There are many things that have made Americanafest: The Americana Music Festival & Conference one of the overall best music events in the country. The non-profit, membership based Americana Music Association creates a magnificent melting pot of Americana’s diverse influences for a full week of showcases, collaborations, label parties, seminars, panels and networking all around the city of Nashville. Roots, folk, country, blues, soul, rock and more are all represented by the finest at their craft, with a great mix of pioneers, genre staples and newcomers.
The planned and sporadic collaborative nature of the festival perfectly represents the heart of the genre and Americana community. Each night is filled with special guests, song debuts, new covers and everything in between. People come from all over the world, from Birmingham to Australia, meeting in the food line to discuss their excitement for the night. The conflicts are many and frustrating, as each venue (spread across the city) is filled with terrific back to back music, making both staying put and traveling around solid decisions.
There is no one specific thing that makes this festival special. Fans, artists, and industry folks all find something to fall in love with, excited and determined to discover and support the community that care deeply about. In every way, this festival sets the standard for diversity and collaboration, in an incredibly genuine way. It truly is unlike anything I’ve been a part of. Check out some of the artists and events from our week at Americanafest!
Tuesday – Day 1
After being turned away due to capacity for John Prine & Friends at City Winery, we headed on over to our destination for the evening, a tribute show full of covers, exciting special guests and great house bands titled, Better Together: Show Up & Sing. The true nature of Americanafest revolves around collaboration, and this show was no exception. House bands for this event included the very talented Andrew Leahey & the Homestead, Chuck Mead & The Grassy Knoll Boys and Whiskey Wolves of the West. There was no lack of diversity in the chosen covers, ranging from Buffalo Springfield to Genesis. Special guests included Aaron Lee Tasjan, Mary Gauthier, Ian Moore, Will Hoge, Tim Easton, Sam Morrow and many more. This collection of musicians and covers created a celebration-type atmosphere at The Basement East, truly the best way to kick off the week.
Other Great Showcases: I’m With Her, Jill Andrews, Lillie Mae, Jerry Douglas, Fantastic Negrito, Ian Moore
Wednesday – Day 2
The Americana Honors & Awards Show is more about the performances than the awards (there are only X given out) and this year was no exception, with incredible performance by the genre’s top artists and a terrific house band led by Buddy Miller. It was Jason Isbell who prevailed on top this year, receiving the awards for Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Duo/Group of the Year. John Prine received Artist of the Year and Tyler Childers took home the coveted Emerging Artist of the Year. Special awards for lifetime achievements also went to Roseanne Cash, Buddy Guy, and k.d. Lang.
After the awards show, Atlanta rock legends Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ kicked off the night at Mercy Lounge with their unique style of southern rock that spans a wide array of genres from song to song. The band debuted songs of their upcoming album, produced by Aaron Lee Tasjan, that have seem to refine and refocus the band after multiple decades. Playing to a packed room, Kevin Kinney and company did what they do best, play some straight up rock and roll, with a unique stories and tons of impressive guitar solos.
One of the most anticipated shows of the week, 50 Years of Creedence Clearwater Revival, was viewed as the unofficial “after party” of the Awards show, featuring award winners and attendees joining together to celebrate the legendary band. Led by the impressively popular drummer, Jerry Pentecost, the group of talented musicians invited guests on stage such as Lilly Hiatt, Courtney Marie Andrews, The War & Treaty, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Tyler Ramsey, Nicki Bluhm and many more. The capacity crowd at Mercy Lounge watched (and listened) intently as some of their favorites jumped on stage, excited to be there, bringing that genuine energy that we continue to mention. The night’s main award winner, Jason Isbell, stopped by with wife Amanda Shires for “Wrote a Song for Everyone” and Lukas Nelson closed out the night’s guests. This tribute set represented everything that is great about Americanafest and highlighted some of the biggest and brightest in the scene.
Closing out the night was the Emerging Artist of the Year award winner, Tyler Childers, whose popularity has grown rapidly within the scene and out. We only made it for the last few songs, but that still felt satisfying. His style of personal, deep lyrics combined with his emotional tone are captivating and the variety of this set was unexpected. Another A+ Cannery Row lineup.
Other Great Showcases: Lucero, The Black Lillies, Ghost of Paul Revere, Mary Gauthier, Sam Lewis, Austin Lucas, Colter Wall, Southern Avenue
Thursday – Day 3
After the unexpected trip over to Third Man Records, it was off to a night of venue-bouncing to catch out some of the best up and coming acts in the genre. We began at 12th & Porter for recent Nashville transplant, Nicki Bluhm, fresh off her first release since the Gramblers’ album in 2015. Bluhm is an intimate performer with an amazing voice, backed by a very talented group of Nashville musicians. As a familiar face in the community, the crowd sang along to each song, captivated by her emotion and sincere joy of playing for real fans.
It was back to Cannery Row to see three rising stars of the genre, whose names came up multiple times in conversations about the week’s shows.
First up was an intimate set of music (new to us) at Cannery Ballroom with Tyler Ramsey of Band of Horses. Ramsey took advantage of this year’s invite, collaborating with many musicians at different showcases and tributes throughout the week (including the infamous CCR tribute). However, it was Ramsey’s own showcase that left the crowd in awe. Ramsey has created eloquent compositions, driven by the familiar Band of Horses guitar style and his own unique voice. Each songs is carefully crafted with intelligent lyrics that tell captivating stories with a driving force. Ramsey will quickly stake his claim in this genre and others. We may have the working man’s version of Father John Misty on big festival stages soon.
Over at The High Watt, Israel Nash took about 60 seconds to show why he may no longer be one of the most underrated artists of his style. Nash provides the best version of that Texas rock many attempt, but never seem to perfect. The band’s energy is contagious and Nash’s voice is clear and powerful, a polished gruff that I’ve never heard before. They are the real deal.
Following what may have been one of our favorite performance of the weekend, the mesmerizing Courtney Marie Andrews delivered what had to be one of her best performances, pouring emotional out through her well written songs. She seems to embody qualities we love about female greats like Janis Joplin, yet providing a modern twist and delivery that’s refreshing. Go see Courtney Marie Andrews if you get the chance.
The influence of blues in americana music is evident, and arguably quite important, which is why we couldn’t miss Mississippi-delta’s Cedric Burnside at Third Man Records. Burnside was thrilled to be playing the festival, playing songs from his new album (releasing the next day), for a late-night crowd that loved every minute. His original songs blend the raw, delta sound that makes the Burnsides a popular name, with a modern update that makes his sound unique. It’s no surprise that he has remained relevant and successful, as he’s a skilled guitarist, commanding vocalist, great songwriter and even better drummer. This raw, genuine performance was one our favorite experiences of the week.
Other Great Showcases: John Oates, Amanda Shires, Alejandro Escovedo, John Hiatt, Hayes Carll, Dom Flemons, William Fitzsimmons, The Milk Carton Kids, Sam Marrow, Sons of Bill, The Suffers
Friday – Day 4
Once again, there was terrific music everywhere. Literally. Yes, it’s super easy (via Lyft) to bounce around to different venues all night long. However, there is some travel time lost and the value of Cannery Row is hard to beat. Three venues, constantly going, with a short walk to Third Man Records makes this venue the place to be.
We started with The Josephines, out of Bowling Green, KY, after hearing great things about their performance as this year’s Forecastle Music Festival. They were thrilled to be playing the festival. Their music is ragged, country hoodlum rock and roll with a ton of energy. The band is incredibly engaging, sincere and excited to be getting drunk and playing music. Next up was Blackfoot Gypsies, another example of just how far the americana range can go. The Nashville favorites never slowed down with their style of fast, guitar-driven rock, which is raw like Legendary Shack Shakers, but with nice clothes and indie haircuts like The Strokes. They were a perfect placement, keeping up the pace and brining even more variety to the rock-filled night on the stage.
At Cannery Ballroom, the night was dedicated to celebrating the legends of americana music, those that paved the way for the genre and the festival itself. In expected fashion, Jim Lauderdale took the stage in his elaborate blue, floral outfit, running through staples of his career with youthful energy and his admired storytelling. Tommy Emmanuel blew us away with his other-worldly guitar skills. Emmanuel is true virtuoso, with very few able to imitate the original, fast and full sound he is able to create with only an acoustic guitar. The beloved Buddy Miller & Friends rounded out the “legends” night with an all star cast of musicians, including Kinky Friedman. These are 3 artists I have listened to for years and have always wanted to see live. It truly felt like an honor to see them, one after another, in a celebration of americana’s roots.
We didn’t know much about Ruston Kelly, but that will change. His songs are lovely to say the least, with catchy melodies and harmonies. It’s his voice and words that really stand out, the focal point of every song, showing why he’s gaining popularity. He also has a unique harmonica style that the crowd loved. Joined by Kacey Musgraves for a song, we were once again glad to discover great new music.
Another fast-rising Nashville artist, Devon Gilfillian, took the stage at The High Watt for a primetime slot that filled the small room early. Gilfillian is one of the most sincere musicians I’ve ever met, and every member of the band loves what they are doing. Gilfillian has it all. His voice is uniquely soulful and his lyrics are relatable, yet catchy. He’s a skilled guitar player, with solos that you wish were longer. There are so many good things to say about this band, but most importantly, their personalities shine on stage and it’s incredibly contagious. Get ready for bigger stages in their future.
To end our night, we grabbed a ride over to West End to The Local for Andrew Leahey & the Homestead, another common name in Nashville, who impressed everyone on Tuesday night at The Basement East, serving as the house band for exciting (and often difficult) covers with many special guests. Leahey’s late night showcase featured numerous songs off of his forthcoming album (date TBD) and a great cover of Echo & the Bunnymen’s “Lips Like Sugar.” Leahey’s songwriting is strong, telling personal stories about life as musician and enjoying the small things. The Homestead complement Leahey’s voice and musicianship perfectly, with musical precision and great harmonies.
Other Great Showcases: The War & Treaty, The Lone Bellow, John Paul Keith, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Marc Ribot, Don Gallardo, Guy Davis, Richard Thompson, American Aquarium, The Watson Twins, Daniel Donato
Saturday – Day 5
After a long week of music (and daytime work as well), Saturday was used to catch up on life before going out for one last night of americana celebration. Back at Mercy Lounge, Charley Crockett performed a well polished set of traditional, roots-based tunes to a large audience enjoying the down tempo style. Jackie Greene was a great way to close out Americanafest, and yet another example of the variety range the genre brings.
There’s are so many things that make this festival special. That’s worth repeating. Musical variety, collaboration, surprises, scheduling, special events, panels, tribute shows just to name a few. But the ultimate credit goes to the fans, for they are the ones that have propelled the growth the excitement that now comes with it. The dedication to the genre is sincere and passionate and spans generations, now more modern than ever. Some may call americana music a “dumping ground” for artists who don’t fit in their respected genres. I see it as a beautiful collection of intelligent, talented musicians and storytellers. Those that understand their roots, and most importantly, community.