Nashville is a Women’s Town: UK and US Acts Converge at Americanafest’s Bootleg BBQ
Steve Earle recently set the world on fire (again) by asserting that “The best stuff coming out of Nashville is all by women….” Jason Isbell has protested against country radio’s refusal to promote women by featuring all-women opening acts for his run at the Ryman. Given this quarter of the print No Depression‘s focus on foremothers, it’s clear that this resurgence in women’s voices has been brewing for some time. The Bootleg BBQ showcase at the Groove features British and US-based Americana acts couldn’t have been arranged at a better time. Featuring Angaleena Presley (USA), Yola Carter (UK), Courtney Marie Andrews (USA), Danni Nicholls (UK), Erin Rae (USA), and Wildwood Kin (UK), the show, produced by British Undergrand and supported by The Line of Best Fit and AMA UK, is one of my dream bills.
But it’s 2017; is it really necessary to have an all-women showcase? According to the leading female singer-songwriters of the day, it is. Angaleena Presley notes, “There’s definitely power in numbers and I’m grateful for the strong female presence in the Americana community. Country / folk / roots music is built on substance and I feel like women are playing a big role in both fostering traditions and pushing boundaries. The Americana scene thrives on the fact that the truth never goes out of style. I agree with Steve in that women are leading the charge when it comes to telling it like it is.”
My theory is this: we’re living in a moment where multiple groups are using the language of oppression — real or perceived — to promote their particular agendas. But white men are not oppressed because of their whiteness or their maleness, no matter what an MRA activist would have you believe. But there is struggle in this country and there is very real oppression happening there. And singing about that is compelling when it’s, like, actually happening to you. So in a genre that particularly plays into that sense of grievance and caters to white men, authenticity is rising to the top — at least among people whose fires get lit by that kind of thing.
It’s also a unique moment in Nashville. Erin Rae, the renowned session singer who recently released her own album Soon Enough, credits the hard work that she and other women put into creating their own space. “I feel really fortunate to be part of the Nashville music scene for many reasons, but a big one is the community of women here. I’ve gotten to participate in several incredible events like our Linda Ronstadt tribute night featuring somewhere around 30 of our most incredible artists, and there are MORE where that came from. We get together periodically for low-key gatherings like song swaps, and most recently I was asked to curate an event for the University of Louisville’s Speed Museum showcasing 6 women writers from different areas of the south. I think we are special here in that we have each others backs. There is not a sense of competition, but more a sense of coming up together and supporting one-another. One of my guy friends mentioned he wished that the men here had such a strong sense of support. Its a lucky thing! Thats the kind of energy you’re missing if you book only male acts, not to mention the incredible talent and music. We need all of our gifts to grow and learn and experience, not all men or all women. We need both.”
“I think people forget that sexism is prejudice. Any prejudice directed at a group will affect their ability to perform at the highest level. If you see a volume of women performing well in the Country side of Americana umbrella, it’s probably because there are enough people who aren’t prejudiced operating on multiple levels within that genre,” notes Yola Cater. “It seems to be a test that is easy to pass. Can you make someone who isn’t white and male successful exactly like you do those that are (and with the same level of dignity and respect in marketing)? If you can’t, please put that in brackets next to your company moniker.”
Courtney Marie Andrews notes that this is a national phenomenon, created in spite of the industry’s artificial pressure on women artists to succeed in what they deem a difficult market. “Definitely. Growing up in a male dominated industry, us women are often made to feel competitive with each other. We’re constantly being compared to one another, and have to work twice as hard to stick out because of that. I think there’s a new awareness amongst women in the music industry to abolish those ideologies. Out of that awareness, a community has been born. If we build each other up, audiences will too. There are communities of women coming together all around the country, not just in Nashville, and not just in Americana.”
Like many of their foremothers before them, the artists featured in this showcase are not remarkable simply for their work: they also insist on creating a space for themselves, much to our benefit.
If you’re lucky enough to catch the show at Americanafest, drink a free beer for me. (The show is free to enter as well.) The British Underground Bootleg BBQ is on Saturday, 9/16 at the Groove from 12 PM onwards.
EDIT: Straightened out who, exactly, was responsible for creating this amazing event!