Americana Music Association Conference & Festival 2011

When I attend festivals, I balance my time between bands I already know that I love and the desire to find a band with whom I am not familiar in hopes that someone will blow my mind.

The Americana Music Association’s annual conference and festival offers over 100 showcases where that happens nightly.  In 2010, 18 South–a loose association of Nashville session players and songwriters–left me speechless with delight, as did the voice of  Mike Farris–whom I had written off due to his previous projects that did not suit my taste.  The common thread for me with these two bands last year was their soul, both in the depth of vocals as well as the performance. In 2011, I think I have discovered what blows me away again:  soul.

With at least 4 official venues nightly, and countless unofficial venues, each with 5-7 acts every evening, Americana is completely overwhelming.  Despite my detailed grid of where to be when, I inevitably miss showcases that I dearly want to hear–sometimes because bands I want to catch are playing in different venues at the same time, sometimes because I have no sense of direction traveling between venues, and sometimes because the whole plan gets tossed in the air and I wing it.

The latter is how I ended up catching the first 2011 band that blew me away, in one of my favorite Nashville venues, The Basement, literally, the basement of Grimey’s Record Store.   Brooklyn-based quartet Lake Street Dive were not on my radar–even after researching bands on the list via YouTube before heading to Nashville.

I never found Lake Street Dive ahead of the event because their name was misspelled on the first bill posted, thus I was looking for a band that did not exist.  I stuck around rather than bolt to another venue as originally planned purely out of my own exhaustion from the conference.  From the moment Rachael Price sang the first note, I was stunned.  Perhaps because I did not know what to expect, perhaps because her voice does not seemingly match her persona while setting up gear beforehand, I can’t decide, but the instant I heard them live, I was hooked.  Her soulful voice, their direct lyrics, the honesty of the situations within the songs all grabbed the entire crowd.  They were hooked, into the groove, and I am confident, turned on–musically and otherwise–by Lake Street Dive, the band that blew my mind for Americana 2011.

Since their showcase, I have listened to both of their CD’s several times in their entirety.  While I like them, I do not know how one can possibly convey the heat, longing, fun, and desire of their songs in any method other than live.  I have since learned that they also have a live record, but I have not heard it myself to compare.  Their technicality in terms of playing and vocal notes on the records are there, but the allure of Lake Street Dive is in the passion of their performance.  I hope to catch them again in a longer format.

The second band that blew me away at Americana 2011 was also at the Basement, and on my schedule simply because his showcase was between two that I knew I wanted to hear. I am so grateful to have discovered Akron, Ohio soul singer (a non-Southern, James Brown-type showman without the dance moves), Patrick Sweany.  While tweeting from the show, my phone kept auto-correcting “Sweany” to sweaty, and it was true.  The man puts on a performance!  One of the coolest things about tweeting from a show is when someone else discovers your bits about the band; while I was posting, another blogger sent me her link </a>from her interview with Patrick Sweany</a> early in 2011. In looking for video that reflects Sweany’s excellent stage banter, I found a solid performance from Music City Roots that has edited out all but the music; it’s good, but not as powerful as the real deal.

I bought both CD’s on the spot, and listened to them immediately on the long drive back from the conference.  While they catch his energy, the showmanship is not there.  In Sweany’s case, I think the records stand well on their own, but audiences will be awed with the simplicity with which he hooks a crowd, like the showman he is.  The music is real.  Soul does not have to come from my home states of Georgia and South Carolina in the outrageous get-ups and choreography of the late, great James Brown.  Soul can come from a guy from the midwest–now based in Nashville–with an English degree.

This week’s blog is purely the opinion of the author, Sloane Spencer, and not necessarily reflective of Country Fried Rock.