Americana Music Association wrapup
Americana Music Association wrapup
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Americana Music Festival/Conference
September 16-19, 2009
The Americana Music Association held their 10th annual Conference/Music Festival a couple of weeks ago. It has taken me this long to be able to catch up on my sleep and recover enough to be able to write about it. Face it, I’m getting old. So far, I have been fortunate enough to have been able to attend each and every one of these AMA things and they just keep getting better. I have watched the AMA grow and change and evolve. Some of those changes I haven’t cared for, some I have. Americana now has a Grammy category. Americana just had it’s charts published in Billboard. I have people pushing their records describing their music to me as Americana, and these are people who know nothing about the AMA. The Association has busted it’s ass in the last 10 years to expand the footprint of Americana and to make it a more widely recognized format and I have to say they have succeeded.
I also have to say that if the only thing the AMA did was to put on this conference/music festival every year, I would call the organization a success.
I decided to make it a long week.
I showed up to Nashville on Monday evening and made a record on Tuesday with my old friend and guitar hero Donnie Winters. I wrote about that on a previous blog. Afterwards, Tuesday Night, I met a friend who flew in from San Francisco and we drove out to Norm’s River Road House (Last beer before Cumberland Heights -trust me, I know this to be a fact) to see a songwriter thing with Jon Byrd, Nancy Apple, the Sways (Adam Landry and Carey Kotsionis) and Pete Molinari . I was very impressed with everyone. I had known Nancy and Jon for a number of years, but had never seen either of them perform live. Jon’s Byrd’s Auto Parts album ended up on my Top Ten Last year.
I had never had a chance to hear Nancy sing live. She’s known as the Queen of Memphis as she has ties and connections to just about everyone who makes music in that town, regardless of the type of music. Everyone loves Nancy and Nancy loves everyone. I naturally expected Nancy and Jon to be great because I had heard their recorded stuff before.
The surprises of the evening were The Sways and Pete Molinari. I had previously met Adam of the Sways when he was touring with Allison Moorer as her stunt guitar player, so I knew he was a picker, but I had no idea that he could sing or write. His work with Carey Kotsionis was very nice. Pete had a wonderful singing voice that was nothing like his speaking voice. I’m really interested in hearing more from these two acts
Wednesday, I went to the Convention Center to help stuff some Goodie Bags with swag. While there I met several old friends and made some new friends as well. That’s one of teh things I like most about this conference, the unique opportunity to meet like minded people.
Wednesday night saw me at The Cannery/Mercy Lounge. I caught the Band of Heathens from Austin who just totally blew me away. Three lead singers, three lead guitar players. Reminiscent of a more country rock Little Feat in vibe. I was completely awestruck, Afterwards I was told by one of their fans that they were having kind of an off night. If this is an off night, what does an On Night sound like?
There was a “Secret Special Guest” that was going to be playing at the Mercy Lounge that evening. Those of us who were considered “Member’s of the Press” (for some reason, that included me) were informed before hand that the “Secret Special Guest” was going to be John Fogerty and that we weren’t supposed to tell anyone. The funny thing is half of America already knew about it. They did everything but put billboards up alongside the highway to advertise his show. While it may be considered blasphemy by many, if not most, I was never a huge CCR fan. If Fogerty was playing 20 miles away I don’t know if I would make the effort to go see him. Sure he is super talented, sure CCR made a lot of good records, it’s just that the stuff never really moved me at all.
The stage at the Mercy is not a huge one by any means. When Fogerty and crew set up it looked like their goal was to try and outnumber the audience. He had James Penndecker, Buddy Miller, Billy Burnette and about half of the rest of the AFM Musicians Union Local on stage with him. At one time I counted five guitar players (not counting Pedal Steel) Why on earth would anybody ever need five guitar players? Especially when you are a damned good guitar player yourself? Regardless, he put on a good show featuring cuts from his new Blue Ridge Rangers Ride Again record as well as various selections from the CCR songbook.
I watched the first hour and then had to leave so I went outside and lit a cigar. It sounded good out there. I have no idea why they insisted on Stadium level sound for a club. It was so goddamned loud that it hurt. It also went on way too long. He was only supposed to play for 45-50 minutes. Fogerty played a solid two hours. There were other acts on the bill that gave up their time slot so that he could play. If I had been in one of those bands, I’m afraid I might have walked on stage after about an hour and a half and told him to get the fuck off, that he had gone over and he was cutting into my time now. If I am going to drive halfway across the country to play a short set for a bunch of music industry weasels for no money, I don’t give a damn if the Rolling Stones are playing, I want my 45 minutes when I’m supposed to have my 45 minutes. You’re rich. Go rent the local Sports arena if you want to play all fucking night long.
To be fair to Fogerty it was a pretty damned fine and rocking set though.
I then went downstairs to catch part of the Reckless Kelly set. I knew what to expect here. Good songs, Good performance. They didn’t disappoint at all. The rest of the evening is kind of a blur. I can’t remember who I saw. I think I spent the majority of my time visiting and networking. I ran into friends like Peter Cooper, Judy Hubbard, Kay Clary, Steve Fishell, Holly Lowman and a bunch of others. I even saw Henry Paul show up at the Cannery (and I got my picture took with him too)
Now Henry ain’t the ugliest man alive, but he is in the running for the Top Ten. You may remember him from the band Blackhawk. I’m old. I remember him from the band The Outlaws as well as The Henry Paul Band with Billy Crain. Being the nice guy that I am, I reminded him about that piece of crap disco sounding record that he once recorded (and I own) and watched him hang his head in shame. Still, he was a nice guy, or at least he treated me nice that evening and not just because I was a foot taller and outweighed him by over a 100lbs either.
Later that evening/early morning I picked up three super hot Asian strippers who told me that when they weren’t stripping, they were Baptist Missionaries and were only stripping in order to help pay their way through Seminary and because Strip Joints were a perfect place to witness to the fallen. I told them that I understood, because I only went to Strip Joints so that I would know who to pray for. You would be surprised at the number of the Truly Righteous that you can find in a strip joint. We all ended up going back to my hotel room (because the Gideons had left us a Bible) where they did things to me in the name of the Lord that I would be ashamed to tell my preacher of, yet I might be willing to sell you a copy of the DVD we made if the money was right.
Don’t I wish
Actually, I had a sackful of Krystals, then went to bed and missed my dog Bob who usually snuggles up with me at night. What kind of an old boring bastard have I become when I prefer snuggling up with my dog over three hot Asian chicks (who I didn’t even meet)?
I had volunteered to help the AMA’s official publicist, Jayne Rogovin, out by doing whatever it was I could do. This could be anything from delivering an awards show ticket for someone to helping her to hide the body of somebody who had really pissed her off. Fortunately, she doesn’t get pissed off very easily. I called to check in with her and she had an errand that she needed me to do for her. I performed my assigned task in a diligent manner and then headed over to Jacks’s on Lower Broad for some Brisket.
Now I live in the BBQ capital of the known free world, North Carolina, and had once almost gotten into a physical altercation with Billy Joe Shaver arguing about BBQ. I was saying that real BBQ is pork while he tells me that it is beef and if I want to continue to argue about it, we can go outside and argue like men. I decided that since Billy was getting up there in years (I didn’t want my ass whipped by an old man) that I would let him think that he had won that argument. Later I had occasion to travel to Houston a few times on business and had been exposed to some Smoked Beef Brisket. That’s some good stuff right there. It ain’t pulled pork, but it’s some good stuff. Jack’s is the only place I have found between the house and Houston where a man can get some good brisket and I had a hankering for some Brisket.
I had to drop some stuff off at the Ryman Auditorium first and as I parked in the parking lot, a van with Texas tags pulls in next to me and the driver flips me off. This can only mean one of two things. We are either getting ready to fight or fuck. I saw that it was Claude Bernard of The Gourds, so fighting wasn’t necessary. I have never figured out how flipping somebody the bird somehow became the ultimate expression of ManLove but it has. One of the things I love so much about the whole AMA thing is how it is still so much of a small tent type thing and how many of the artists are so approachable. They remember their fans, they remember people who have opened for them. Lifelong friendships are made. AMA is a homecoming for so many of us, where we can all meet up and catch up on each others lives. I visited with the guys for a few minutes before they had to go inside and do their thing. I decided that I needed to continue upon my quest to get something to eat.
I was smoking a cigar while I was walking to Jacks. I remembered that I was no longer in North Carolina and that they won’t let you smoke indoors anywhere in Tennessee anymore regardless of the fact that the tobacco plant is on the State Seal. Cigars are just too damned expensive to throw away without finishing them when you are unemployed. It was raining a little so there was really no where for me to stash it and then retrieve it later, so I decided to duck into the alley between the Ryman and Jacks. I knew a perfect spot to sit and relax and enjoy what was left of my smoke. The stage entrance for the Ryman is back there as is the back door for Jacks. The Ryman artists entrance is all nice and covered and out of the rain. A perfect place to smoke a cigar. Nobody was out there so I wouldn’t be in anybodies way.
Inside the Ryman, stage plots were being finalized and rehearsals were taking place for the big Americana Awards show that were taking place that evening. It takes a lot of work, not to mention a lot of Hookers and blow, to put on that show and it’s always crowded backstage while they are getting it put together. I’m sitting there, on the steps smoking my cigar when a disheveled looking little old guy comes out and lights a cigarette. If he hadn’t come out of the Ryman, it would have been easy to mistake him for one of the local bums. We start talking about inane stuff when he asks me my name, I tell him and he sticks his hand out and introduces himself. “Hi, I’m Spooner Oldham.” No shit? THE Spooner Oldham? He’s a living chunk of musical history. His credits include Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Arthur Alexander, Funky Donnie Fritts, Eddie Hinton, Bobby Charles and more than I have room to name here. What’s even more amazing is that he is the most humble, down to earth guy that you would ever hope to meet. We sat and smoked and talked about Fritts, Dick Cooper, he talked some about touring with Neil and the difference between van & station wagon gigs and flying gigs. He didn’t act like he felt that people should recognize him. He didn’t act like a star. He just acted like Spooner, the guy who would fix your flat tire down at the Shell station, like a guy you had known your entire life. I was able to keep my fanboy bullshit in check (barely).
Anytime there is something going on at the Ryman, there are people in the alley with cameras and autograph books. Sam Bush pulled in and unloaded and since I’m a big old sumbitch, I ended up helping him tote his roadcases up the stairs. Sam got nabbed by a couple of autograph seekers and photographers. Meanwhile, Spooner is just standing there smoking a cigarette, leaning up against the wall. I wanted to go grab all of the fans and tell them that even as incredibly talented as Sam Bush is, Sam has never played with Aretha. Sam’s not a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (yet).
Sitting back there smoking, not only did I get wrangled into playing roadie for Sam, but I ran into old friends Justin Townes Earle and Jason Isbell and the always lovely Traci Thomas. We caught up for a little bit, I met James Penndecker who is the Fender Rep and a damn fine guitarist, Then I got wrangled to act as security for Fogerty who was coming in for his rehearsal. I was just asked to keep the doorway clear and to help keep people back so that he could get in. No big deal. The strange thing was how nice Fogerty was. He came up to me, stuck out his hand and asked me my name. This seemed to be happening a lot as of late. I’m not anybody of any import. I’ve been fortunate enough to do some writing for various publications but not enough to make me a household name, even in as tiny a house as Americana. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet folks like Spooner and Fritts and others just because I was in the right place at the right time, and I’ve always tried to be of service without being a dick about it. I guess I’m just blessed. I have no other explanations.
After Fogerty went in, my cigar was done and I finally got to eat. After eating it was time to go back to the Ryman for the awards show. Out front, while waiting to go in, I was talking to Barry Mazor and his lovely wife Nina. They introduced me to Barry and Holly Tashian. Mr Tashian, Mr Mazor and I then got into a discussion about whether or not the follicly challenged are somehow more attractive to the women folk than those of us with gorgeous flowing locks. Nice folks.
Inside, I had a wonderful seat for the Awards Show, of course there isn’tt really a bad seat in the Ryman. I can’t remember who won what and who performed what, but there were some special highlights; Rodney Crowell accompaned by Will Kimbrough with backup singers Allison Moorer and Patty Griffin.
Band of Heathens played and impressed me once again. Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles were awesome. I particularly enjoyed watching Binky dance around like a loon. He is just one of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet.
John Prine and Nanci Griffith performing together, The Belleville Outfit were incredible, Justin Townes Earle came out in a red velvet suit that looked like it came from a prom circa 1979 (mine was brown).
Somewhere about this time, I needed a bathroom break. I ran into Jason Isbell and he was estatic. I asked him what was going on and he told me that he just got to meet Joe South. Are you fucking kidding me? Joe South is a hermit. He’s holed up somewhere in Georgia and from what I have been able to discover, he ain’t never coming out again. Jason told me, that Jeremy Tepper had just introduced him to Joe South and he was really here at the Awards show. I looked inside teh door and there is Tepper. I go up and ask him if it’s possible, I would really like to meet Joe South. Tepper looks at me “So you want to meet Joe South, huh?” I told him yes, that I was a fan, and I had written a piece on South for American Songwriter, but I had never been able to speak to him and I just wished to pass along my love and respect, but I wouldn’t know South if he was standing next to me. Tepper responds. “Well, he is standing next to you. Meet Joe South.
Just about everything that happened after this at the Awards show was a blur. Afterwards, I was out in the parking lot hanging with Kev “Shinyribs” Russell and smoking cigars. I also got to meet Ramsay Midwood who just came in to support the Gourds as well as Patrick Sweany who was playing that evening. I hung around and talked to old friends before I had to run off to catch some music at the Basement
Now, the act I had most wanted to catch was Otis Gibbs. I had been introduced to Otis by a couple of different record label weasels and they all had nothing but glowing thing sto say about him. “Otis is Incredible!” “Otis is the most awesome guy ever.” When I finally got to meet him, I got to tell you that the guy just exudes confidence, sincereity, and humilty. He has an incredible charisma. Unfortunately, I missed his set. I did happen to catch Grayson Capps. I’ve never figured out why Grayson isn’t huge. His’s records are all incredible, He’s good looking as hell. He puts on an excellent show that always gets the crowd involved. This short showcase set was no exception.
The Deadstring Brothers closed out the night. They sounded like an Exile on Main Street era Rolling Stones, which to my ears was a good thing. The remainder of the evening was spent watching Joe Swank try to get laid. He was unsuccessful. Swank is so ugly, he has to sneak up on his dick just to be able to jack off. I’ve known Swank for quite a while and we have threatened to share a stage together at some time, but thusfar it has never happened. He is a great hang though and everybody loves him. It’s just that nobody wants to sleep with him. His own penis doesn’t even like being alone with him.
I ain’t used to staying up all night and sleeping all day. I could get used to it though. I don’t remember what all I did on Friday. I went and saw a friend from High School for a few minutes (I was raised in Nashville) I found a ridiculously overpriced cigar shop. Nice store, nice selection, but damn they were expensive, especially compared to NC prices. I went back to the Convention Center to catch a panel on the Future of Music Journalism. There I ran into teh incredibly talented Greg Trooper who remembered me opening for him several years ago and gave me a copy of his new disc. Just in case you missed the panel what we figured out about the future of music journalism it it sucks. It totally sucks. If you have the desire to be a music writer, run, don’t walk to a mental hospital. There may be hope for you. Some of us are already certifiably insane. We write for the same reason we play music. We have no choice. We have to.
Peter Cooper is the only music writer in America left with a decent gig. He complimented me on my writing which tells me that in addition to being a great writer, Cooper has the ability to lie convincingly. I told him how much I love him and that if I ever decide to turn gay, he’s on my short list along with Sam Elliot.
Let me just tell you right now why it is that I love/hate Peter Cooper.
1. He’s good looking as hell
2. He’s one of the nicest guys you will ever meet.
3. He’s a great writer. Not only is he a great writer, I often see him at shows and he will tell me that he has to run bucause he has 30-45 minutes to get his story filled, so not only is he a great writer, he writes fast. I couldn’t write that shit in 6 hours, much less 30 minutes.
4. He is a PAID music journalist in Nashville at the daily paper and access to everybody, is respected by everybody, and loved by everybody.
5. He is in Todd Snider’s band
6. He’s as gay for the Marshall Tucker Band, and especially their rhythm section of Tommy Caldwell, George McCorkle, and Paul Riddle, as I am
6. He’s a super talented singer/songwriter/musician
Once I got done being depressed about being a music journalist my phone began ringing off the hook. Dallas Wayne and Jeremy Tepper from Sirius/XM Outlaw Country wanted me to come over to the studios at the Summet Center. Joe South was on the air live, and I was invited to come witness it.
Now let me tell you a little something about Joe South. He was talented. No, he was a damned genuis is what he was. He wrote some incredible songs, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Games People Play, Hush. He was a session picker in Atlanta and Muscle Shoals. He was on top of the world and then his beloved brother passed away and Joe lost it. He got caught up in liqour and drugs and burnt every bridge that he could find to burn. He then became a recluse who avoided any and all public exposure. When I wrote that little short piece for American Songwriter I tried to get in touch with Joe but was unsuccessful. I called in some favors and I was able to talk to Ray Stevens and Emory Gordy Jr who both had worked with him at Lowery Music in Atlanta. Neither gentleman could find enough good things to say about Joe. Both were very protective of him and his privacy as well. They didn’t make any excuses for any of his behavior, but it was very obviosu that both men held him in extremely high regard.
There’s more to this backstory. The reason South was in town and now live on the radio was because he had written a couple of letters to Tepper at Sirius. Not e-mails, but genuine snail mail letters. The letters talked about how much he enjoyed listening to teh station and how much he liked certain songs. Tepper immediately got hold of him and asked him to come to Nashville as his guest and attend the AMA.
I go to the studio and the first person I see is Big Steve Popovich who used to be head of Columbia Records back in the day. He’s also the guy who discovered Meatloaf, championed David Allan Coe and other stuff. He had moved back to Nashville from Cleveland and had lost a bunch of weight. He was finally totally retired from the music business, if such a thing is possible. After all, he was hanging out at the studio
Inside the studio, Mojo Nixon and Tepper were interviewing South. During a break, Mojo comes out and asks me if there was anything that he should ask South about. How did I suddenly become the Joe South expert? Tepper came out and told me that I should go into the booth. I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity. I got the opportunity to spend a little time talking to Joe and found him to be incredibly humble. He now suffers from diabetes and as a result moves a little slower.
It also needs to be noted for those who were listening to the live broadcast that he spent most of the day in the studio without much of anything to eat.
He talked about showing his ass when he was younger and admistted that he burnt a lot of bridges, He talked about his work in Muscle Shoals. He talked about his work at Lowery with Jerry Reed and Ray Stevens. He told us that he was working on new music which was welcome news. He was just incredibly open and gracious with his time. He made no excuses for past behaviors and was received with love. The two days that he was in the studio, fans and well wishers kept coming by to offer up a constant chain of praise, love, and respect. I think it really did Joe a lot of good to feel all of that love.
Oh, and I discovered why I was considered the Joe South expert. That article I wrote on South for American Songwriter Magazine? It’s the home page on Joe’s Website.
I can’t thank Jeremy Tepper, Mojo Nixon, or Dallas Wayne for the kindness they showed me by inviting me up to the studio and letting me just hang out. For the record, I would like to say that I was in no way responsible for the many empty liqour bottles that magically appeared at the end of Mojo’s on-air shift. I would also like to say that I still love Ms Elizabeth Cook even though she scares me. She’s so sweet. I bet she would still be sweet even while she was stabbing you repeatedly for being trifling. and I’m known for being trifling.
After Mojo finished up his set and Joe South headed back down the road to Georgia, I headed over to the Mercy Lounge. Over there I had big plans on catching several acts, but I made the mistake of going outside to light a cigar on the smoking deck. I got into a discussion with Ken Paulson of the First Amendment Center on various First Amendment issues. He is a very interesting man, and one who seems to have a love for teaching, Before we even began talking, he asked me if I knew what Rights were guaranteed to me under the First Amendment. Then he gave me a hint. There are five of them. Press, Speech, Religion, Assembly, and the right to petition the Government. Most people can’t name all five. I got stuck on the Right to Petition. When is the last time you read the Bill of Rights? The First Amendment to the Constitutions states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Little did I know that I would attend a Music Conference and receive a free history lesson.
Ken had to take off to attend to other business. I ended up meeting two hot chicks from Birmingham; Lea and Laurie. They came up to attend the festival and were having the time of their lives. Lea taught English at a University near Birmingham while Laurie was a chef, baker and what not. They were incredibly interesting and we all three clicked and time just flew by, Unfortunately (for me) they were lesbians. That didn’t stop me from admiring Laurie’s rack though.
This is another highlight of the festival for me. I get to meet some incredible people like Lea and Laurie or like Mike Lantham and his son Jon, People that you connect with first on a musical level then get to know on more of a personal level. I find it incredulous that these people are as interested in me as I am in them.
Since this is a music festival, I guess I should talk about the music some. Radney Foster kicked ass. I missed everyone else until Scott Miller because I was busy learning stuff and staring at lesbian titties. I like titties.
Scott Miller was the closing act at the Mercy. Most people were downstairs for Sam Bush and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, however those of us in the know knew where the party was going to be. Scott Miller and the Commonweath brought the RAWK. Miller plays Countryish Rock or maybe it’s Rockish Country but it definately ain’t Country Rock. He was on fire, full of piss and vinegar
Another thing that is special about a Scott Miller show is the amount of hot chicks that he attracts. I don’t know what it is about that man, but he attracts hot chicks. The other cool thing is that since he is up on stage and therefore unavailable to these hot chicks, I am down in the audience where the hot chicks are drawn to me by default.
After Miller shut the place down, I took 3 hot chicks, Maryanne, Jeanie, and Amy to the local truck stop for breakfast. Rule of thumb; Truckstop food is a lot more palatable if you are drunk, which none of us were.
I spent Saturday just chilling out and relaxing. I went and smoked me a cigar and had me a decent meal. My plan was to head over to the Basement later to catch Angela Easterly, Dallas Wayne and the Bottle Rockets. I got there early and decided to spend some time mediatating with my guitar. Sometimes I can pull out the acoustic and just let my hands do their stuff and turn my mind off. It relaxes me and centers me. Apparently I wasn’t the only person who had this idea. A couple were up on teh 3rd floor balcony playing fiddle tunes. I stopped what I was doing and listened. I then yelled out, “Do I get some kind of prize if I can name that tune?”
“Sure, why not.”
“That song is called Jack of Diamonds”
“If you know that, why don’t you come up here and pick a few with us.”
I don’t remember their names. I have it written down somewhere, but I can’t find it. She was from Black Mountain NC and he was from Nashville. Both were fiddlers. We sat up there for about an hour and played Old Time, Bluegrass, and Cajun tunes. It was better than Valium for calming the soul.
I went downstairs to catch Angela Easterling’s set which was awesome. Kimbrough was sitting in with her which just made it more awesome. Dallas Wayne’s set was next. I have known Dallas for 6-8 years now. I have shared a hotel room with him and seen him naked. It made me insecure. Some things once seen, can never be unseen. Being friends, I often forget about him being such a strong entertainer. That evening he played a solo set, just him and his guitar. No band, no stunt pickers, nothing. He’s old, fat, bald headed and only has one good eye, but that sumbitch can really sing and really work a crowd. Dan Penn was in the audience and obviously digging what it was that he was hearing. If Dan Penn likes your songs, that’s pretty high praise.
This got me to thinking. What’s with all the focus on being young and hot in order to have a successful career? Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham are neither youngf nor hot, bit damn if they can still sing their asses off. The same can be said for Dallas Wayne. I’d much rather hear songs by grizzled old grumpy men and women than I would from people who ain’t even old enough to drink yet. At least Bluegrass and Blues still respect talent over image. I hope that the same can continue to be said for Americana.
The evening was finished off in grand style by Chuck Mead followed by The Bottle Rockets. The basement was packed so tight that it was impossible to move. The BoRox brought their A Game and blew the doors off teh place, I’ve got to say I really like the addiction fo John Horton to that band as he pushes Henneman as a guitar player and really makes him work.
I finished the conference sitting with Joe Swank on a hotel balcony picking tunes and watching him unsuccessfully (again) try to get laid. I love teh AMA and I love Joe Swank. I can’t wait for next year.