Reports from the 11th Annual Americana Music Festival and Conference
Onstage at the Cannery Friday night, Travis Book – bass player for Infamous Stringdusters – made an open call to the audience for any definition for “Americana music.” You could perhaps understand his, or anyone’s, confusion about the term. After all, this year’s festival included gospel performances from the Fairfield Four and Mike Ferris, an old school-style rock and roll revue courtesy of Todd Snider, some classic singer-songwriter stuff from folks like Guy Clark and John Carter Cash, and the bluegrass-infused stringbands like Chatham County Line and the Stringdusters…to name a few.
There was also the all-over-the-spectrum excellence of Band of Joy (that is, Robert Plant, Buddy Miller, Darrell Scott, Patty Griffin, Byron House, Marco Giovino) which surprised the audience at the Ryman on Thursday night, after the awards show had come to a close. Indeed, the supergroup’s surprise appearance was an easy early highlight of the entire weekend.
The night before, I’m told, Guy Clark gave an exceptional, emotional performance at the Station Inn, which far exceeded his alotted set time, and pulled from across his entire career. It quickly became the stuff of festival legend, as everyone I ran into who’d seen that show fumbled over words looking for an adequate description.
We arrived in Nashville after the festival had already placed a full day of festivities under its belt. Thus, I can’t speak to the first evening, which, in addition to Clark’s memorable set, included performances by Hayes Carll (who was, at last, awarded Emerging Artist of the Year honors during Thursday night’s award show), Ray Wylie Hubbard, Frazey Ford, Elizabeth Cook, Abigail Washburn, and others. I can, however, attest that the awards show included an impressive array of performers (Artist of the Year Ryan Bingham, Song of the Year noms Avett Brothers, and newcomers like Sarah Jarosz).
Much of the remainder of my festival time was divided between the Mercy Lounge and Cannery, which occupy the upstairs and downstairs of the same building. There, I caught an excellent performance from Lifetime Achievement Award honoree Wanda Jackson who, at 72, can still shake, prance, and growl like her life depends on it. Later in the weekend, Shelby Lynne, Mike Ferris, and Todd Snider’s rock and roll troupe all delivered remarkable sets in those rooms. The latter included a special appearance from piano rocker Jason D. Williams, for whom Snider recently produced a record. Leaping and banging and handstanding on his piano, Williams channeled the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis with his style and antics – at one point even attacking the keys while balancing a beer on his head.
Other highlights of the weekend included unfortunately brief sets from Cassino and Sarah Siskind at the Basement on Saturday, and a discussion the previous day about the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Mainstreet, featuring Don Was, Bobby Keys, and others.
Granted, I know this reads like a shopping list of some of the finest performers in this genre, whatever it is. But, summing up a weekend the likes of the Americana Festival is not a challenge adequately met by simple descriptors. If there were such a thing as an Americana music candyland – populated by all the artists and events a person interested in this kind of music might enjoy, the AMAs would pretty much cover it. Discussions about technology and the correlation between punk rock and Americana, book signings with Rosanne Cash, interviews at the Country Music Hall of Fame, even a tailgate party for the LSU-Vanderbilt game…all of this and more occurred in Nashville this weekend.
I regret only that there doesn’t yet seem to be any video available to share from the festivities. I was able only to find this one which includes an audio track from Rosanne Cash’s presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting to John Mellencamp. For now, it’ll have to do: