson County musician has had a number of iconic TV appearances, starting with his star-making duet with Justin Timberlake on the 2015 CMA Awards and most recently teaming with fellow Kentuckian Sturgill Simpson on “Saturday Night Live.”
But there is something special about the simple showcase “ACL” gives musicians for their songwriting and performance chops, and as expected, Stapleton makes the most of his debut on the show, which airs at 11 p.m. Saturday on KET (Ch. 46, Spectrum Ch. 12).
It’s a relatively brief six-song set drawn partially from the “Traveller” album and partially from last year’s two “From A Room” volumes.
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The showpiece of the performance is the back-to-back pairing of the “From A Room: Vol. 1” barn burner “Second One To Know” and a solo, acoustic rendition of the “Traveller” confessional “Whiskey and You.”
“Second One” throttles ahead on a rhythmic drive from Stapleton’s guitar, Morehead bassist J.T. Cure, drummer Derek Mixon and even Morgane Stapleton’s steady tambourine.
It all comes to a head in a scorching, blurry single-chord solo at the finale that’ll leave you exhausted, even sitting on your couch. Then, Stapleton stands alone comparing irreplaceable love with the all too available spirit, his Martin guitar echoing throughout the theater.
A lot is made of Stapleton’s prowess as a songwriter and singer, but the showcase of “ACL” highlights other keys to his success including his guitar virtuosity and the essential backing vocals of his on- and off-stage partner Morgane Stapleton.
The latter is beautifully exemplified in their performance of the title song from “Traveller, with slightly varied harmonies on what is essentially a duet. There are also moments when it’s just fun to have the couple on stage together, like in “Hard Livin’” when he sings, “I looked a lot, but I never found, a woman that could settle me down,” and it seems he’s glancing at her — after all, they now have twins on the way.
As much as he’s a celebrated songwriter, Stapleton has also shown a remarkable ability as a performer to make other writers’ song his own, Exhibit A being the Dean Dillon-Linda Hargrove classic “Tennessee Whiskey,” which used to be known as a George Jones song. As much as performing that song may seem routine for Stapleton, the “ACL” performance bends the tune and imbues it with a fresh fire that belies its soulful roots.
The interview segment following the performance is devoted to Stapleton’s admiration of the late Tom Petty, particularly his “Wildflowers” album. Recalling the concerts he opened for Petty last summer in Chicago and Wisconsin, the multiple Grammy Award-winner says, “awards are good and selling records is good, and making a living’s good. But when you get to do things with heroes, those are the things that ... elevate the experience of playing music. Those are the moments you’re going to remember and say, ‘Man, I did that one time.’”
The only complaint about Stapleton’s debut on the show would be that it wasn’t longer. The second half of Saturday’s show is devoted to Oklahoma-based Turnpike Troubadours, who offer a winning half-dozen songs of their own that invite further listening, particularly the jaunty “A Tornado Warning.”
Rich Copley: @copiousnotes
‘Austin City Limits’ with Chris Stapleton and the Turnpike Troubadours airs at 11 p.m. Feb. 17 on KET (Ch. 46, Spectrum Ch. 12).