Americana Review Covers Americana Music Association Conference 2013 (Guest Post)

Our friends at Americana Review (Canada) have a great blog and did some excellent summaries of this year’s AMA conference. With their permission, we are sharing it for you here!

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Day 1 Roundup – AMA Festival, Nashville, TN
The annual Americana Music Association Festival and Conference is in full swing with the first official night now complete. The festival kicked off with annual awards show at the Ryman which, as always, featured incredible and unique performances that one can only see at this awards show. It’s the only place you’ll find a finale that includes Jim Lauderdale, Joy Williams of the Civil Wars, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Roseanne Cash, Dr. John, Richard Thompson, Billy Bragg, Shovels and Rope, Tift Merritt, Dr. John and as wonderful a house band as you’ll ever gather with Buddy Miller at the lead performing “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight”, an old hit on separate occasions for Emmylou and the Oak Ridge Boys. What was especially great about this particular performance was hearing Rodney Crowell and Roseanne Cash perform a few lines together, something that rarely happens these days. Steven Stills just tore it up with a performance of the iconic Buffalo Springfield tune “For What It’s Worth.” The Milk Carton Kids made an astounding case as to why they could easily have been presented with the Emerging Artist award, an honour that was bestowed upon Shovels and Rope. Two very different styles of music between the two duos, both excellent acts and all tremendous artists.

Speaking of duos, they were front and center during the awards show with the Association giving much love to Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, awarding them with the Duo/Group of the Year award and Album of the Year for “Old Yellow Moon.” In addition to Emerging Artist, Shovels and Rope also picked up the award for Song of the Year for their performance of “Birmingham.” The AMA Awards are truly the most unique award show presentations in the industry today. I always find it a treat to attend this show. For those who could not attend, Austin City Limits will be featuring a special broadcast of the music portions of the show at a later date (I suspect in November), and AXS TV in the United States has carried the show live for the past two years. Be on the lookout for a replay. Click here for a great rundown of the rest of the award proceedings.

It doesn’t happen that often, but on occasion, a plan can go astray. My plan last night was to cover the Lone Bellow and JD McPherson’s portion of the showcase. However, to their deserved credit, the Mercy Lounge was at capacity when I arrived at the venue so I was not able to get in. Fortunately, the Mercy Lounge, High Watt and Cannery Ballroom are all connected, so I ventured to the High Watt where I soon discovered how gifted and amazing Drew Holcomb and The Neighbours are. Performing a set largely comprised of material off their latest release “Good Light”, Drew and the Neighbours delivered a powerful set that ranged from the autobiographical (“Tennessee”) to the haunting (“A Place To Lay My Head”), from the romantic (“The Wine We Drink” — which is a powerful, beautiful song) to the inspirational (“Good Light”), all delivered with complete heart and soul. This group has a real diverse sound to it. They can transition from a straight up, heartland rock and roll sound as heard on “Good Light” to a slightly Celtic delivery on “A Place to Lay My Head.” A group of excellent musicians who are creating music that speaks to them, look for Drew and the Neighbours in your area as they hit the road soon. Judging by the reaction of the crowd at the High Watt, their music speaks to the people as well.

The final act I caught was based on a recommendation from my friend Nelson of WDVX radio in Knoxville, TN. St. Paul and the Broken Bones opened up for Jason Isbell in Knoxville earlier this year and apparently blew apart the stage they were so good. From Birmingham, AL, this group of young men have quite the future ahead of them. Reaching in to the soul, jazz and blues portion of Americana, St. Paul and the Broken Bones could have taken people to church last night, as there were moments you thought you were in a tent revival. The powerful, soulful and strong vocal delivery of St. Paul, paired with the outstanding musicianship of the Broken Bones created the most unique act I have seen in my 3 years attending this conference and festival. A real highlight of the show was a cover of the Aretha Franklin classic “Respect.” Young, professional and talented, St. Paul and the Broken Bones are going places. They are ones to watch, indeed.

And to think this was only the first night …

Day 2 Roundup, AMA Week, Nashville, TN
The best music in the world continued to play in Nashville on Thursday night at the annual AMA festival with arguably one of the strongest nightly lineups in festival history. Stellar lineups were presented at all of the festival venues with artists ranging from the North Mississippi All Stars, and Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale at the Cannery, to outstanding newcomers John Fullbright and Nikki Bluhm and the Gramblers at the Mercy Lounge. 3rd and Lindsley presented a night of Americana pioneers, and that’s focus of this write up today.

Rosanne Cash has long been a supporter of outstanding Americana music, even before such a format was recognized. Her musical heritage is beyond reproach, having grown up under the influence of her famous father and stepmother, Johnny and June Carter Cash, as well as the Carter Family. Creating and releasing thoughtful and insightful albums have been the standard for Roseanne Cash for her entire career, which now spans more than 30 years. Her performance at 3rd and Lindsley last evening served as a preview for the next chapter in her storied career. The River and the Thread will be released in January of 2014, an album of original material following the release of the outstanding cover album The List. The album should speak to many of us. Its core subject is returning to ones roots, that home base that they may have left behind a long time ago. It could be for varying reasons … work, restlessness, escape. However, when returning to that home base after an extended period, that person feels the connection to themselves, that feeling where you know that you are the person you are because of those roots. It reveals a new appreciation for where you came from. It’s an important theme of the album for Cash, who mentioned she has been living in New York City for long time, and the preparation for this album brought her back to her southern family heritage. Some great material on this album with key tracks being “What’s The Temperature Darlin’?”, a great lifelong love story; “Tell Heaven”, an all-inclusive religious song about believing in a higher power and faith; and “When the Master Calls the Role”, a beautiful, lyrically stunning Civil War song written by Cash, husband John Leventhal and ex-husband Rodney Crowell.

British folk legend Billy Bragg has been leaving quite the impression on Nashville and the Americana faithful, reminding everyone of why he’s been so successful for so many years. Touring in support of his first album in 5 years, “Tooth and Nail,” Bragg’s set included many selections from that album, as well as a couple of stellar cover songs. “Handyman Blues” is a great tongue-in-cheek track from “Tooth and Nail” about the life, times and indeed, perils of loving a songwriter. “Swallow My Pride” is a beautifully written song of reconciliation, penance and healing a relationship with ones other half. “Chasing Rainbows” is a straight up country song loaded with pedal steel, featuring strong lyrics with that always wry, British sense of humour. A very poignant moment in Bragg’s set saw the return of Roseanne Cash to the stage, where they performed the Johnny Cash standard “I Still Miss Someone.” Their vocals melding together beautifully, a true highlight of the show performing the song to a hushed crowd.

Fellow British folk-icon Richard Thompson was on stage next, making a return appearance to the Americana Music Festival stage. Similar to his on-stage predecessors, Thompson performed tracks from his latest release “Electric.” A song many can relate to was the performance of “Saving The Good Stuff For You”, a beautifully written song about growing up to be a better man. It’s an adult song, for adults. The performance of “Salford Sunday”, a whimsical song about love lost was beautifully performed. However, it was the performance of “Vincent Black Lightning 1952” that left the 3rd and Lindsley crowd spellbound. Quite frankly, the guitar work on this song is like nothing I have ever seen. The entire performance was incredible, but this particular piece was astounding. Some people have called Richard Thompson a guitar god, and the description could not be more accurate.

And now, on and out to Day 3 …

Day 3 Roundup, AMA Week, Nashville TN
Another exciting night of Americana music has come to pass in Music City. As usual, an incredible litany of talent was showcased all over town, with the most active venue being the Mercy Lounge/High Watt/Cannery Row complex.

It was a night to try and catch acts in all three venues contained in this building, and the music did not disappoint. The tough decision was where to stay. It seemed the only logical conclusion was to roam around a little bit. Downstairs in the Cannery, New West Records was celebrating the 15th Anniversary of the much-celebrated record label with performances from their entire roster. I came in at the time Buddy Miller was onstage and delivering a scorching set that included guest performances with Rodney Crowell for two songs (including the classic “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight”) and the McCrary Sisters. Some of the many, many great things about seeing Buddy Miller live is seeing how much he loves playing and experimenting with music, creating new sounds, and just watching how much he loves being on stage and performing. Every time I see his name advertised anywhere, I always do my best to check out his show. It’s always worth the time, and you will always be entertained.

Next up was Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark, two old friends from Texas that recorded an album together 42 years ago and reunited to release an album this year called “Blind, Crippled and Crazy.” McClinton is a legend in the music business, carving his legacy with crafting a hard, country-blues sound. Performing tunes that were largely from their album. Delbert and Glen put the scald on the Cannery, belting out some hard core blues such as “Been Around a Long Time” and the tongue-in-cheek “Peace in the Valley.” The set closed off with a return appearance by the McCrary Sisters, additional back-up vocals on “Givin’ It Up For Your Love”, one of Delbert’s all time best.

The final performance of the night, at least for me, was the extended set delivered by The Bottle Rockets. Where Delbert and Glen put the scald on down in the Cannery, The Bottle Rockets burned the place down with arguably the best set I’ve attended at the Americana Music Festival. The energy that was in the room was nothing short of amazing, with band and audience feeding off each other in ways that are not often replicated. Performing crowd favorites such as the guitar heavy “Radar Gun” and “The Long Way”, from the Lean Forward album, to sing-alongs like “Welfare Music” and “$1,000 Car,” the raucous crowd got the encore they were looking for with a three song finale that included “Countin’ On You” and “Take Me To The Night.”

With much respect to the other performers that were to follow The Bottle Rockets, I left the venue after their performance. There was no need to see anyone else, it wouldn’t be fair. The Bottle Rockets were on a rare level that no one was going to exceed last night. Having said that, I do want to give special mention to Judah and the Lion, a group of young musicians whom I understand have just graduated from Belmont University in Nashville. I caught a couple of their songs earlier in the evening. They are an outstanding group of young musicians who are well on their way to having a solid career. Do keep an eye on these young musicians, I know I will be.

Days 4 and 5 Round Up, Americana Music Fest, Nashville TN
The final 2 days of the Americana Music Festival have come and gone, with the festival wrapping up in glorious fashion. Saturday can be a tough go for the performers at this festival, but only because the attendees have been so inundated with so much music, information and late nights over the previous four days, not because the performers aren’t giving it their all. It’s with this in mind, that I thank all of the performers on Saturday night for their contributions. You did yourselves and the Americana movement proud.

Levi Lowrey is an up and coming star in this genre. A multi-talented singer-songwriter out of Georgia, he finds his recording home on Zac Brown’s label, Southern Ground Recordings, Lowrey performed a solid set at the legendary 3rd and Lindsley in Nashville. Backed by a stellar band, one of the great highlights of his show was the performance of “Colder Weather”, a 2012 hit for the Zac Brown Band that was co-written by Lowrey. Lowrey’s version of “Colder Weather” contains a mysterious alternate verse that is not contained in the Brown recording, yet it is arguably the most poignant verse in the song. Levi Lowrey is on the road, and will be back in Nashville on September 27 and 28 for Zac Brown’s Southern Ground Music and Food Festival. He and his band are well worth your time and money, you will be duly entertained at their show.
The final act of Saturday night’s festivities at 3rd and Lindsley was an act I had been hoping to see for some time. Mike Farris caught my attention with a performance on Music City Roots with his incredible showmanship, powerful vocal delivery, and positive message in all of his songs. Backed by a large band that included horns, keys and background singers, Farris injected new life in to the club at a late hour when most attendees were fading. Having returned from Spain not long before his performance on Saturday night, Farris gave everyone the last little bit he had left in the tank and the crowd responded by doing the same. A real treat was hearing Farris’ version of the Mary Gautier classic “Mercy Now,” which is sure to be a classic when released. With a positive message in all of his songs, especially with his rendition of “This Little Light of Mine”, Farris sent the attendees of the final showcase night home feeling good, positive and waiting until next year.

However, this was not the end of the Americana music festival. A surprise addition to the festival saw the weekly Nashville Sunday Night’s show, presented a living legend in Americana music with Lucinda Williams concluding her tour at 3rd and Lindsley. This performance, captured via live broadcast on Lightning 100 in town, was a presentation of her debut album which was released 25 years ago. Sounding as strong as she’s ever sounded, Lucinda performed an incredible set that re-visited such classics as “Change The Lock”, “Passionate Kisses” and “The Night’s Too Long”, the latter two which became major hits for Mary-Chapin Carpenter and Patty Loveless respectively. Recognizing the significance of the occasion, Jim Lauderdale raced back from the Rhythm and Roots festival in Bristol, TN for a guest appearance with Lucinda.
And so wrapped up another Americana Music Festival in Nashville, Tennessee. It’s a festival like this that really cements the reputation of Nashville as Music City U.S.A. An outstanding lineup was featured and all involved in the organization of this event deserves all the credit in the world. It surely must have been a monumental task. The only challenge that remains is how to top, or at least equal, the quality of performances for next year.