A Canuck In Nashvegas For The AMA’s
A Canuck In Nashvegas
Well, Serge Samson (Haysale Records) and me – Alex Madsen – had made it through customs at the Toronto Airport.
We hopped on the tiny plane that was going to take us to Nashville for the 10th Annual Americana Music Awards.
Man. 10 Years.
Back when I remember the phrase being coined, all we had were a bunch of phrases to describe anything other than the nonsense that was assaulting our ears on country radio. Not gracing our dramatically compressed airwaves were folk and its derivatives, country blues, your something-a-billies, cowpunks, and roots-rockers. Invariably, there were always people that got lost in between those titles – probably because guys like me liked it all and considered Peter Paul and Mary as influential as Willie, Waylon, and Merle.
Luckily, guys like Jim Lauderdale recognized that people who liked Jason And The Scorchers tended to like Emmylou Harris and people who liked Emmylou Harris liked folks like Sam Bush. And it was no accident you’d see all of the above sharing a stage with Asleep At The Wheel.
So, Americana was born.
There’s still some confusion over the word but hey; that’s music. Seems like many reviewers and such will just climb over each other to create sub-genres. The metal genre in all its multifaceted glory is a great example. So, in a world of Post-this, neo-that, and nu-then-some, a nice organic-sounding umbrella never hurt anybody.
I for one, enjoy the name, the title, the feel of the word “Americana” which some may find odd as I am a Canadian – moreso, a Maritimer hailing from New Brunswick, a tiny province sharing the same border – and fondness for checkered wool shirts – as Maine.
I find the word “Americana” to be inclusive, as an invitation.
Almost as soon as we were off and running thru the surprisingly rainy, tropical heat of Nashville, we sweltering Canucks instantaneously forgot the first frosts of home and headed down to the convention centre to get our passes and make some new friends. It didn’t take long for either to happen.
Now, I could go into great detail as to the foolishness that Serge and I embarked upon while here (and there were more than a few moments), but instead I’ll summarize from a Canadian’s perspective what made this year’s AMA Conference and our trip to Nashville a doozy.
To start off, I just want to say that Barbeque, we salute you. We Maritimers are lucky to have seafood and we know it. Where we’re from, lobster grows on trees and good mussels (clams) are in ready and delicious supply. But I have gratefully and humbly accepted – with much pleasure – that our neighbors here have mastered the fine art of making meat into a veritable bouquet of smoky, slathered mesquite goodness. With a side of beans and cream-style corn.
Ok. Where was I.
The organizers of the event deserve special thanks. Although there are many to thank, in this way, I have absolutely no choice but to border on cliche and be grateful – truly grateful – that our American friends would take such great pains to make their newfound friends in Canada feel right at home.
I had lost my ticket to the awards show at the Ryman Auditorium (the original Grand Ole Opry) due to my bag disappearing during a very crowded show the previous night. The people at the AMA registration booths were able to still get me into the show and were happy to – even though they were dealing with people I would personally consider far more important than me who wanted a whole heckuva lot more.
The Ryman blew my mind; I stood two feet in front Hank Williams Suit which stood next to Little Jimmy Dickens’ diminuitive outfit. I was dazzled by Nudie’s Wagonmaster wizardry and mesmerized, as the night went on, by performances by Sam Bush, Buddy Miller, Justin Townes Earle, and John Prine, amongst others. It was a joy to sit in my pew, watching legends perform in an equally legendary venue. To be enveloped by musical history while it was unfolding is an experience I won’t soon forget.
I feel lucky.
Serge and I also had the pleasure of meeting a lot of new friends while here – notably Baron from twangnation.com – a swell guy who I shared quite a few laughs with during the trip. He was a go-to for places to hit and people to see and hear – both at the conference and, from here on in, from his very informative website. For me, I would have to say that seeing The Bottlerockets in a well-known, well-respected independent club called The Basement was a home run right out of the park. Baron, you were right as rain (pardon the pun) about those guys.
We met many great radio hosts who made us feel that even though we may wading in a sea of cookie-cut, frost-tipped glitter, the roots are still showing if you turn the dial or virtual dial far enough. A tip of the hat – and a place for you to tune into – goes to Cuzin’ Dave Wilson from WRUV FM 91.1 in Cleveland Ohio and Fred Boenig at WXLV 90.3 FM in Schnecksville PA. Good radio is still out there, people.
P.S – if you’re ever in my neck of the woods, check out Choix 99.9 Acadie Country.
The conferences were, in my opinion, reasonably tailored for what Americana bookers, musicians, and supporters were looking for. Some I found noteworthy would be the talk on house shows (which I feel will grow exponentially over the next few years), the songwriter sessions, and the “That’s Canadiana” panel featuring Six Shooter Records, Luke Doucet, Oh Susannah, and my bud Corb Lund.
Broadway’s a sight to behold here in Nashville and warrants a review of its own so allow me to summarize. Tootsies, Layla’s, Jack’s – they’re all right there. They’re busy as hell night and day – – as are the musicians there who play there. Yeah, it’s a tourist trap. But it’s a damned good one to get stuck in. I recommend any small town hot-shots to visit these bars at least once in their career. But be prepared; you will be humbled because everywhere you go, you will hear players much, much better than you who are playing for tips.
A special kudos goes to the band “Jipsy” who played at Layla’s; the kind of musicianship that comes from brothers and sisters whose dolls and soldiers were fiddles and flattops. To watch the ease and beauty of their musicianship was awe-inspiring. To watch them pass the jar around the bar was, for me, humbling.
All in all, The AMA Conference was a pleasure – the kind you share in the rare moments that you are completely surrounded by kindred spirits. It’s bittersweet to head home from such comraderie.
So tomorrow, it’s back to the Maritimes and to full fall colors, temperatures below zero celcius, and the welcoming warmth of a double double Tim Horton’s.
I’ll be happy to be home, but I will leave here with some great memories of new friends made and the deep satisfaction of knowing the Americana movement grows ever deeper, ever further out…even to the Maritimes of Canada.