Making My Way Through the Americana Music Conference
With the Americana Music Conference still nestled in that precarious spot between the blur of the experiences and the blurriness of the memories, I wanted to share a few impressions that I took away from my trip to Nashville.
There were a number of memorable moments, some from acts catching my attention for the first time and others living up to expectations.
One act that definitely made a big first (and second and third) impression was the trio, The Baskery. These three sisters from Sweden seemed to have everyone talking at the Conference with their punk-fueled rootsy tunes. One of the cool things was watching the eldest sister strum a mean banjo while also playing a kick drum and singing (in English) to boot.
Peter Cooper was a name I was familiar with – but mostly as a journalist. He’s also a talented singer/songwriter with a terrific gift for the story-song. He performed a song about baseball great Henry Aaron that has stayed with me for days.
I was not at all familiar with the name Patrick Sweany, an Ohio transplant to Nashville. He did an animated set of sweaty, bluesy rock that really energized the audience at the Basement
I happened upon Sweany because I had gone to the Basement to see the Nashville band DADDY. I had enjoyed their recent album, For A Second Time, but this funky rootsy rock outfit was just a wonderfully fun band to experience live. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since the group is fronted by Tommy Womack and Will Kimbrough.
Kimbrough also sat in on Saturday night’s set by Angela Easterling, which reminded me about her fine album, Blacktop Road. Kimbrough, who produced the disc, combined with Easterling’s guitarist Brandon Turner to make her tune “American ID” a delicious slice of jangly roots pop.
DADDY’s Friday night set was followed by a late night/early morning performance from the Canadian trio Elliott Brood. Their new disc Mountain Meadows had caught my ear but I wasn’t prepared for the ferocious intensity that Mark Sasso and Casey Laforet serve up on acoustic guitars, banjo and the like. They made me think of an acoustic version of the Feelies for some reason.
The Band of Heathens was another group that I had targeted to see, having enjoyed their last two albums – and this Austin-based band didn’t disappoint. They play a potent blend of Neil Young, Little Feat and Southern Rock, and their song “LA County Blues” was another of those “stick in my mind” numbers.
I also enjoyed the short set from feisty Nashville country singer, Elizabeth Cook. Cook soon will be starting an album to be produced by Don Was, which might be her ticket to more prominence. She did a dandy song “El Camino” that was both funny and heartfelt.
It’s hard to call John Fogerty’s “secret” set a surprise (most folks seemed to have found out about it) but it was unexpected for him to play for 90 minutes at the intimate Mercy Lounge. The Mercy was also where I later caught Radney Foster’s surprisingly rockin’ set and some sweet swing music from the together-again Hot Club of Cowtown.
Downstairs at the Cannery was the site of strong sets from Holly Williams, W.P.A. (featuring that night Watkins Sean and Sara along with Glen Phillips) and a sublime performance from Buddy Miller (the big winner at the AMA Awards) who brought out Patty Griffin to sing with him (including a version of “Dark End Of The Street”). Miller’s was one of the top overall sets that I saw during the conference.
One of the challenging aspects of this conference (like SxSW and any other multi-stage festivals) is getting to all the acts that you want to see. It’s a little bit like the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken,” although in this case it’s four clubs, not two roads. However, I am quite happy with the road I took in Nashville, and all the music (and people) I encountered along the way.
I could have just have easily seen a totally different lineup of performers and come away just as impressed. But I am happy with the path I took.