The Men of Austin City Limits
by chad swiatecki
Finally, the drummers get their turn in the spotlight.
Often overlooked in all the talk – pretty much all of it glowing – about the new ACL Live is the fact that the two men who make the place run put in a lot of years behind the skins before turning their attention to Austin’s new concert palace.
First there’s Tim Neece, ACL Live’s general manager, who played in regionally popular bands in the 70s before turning his attention to artist management and concert promotions for three decades.
Then there’s Freddy Fletcher, himself a long-time touring drummer and studio owner, known famously as Willie Nelson’s business-savvy nephew. He is also the man who first dreamed up the 2,700-capacity theater that became the new home of the iconic Austin City Limits television show and venue for big-name touring acts of all stripes.
“I haven’t made a sound on a drum kit in a long time, and I darn sure wouldn’t want to match up against Freddy because he still plays,” laughs Neece as he talks about the man who brought him in to run the day-to-day operations at ACL Live after seven years of managing the University of Texas’ Performing Arts Center. “I haven’t had an opportunity to make a [musical]sound on our stage, but honestly, I don’t know if I would have been able to imagine a place like this when I was still playing, where you can have between 2,000 and 3,000, and it feels so close and intimate,” Neece says. “I had heard things about it before I was hired, but I came down to look at it with Freddy and it was incredible even before it was done.”
A visit to the facility quickly reveals what all the fuss is about. Performers come out to an open floor and look up to two stacked tiers of seats, the farthest of which is 75 feet from the stage. That means everyone from Janet Jackson to Jackson Browne gets an up-close-and-personal night with fans.
“When we had Dwight Yoakam here, he was just raving about the place, talking about the sound and the intimacy that he had heard about,” Fletcher says. “That makes you feel good because we spent all these years working to make it happen and you just hope that people are going to enjoy it.”
ACL Live was conceived roughly a decade ago, and Fletcher and investor Beau Armstrong of Stratus Properties toured venues all over the country, taking notes on everything from load-in facilities to restroom amenities in order to give Austin “its version of [Nashville’s] Ryman Auditorium.”
With the venue now open and running smoothly, the two men are getting a chance to dive into their areas of expertise when it comes to expanding what ACL Live can offer to the world. For Fletcher, it’s glamorous stuff like flying to New York to hammer out deals for distributing the venue’s concert content on as many Internet, radio and television outlets as possible. For Neece, it’s daily grind stuff like going through contracts for online merchandising and looking at all facets of the building’s operations to make them efficient and bring in revenue.
Both agreed that it’s their complementary skills that have helped them work so well to make the still-new venue an immediate hit.
“I like the production side of things and Tim does the nuts and bolts of running the place, and that’s why he was our choice to come in and run the place,” Fletcher says. “We wanted someone from Austin who understood the sensibilities of the community and its temperament rather than someone from Los Angeles who didn’t know what we’re all about here.”