Americana In The Park – Atlanta GA 11/11 and 11/18
When I started in the music business in 1995, No Depression was a monthly printed magazine with a color cover, the father of Americana was supposed to be Gram Parsons, and DJs were scratching their heads on when to play the records as jaded music journalists rejoiced in its authenticity.
For two nights this past November, David Claassen of BMI Atlanta presented a new series called Americana In The Park held at Park Tavern in Midtown Atlanta, GA. This is a prime location for Piedmont Park has provided grounds for a mixed bag of culture ranging from music shows to art festivals to running marathons to parade routes for well over the past 50 years.
Americana music is relativity a new genre, but it’s got roots from every tree in the forest; country, rock, blues, and folk. And for us in Atlanta, it’s had its share of acts like The Indigo Girls to Shawn Mullins to even southern rockers, Blackberry Smoke, who all derived from that same singer-songwriter foundation of sticking to the basics of a good song, and it will go far.
So back in the mid-80s, there was a scene here in the ATL called the Redneck Underground where the local and national acts would perform at various venues like The Star Bar, Dotties’s and the Austin Ave Buffet. It was a mixture of misfits and outcasts of musicians and fans who had a real love of the honky-tonk country with a slice of punk rock. Every once in a while, a local act would strike gold, get some national recognition and then disappear into the night.
So fast forward to a more mature age of the Americana sound, the heart and soul are still there along with the quirkiness, but with the age of the internet, its audience is getting wider. When someone asks me, I must sound like I don’t know what I am talking about cause the description is all over the yard.
The first night of this Park series was with Bonnie Bishop and Lilly Hiatt, both singer-songwriters with different backgrounds but they share a common thread, rock-blues legend, Bonnie Raitt. Lilly’s father, John Hiatt (“A Thing Called Love”) and Bishop (“Not Cause I Wanted To” and “Undone”) both have had the fiery red head slide guitarist cover their songs.
Lilly came out with her acoustic guitar and played songs from both of her albums, Royal Blue and Let Down. Her sound is a cross between alternative pop sounds laced with folk music; a la Chuck Prophet meets Kim Deal. Lilly had been on the road all summer opening up for a slew of notable others, and I liked her. I was pleasantly surprised by her sense of humor in and out of her songs and a laidback stage banter. “Jesus Would’ve Let Me Picked The Restaurant” was a crowd favorite for sure.
As Bonnie Bishop graced the stage, you know what you about hear; is one powerful voice. Her live shows are a tapestry of colors, blues – country – rock – pop creating a lush painting depicting whatever subject matter she wants. Songs from her 2016 release, Ain’t Who I Was were highlighted as well as a soulful crying rendering of Bobby Bland’s classic “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City.” Guitarist Ford Thurston channeled his blues and jazz fingers on the fretboard giving the song some guts.
Night two, a week later and another female lineup with local Faye Webster and headliner Sonia Leigh are due to perform. The cool part about the Park Tavern is not only it’s nestled in the corner of Piedmont Park, but it’s got a great indoor restaurant and sitting area but with the live music seeping through the walls and doors.
Faye and her band put on a solid show with her voice reminding me of Suzanne Vega, Julie Miller, and The Cardigans. I was impressed with her young age and her songwriting skills. Her album, Run And Tell has been out for a while, so it was wonderful that David Claassen chose to showcase her; for she is fresh and inviting. Webster’s cover of the Bruce Springsteen classic, “Dancing In The Dark” is one that The Boss would be super impressed by the arrangement.
Sonia Leigh has been a troubadour for years and once lived in A-town, ended the series with her roots rock that is part Melissa Etheridge and part Sheryl Crow. Combined with a rocker’s grit and a hunch for a good musical hook; her career has been on a roll since she was on Zac Brown’s label, Southern Ground. Her songs have been featured on the hit series, “Nashville” as well as herself making a personal appearance. Sonia has a big heart, for she invited her little friend, Sylvia and her former bandmates to the stage and helped her sing, “A Poem From The Ocean Floor.” And yes the little girl stole everyone’s thunder.
Looking back on this, David Claassen told me that he had no problem booking an all- female-led series, stating, “I’m passionate about pushing women in music and sharing their talents and voices with the rest of the world! Most folks wouldn’t book four women for a series. I didn’t even flinch.”
What lies for Americana In The Park and the next series? The tall renegade Claassen gave me a big smile, laughed and with a flash in his eye shrugs, “I dunno…”
The following photos from the Bonnie Bishop/Lilly Hiatt show are from Jeff Fasano out of Nashville. Sonia Leigh and Faye Webster photos are by Jill Kettles from Atlanta.