Sturgill Simpson makes his Austin City Limits debut this weekend, nearly 41 years to the day since Willie Nelson headlined the show’s pilot episode on October 14, 1974. Paying respect to the outlaws who came before him, Simpson turns in a respectful, reverent version of “I’d Have to Be Crazy” halfway through his set, singing the familiar ballad — which was written by Steven Fromholz and popularized by Nelson on 1976’s The Sound in Your Mind — with a country croon punctuated by a bluegrass holler.
Drummer Miles Miller, bassist Kevin Black, keyboardist Jeff Crow and guitar phenom Laur Joamets get a piece of the action, too. With Joamets emulating the sweeps and swells of a pedal-steel guitar, the band keeps things gorgeously understated throughout. The loudest sounds come from the audience, whose members let out roars of approval every time Simpson’s voice leaps into a higher register. Watch the performance, which airs this Saturday evening, October 17th, on PBS, above.
Backed by a different group of musicians, Simpson recorded a similar version of “I’d Have to Be Crazy” on his first solo album, High Top Mountain, which preceded the career-breaking Metamodern Sounds in Country Music by a year. Since then, the Kentucky native has become one of the decade’s biggest success stories in country music, winning critical acclaim and commercial acceptance while still steering clear of the mainstream.
Simpson’s Austin City Limits set represents another checked box on a long list of late-night TV show appearances, festival gigs and other high-profile performances, rounding out a promotional cycle for Metamodern Sounds that’s virtually unparalleled in the Americana world. His third album, which will double as his major-label debut for Atlantic, is expected to arrive sometime next year.