Marcia Ball was beaming when she was inducted into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame in October. It’s no surprise Ball was thrilled — or that she was finally enshrined into the Hall with such iconoclasts as Willie Nelson, B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“Being inducted into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame is at the very top for me,” Ball said by phone from her Austin home. “Austin City Limits helped put Austin on the music map. There is so much great rich musical heritage in this city. With ACL, you have the musicians who actually live here and those who perform here. Austin has inspired so much of my music. I love it here.”
Ball, 69, who combines Louisiana swamp rock with Texas blues, grew up in Bayou country. The Louisiana State University alum was en route to San Francisco in 1970, but she stopped in Austin along the way and never left the Texas capital.
“My husband and I simply took some time to visit some friends and give ourselves a break, and I just fell in love with the city of Austin,” she said. “This city and the musical community is unlike any other place I’ve been.”
Ball has had quite a career courtesy of her rollicking swamp blues, honky tonk and forays with zydeco.
“There’s just so many great styles of music,” she said. “I’ve had fun with it throughout my career. The cool thing about Austin is there is so much music, so many styles. Anything goes here.”
The charismatic singer and pianist, who is an electric performer, will co-headline with Sonny Landreth on Tuesday (2/26) at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City.
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She has 14 albums to her credit, including her latest, the visceral “Shine Bright,” which dropped in 2018. The potent title cut features shoutouts to a number of legendary figures who let their light shine bright: Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Robinson, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Hawking, among other mavericks.
“The world needs more people like those,” Ball said. “We need people who do the right thing and understand that progress is not necessarily improvement. We have a nightmare for a President in the White House, who has committed some unforgivable actions. We need everyone to shine bright and change the world.”
On the back of the album is a photo of Ball in a Statue of Liberty pose. She holds a star in her left hand and a book in her right. “I had fun with that, but it’s a reminder that I’m here to entertain and also to enlighten,” she said. “I know that people didn’t buy the record to hear a whole lot of angst, but there are some important issues out there we must deal with. I sing about some issues but I also make music to make you dance.”
Expect to get up and move when Ball performs at the Englert.
“That’s what it’s all about when you come to one of my shows,” she said. “You get up and dance and just lose yourself in the music. What’s great about concerts is that they can be utterly transformative. I remember the first show I ever saw. It was Irma Thomas. I remember seeing her walk onstage and sing all of these great songs. I was moved.”
The college English major decided to focus on music during the flower power era.
“It was the best decision I ever made, right up there with staying in Austin,” Ball said. “I’ve had an amazing career. I’ve had the opportunity to make the style of music that I want to make. I’ve made a lot of music.”
It isn’t easy for Ball to make write a set list.
“It’s difficult because we play a lot of stuff from our most recent record,” she said. “I’m excited about the ‘Shine Bright’ material. We’ll play the fresh material but we’ll also play the fan favorite. We’ll definitely play songs like ‘Let me Play with Your Poodle.’ It’ll be a mixed bag when we return to Iowa.”
Ball is just weeks away from reaching septuagenarian status but she still plays more than 100 shows a year.
“I have the drive to do it,” she said. “But I have to balance it with other things, like family life. I’m here with my grandchildren now, and I make sure they’re keeping up with their music lessons — and we throw the baseball around. It’s all about balance.
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“I love to entertain as a musician, but there’s a deeper part of me than that. I want to make the world a better place. When we moved to Austin there was some serious inequality for women and those who aren’t white. It’s way better than it was then, but we still have a ways to go. The good thing about Austin is there are a lot of people here who want to make the world a better place. I need to get that message out to the rest of the country.”
WHAT: Marcia Ball co-headlining with Sonny Landreth
WHERE: Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
TICKETS: $36.50 to $56.50, Englert Box Office, (319) 688-2653 or Englert.org/events/
ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Marciaball.com