Americana Music Festival & Conference Begins In Nashville

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Words and Images by: James Martin

Americana Music Festival & Conference :: 9.15-16.15 :: Nashville, TN

Read James’s review after the photo gallery.

Wednesday officially kicked off the Americana Conference and Festival in Nashville, with plenty to do and tough decisions to make. The morning started out with a special screening of the Donnie Fritts documentary Undeniably Donnie, narrated by Kris Kristofferson who Donnie has played with for 40 years. The documentary included interviews with musical legends such as John Prine and Tony Joe White. After the screening, we were treated to a short performance and Q&A session with Donnie and John Paul White (formerly of The Civil Wars), who produced and performs on Donnie’s upcoming new album, Oh My Goodness, which is due out next month.

The Americana Music Association Awards ceremony was held on Wednesday evening at the historic Ryman Auditorium and webcast online by NPR, featuring live performances ranging from 2015 recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings backed by an orchestra, to 2015 Emerging Artist & Best Song award winner Shakey Graves, as well as Don Henley, Ry Cooder and Ricky Skaggs, Houndmouth, Jason Isbell, Robert Randolph and many more. One especially moving moment was a musical tribute to honor B.B.King performed by Keb’ Mo’.

Following the ceremony, the first showcases of the conference started at multiple venues. With so much talent playing at once, it is difficult to pick where to be – though decisions can be made easier as some venues meet capacity. With the Mercy Lounge filled to the brim in anticipation of Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, I decided to head to the City Winery for the night. The Contenders were first to go on, a vibrant duo consisting of Jay Nash on guitar and Josh Day on drums.

Following The Contenders was James McMurtry, who started his set solo on acoustic guitar and was then joined by his band for the rest of the performance. McMurtry’s set focused on several songs from his new album Complicated Game as well as some favorites from his back catalog. Not the usual McMurtry setup, as the venue is more of a listening room, so some of the more rocking tunes were left out and instead the set showcased McMurtry’s songwriting. He closed off his performance with “No More Buffalo.”

Closing out the night at City Winery was the lovely Patty Griffin accompanied by David Pulkingham. Griffin also chose to focus on tracks from her new album, Servant of Love, due out September 25. At one point she sat down at the piano and belted out a couple numbers including a hauntingly beautiful title track off the new album.