Americana Fest Nashville Travel Log: Music, Beer, and Threads of Friendship
One must mentally and physically prepare for the Americana Music Association conference and showcases — five nights and four days of music. The Americana Fest has grown over the past few years to a point where, on a typical night there were 10 clubs hosting 48 different musical acts from 8:00 p.m. until 1:00 a.m. This doesn’t count the daytime conference performances, sponsored lunch and dinner parties with live music, and other special events. Everyone’s journey is different, especially when you go off the grid to search for that magic moment. There is more to this writer’s travel log than just singer-songwriters. It’s also about rekindling and fostering friendships with folks that share the same thread.
With AMA festivities starting a night earlier, my partner in crime Dale Elwell and I drove Tuesday from Akron to Nashville so that we could make the Steelism record release party for 615 To Fame at Grimey’s New & Pre-Loved Musicstore. We caught Jeremy Fetzer (guitar) and Spencer Cullum Jr. (pedal steel) at last year’s outdoor performance, with their surf twang British Invasion instrumentals. Jon Estes (bass), Robbie Crowell (keyboards), and the hard working Jon Radford (drums) all squeezed into a space surrounded by vinyl LPs. Complimentary beer, including the Good People Coffee Oatmeal Stout, was a great way to kick off the evening. We also met up with some of the usual suspects — Declan Culliton from Ireland, Brendan Cooke from England, and Bob McAdam from Massachusetts — that attended last year’s AMA.
Afterwards, we headed around back where the Basement is located, underneath Grimey’s. Mike Grimes and Doyle Davis, the co-owners and gracious hosts of this complex, had another record release show with Mike Farris & the Roseland Rhythm Revue, from the brilliant album Shine for All The People (see Minkin’s Music 08/19/14). Gospel singers and a horn section were part of the nine-piece band squeezed on the tiny stage. As always, Farris was the man bringing it strong with emotional vocals. Staying local on the Ale had me sampling Jackalope Thunder Ann.
Leftover Salmon (featuring Bill Payne of Little Feat on piano) followed “The Expereince” and played a funky southern flavored set. By 11:00 p.m., it was time to start thinking about dinner, so we headed over to the Hermitage Café for their famous patty melts.
Wednesday morning started with a Fido breakfast and then a trip to McKay’s Used Books and Music, which is the size of a big box anchor store. This trip was solely going to be vinyl purchases and I found gold with Mike Farris Shout! Live and an original master recording version of Bob Dylan’s Blood on The Tracks.
Compass Records, where Wanted! The Outlaws was recorded, had a noontime open house with some of their talent performing. I got caught up on all the good things happening at the label from Betsy Buntin and caught an intimate performance from Jim Oblon with the legendary Bucky Baxter on pedal steel. A special Yazoo Brewing Company Americana Fest Ale was pouring freely and Chicago style hot dogs were made to order for lunch. Afterwards, we sat in on the panel discussions titled Mississippi Rising: The Melting Pot of American Music at the conference, moderated by Bob Santelli.
Before heading to the big awards show at the Ryman Auditorium, our usual dinner spot downtown is Broadway Brewhouse & Mojo where liver is evil and it must be punished. Met up with Clarance and Denut Solar from Saint Louis and dined on fish tacos, coupled with a Blackstone Pumpkin Ale.
You know it’s going to be a great night when you’re walking down to your seats and Vince Gill catches you by surprise, shakes your hand, and asks “How y’all doin’ tonight”. If you didn’t attend the Americana Music Association Honors & Awards event, then set your DVR for the Austin City Limits special sometime in late November. Performance highlights included Loretta Lynn, Robert Ellis, Rosanne Cash, Patty Griffin w/ Robert Plant, Milk Carton Kids, Marty Stuart, Sturgill Simpson, and Jackson Browne with J.D. Souther. The best moment was Jason Isbell singing to the lovely Amanda Shires, the AMA Song of the Year ,“Cover Me Up”. The house band, led by Buddy Miller, included the great Ry Cooder on guitar along with superb piano/organ Tim Lauer and backing vocals from the McCrary Sisters.
Afterwards, we headed to City Winery for the late night showcase featuring Emerging Artist of the Year Sturgill Simpson. From there, we ventured over to the Cannery to close out the evening with Todd Snider & Friends, a.k.a. Hard Working Americans.
Thursday morning began with a hearty breakfast at West End Café before heading to the conference and the panel discussion Songs Our daddy Taught Us: The Legacy of the Everly Brothers. Leading this program were some friends from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum — Jason Hanley and Lauren Onkey with special guest Rodney Crowell. The Everly Brothers were a major influence on The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, all the way down the timeline to The Milk Carton Kids.
From there, it was off to SiriusXM for two special intimate performances. The first was Carlene Carter with Outlaw Country hostess Laura Cantrell. Carlene played selections from her new release Carter Girl, a tribute to the timeless music of her historic family. After a break, we went back upstairs into the intimate performance space which holds about 60 folks to see Marty Stuart — another legend from the Carter-Cash family tree — which was hosted by Mojo Nixon. Backed by His Fabulous Superlatives, Stuart delivered a polished and humbling set of songs from his forthcoming double LP, Saturday Night / Sunday Morning. The record is one part hillbilly rock and roll, with the other taking you to church with country gospel.
There was a window of opportunity to go off the grid and have dinner in East Nashville before the showcases. Over at The Family Wash, husband and wifeS cott Collins and Kim Collins (aka the Smoking Flowers) were performing along with Jeff Black and Kim Richey. This is where friendship overrides the AMAs, as we didn’t plan on staying past the Shepherd’s Pie and the Smoking Flowers set. But with Mindy Smith in the house, Kevin Gordon joining us along with Kim at our table, always wanting to see Mr. Black perform, the lovely wait staff refilling my Turtle Anarchy pint glass, and having a chance to catch up with Scott and Kim just made for a really “feel good” moment. The Wash is a classic place to visit and spending time rekindling old friendships and making new ones was the highlight of my trip. So, about four hours later, we headed over to the Mercy Lounge for Lake Street Dive. I had culture shock walking into the packed room after leaving the comfy confines of East Nashville. To close out the evening, we headed over to the Station Inn to catch Dust Bowl Revival, and then called it a night.
Friday morning was my annual walk through Music Row from the hotel to Starbucks and back for coffee as my wing man needed to sleep in. A little more java at Fido with a nice bagel bomb prepared us for another full day, beginning with the panel discussion on every audiophile’s favorite holiday Record Store Day, featuring Jay Millar from United Records and Doyle Davis from Grimey’s. arrie Collition heads up the organization and is planning on a Black Friday event this year to expand the excitement of the vinyl renaissance.
Next on the agenda was Dobe Newton and the annual Sounds of Australia noon showcase. After a late lunch and some much-needed chill time, we were invited to a wonderful dinner party hosted by the folks at SoundExchange that was held at Soulshine Pizza. It included a performance by Jim Lauderdale on the upstairs outdoor patio.
The AMA showcases are a stumble of luck at times and Friday night was a roll of the dice that came up winners. Of the 10 clubs hosting 48 different musical acts, the pick was based around seeing Jamestown Revival at the Mercy Lounge. Joe Purdy, Black Prairie, and Green River Ordinance also were on the bill of performers starting at 8:00 p.m. The last band to perform was a relatively new group that neither of us had heard called the Bros. Landreth. They were one of the highlights of the five-night extravaganza of music (see Minkin’s Music 09/24/14). The duo of Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance of Jamestown Revival performed a beautiful set without their usual backing band. That and Amos Lee coming out to sing with Black Prairie were just some of the highlights.
Embarking on a marathon Saturday means having the breakfast of champions, so we ventured over to the historic Edgefield neighborhood of East Nashville and the Sky Blue Café. Better get here early, as this quaint little joint had a line a block long when we finished the daily special of a brisket breakfast burrito. Then, it was time to dive into Americanarama VII at Grimey’s. We started off with record shopping in the store and the big flea market of pre-loved music and books outside. I found new LPs The Lights from the Chemical Plant by Robert Ellis and a special Willie Nelson Live from Austin City Limits recorded in 1974 to add to my collection.
Americanarama is an all-day hang out with music from folks like Ian MacLagan, Kevin Gordon, and Mike Farris. Food trucks offered up some great lunch options and the Basement was pouring seasonal libations, including Depot Street Octoberfest. It’s a day where you end up meeting old friends like Cary Baker and having great conversations with new ones like Otis Gibbs.
We still had time to visit the Groove record store in East Nashville and their Bootleg BBQ party, so off we went. Arrived just in time to be blown away by a Texas hurricane named Israel Nash and hear the sweet bluegrass vocals of Emily Barker & the Red Clay Halo. While Dale was helping the economy inside the store, I found myself outside listening to the music and chatting with fellow buckeye and Cleveland singer-songwriter Thor Platter. Wearing my West Akron Baseball League (WABL) t-shirt was a giveaway for former Akronite and lovely singer-songwriter Kate Tucker to pick me out of the crowd. Again, it was just another feel-good moment on this year’s journey… along with scoring Nash’s vinyl LP Rain Plans, to take home with me.
The final leg took us to Peg Leg Porker for a traditional “meat & 3” dinner before heading over for our final night of showcases at the High Watt. rriving early enough to grab a table up on the mezzanine, we caught native Ohio Troubadour Aaron Lee Tasjan, who delivered a very entertaining set which began at 8:00 p.m. Lera Lynn, Caroline Rose, and some high energy Canadian youngins called Harlan Pepper performed tracks from their current records. The final act — Blackie & The Rodeo Kings — ended up being the Colin Linden showcase, as Tom Wilson was under doctors’ orders to not perform and Stephen Fearing ended up in Asheville by accident. So ever the professional showman, Colin, along with bassist John Dymond, put on a dazzling set. Waiting in the wings, an unannounced Lucinda Williams came out to sing “Get Right with God” right after Tony Joe White’s drummer Bryan Owings sat in to make it a three-piece. There was shock and awe in the room after the set from everyone in the audience, including Torontoite Caelin Meredith, who has seen Colin perform several times. It would have been great to go out for a last call afterwards, but unfortunately this cowboy had to saddle up at dawn for the long trail ride back to Akron.
So, that’s pretty much the nickel version of my AmericanaFest week. It’s always a great trip and will be looking forward to next year’s conference. I just wish I could take more time off from my day job to visit longer ….