I'd been dreaming about my pilgrimage from Scotland to Nashville for the AMA conference for many years, but this year it finally happened. AMA tickets purchased in January followed by an endless wait until September.....lots of anticipation, but also slightly scared that my expectations were too high! Could the Americanafest really deliver? Well, I've been back home for a week now and I'm still on top of the clouds! Thank goodness I have my photographs to prove that it really did happen and it wasn't a dream. For any other AMA-virgins, here's my quick summary and advice:
1. Buy your conference badge early. That way it's cheaper and you're guaranteed a seat at the amazing awards ceremony at the Ryman Auditorium - words and photographs can't begin to describe how awesome the event was. You can purchase a wristband for evening gigs only, but the price difference for the conference badge is worth it for the awards event alone, and also being able to attend the more intimate workshops and discussions that take place during the day. This year the daytime events included Guy Clark, Bonnie Rait, Rodney Crowell, Darrell Scott, Richard Thompson..... to name just a few.
2. Have plenty of sleep before the conference and wear comfy shoes because you won't stop for five days once it starts!
3. Beware that multiple parallel events run throughout the day and evenings - so planning is essential if there's someone or something you really want to see. But don't expect to do everything - it just isn't possible. There were some very, very tough choices this year, and I had to miss some great stuff, which was pretty heartbreaking at times!
4. The daytime events are centred around the Sheraton hotel in downtown Nashville, which makes a great base for the five days (although stay in a low floor if you have any vertigo - the upper floors feel a bit like the Grand Canyon without the views...). The evening gigs take place in six or so well-known Nashville venues, and the AMA runs an excellent shuttle bus each evening as the venues aren't within walking distance of each other (with the exception of the Mercy Lounge/Cannery Ballroom/High Watt complex). Some of the venues are pretty small and you do need to get to some early if you want to get in - the Station Inn was at capacity almost every evening.
5. Some excellent gigs take place the evening before the conference, and also on the last day of the conference so try to arrive early, and don't rush home too soon. (The conference ends with an Aussie barbecue too.)
6. The venues are pretty relaxed about (non-flash) photography - as an amateur photographer I was in heaven, and had to buy a few more memory cards during the conference! The professional photographers were the source of lots of friendly advice too.
7. Take time to discover new bands and new music - for me Kevin Gordon, Mandolin Orange, Felicity Urquhart and Whitehorse were a few of the amazing 'finds', and just as memorable as some of the bigger names.
And finally, the Americana musicians and conference delegates were some of the most friendly, welcoming people I have ever met - and that in itself has been as memorable as all the great music at the conference. Now I just need to pay off the credit cards and try to save for next year's AMA conference!