Them’s Fighting Words!
I first heard the term “Americana” as refering to music when I was interviewing Texas-via-South Carolina songwriter Floramay Holladay several years ago. Prior to that, I only knew of Americana as a kitschy decorating style. Holladay told me about the Americana Music Association — the conference and festival — and a month later I attended, still not really understanding what the term meant.
I did, however, understand deeply how a musical genre means different things to different people, because I was a radio personality on a country station every day for 15 years. When I started at the station, we still played what I consider to be country music; by the end, I don’t know what it was, but it definitely was not country.
At my first AmericanaFest, I was entertained by several Australians and Brits who used the term “country music” to mean almost anything that was neither classical, rock, nor R&B. I learned that the AMA had even helped usher in a Grammy Awards category called “Americana,” edging that word further forward in recognition. “Roots music” took hold as a “bigger tent” term, and Americana shifted in popular American usage to imply “somehow more directly connected to what some people think country music ought to be.” Even the Grammy categories have been renamed (as they tend to do), so that many types of music fit under the tent, and I am sure so they could streamline the number of awards overall.
When this year’s Grammys nominees were announced, I questioned aloud what the terms country, Americana, and roots music mean anyway, and if genres even matter. Awards need names, but as far as clarifying what the music sounds like, are we helping listeners not already familiar with the music? Is that even the point of using these names?
I try to avoid, but am occasionally sucked into, online discussions debating the merits of country versus Americana, as both terms and genres. The more I read those assertions of opinion — they are rarely discussions — the more I believe that roots music more accurately conveys a genre.
I learned long ago that radio formats and genres of music are not the same concept, so I am one of the few who has less of a problem with what the consolidated major radio companies call some music. Even if they are wrong.
This week’s Podcast Corner highlights music in the big tent of “roots music,” from across the globe. Enjoy.