Photos & Highlights: Americana Music Association Brings Music To Music City For AmericanaFest 2017
Words & Images by: James Martin
AmericanaFest :: 9.12-17.17 :: Nashville, TN
View James’ photo gallery below his recap.
Each September the Americana Music Association takes over Nashville for their annual conference AmericanaFest, filling venues across the city with showcases featuring Americana artists day and night for the bulk of the week. This year’s AmericanaFest ran from Tuesday, September 12 through Sunday the 17th.
With over 300 artists performing simultaneously in a variety of venues ranging from the Station Inn, City Winery, Anchor Fellowship church, and the vast Cannery complex, it’s nearly impossible to see everything you want to see – in fact it’s often torturous to piece together a schedule that feels just right. You have to accept that you’re going to miss out, and embrace where you land.
While it would be easy to attend showcases of already established, big-name talent, this year I took a different tactic and sought out lesser-known and emerging artists, which proved to be a rewarding experience rich with talent and grit. It goes to show that no matter where you land at AmericanaFest, you’re sure to have a damn good time and hear some excellent live music.
The highlight showcase of the week for me was Nikki Lane’s High Class Hillbilly presents: Where is the Hideout? event at American Legion Post 82 in East Nashville on Thursday night. This showcase kept raising the bar act after act and wouldn’t quit. The American Legion Post 82 throws you back to another decade with its disco ball turning, old funky tables and chairs, red, white and blue star decorations and music notes hanging from the ceiling. The charismatic venue really set the mood for the evening.
Starting off with a few numbers from vibrant Australian singer Ruby Boots, California’s GospelBeacH followed with their psychedelic rock-country jam. Ramsay Midwood brought it back to a rugged bluesy roots-infused sound featuring a sit-in by Hard Working Americans’ Jesse Aycock on pedal guitar, and Jonathan Tyler sitting-in at the end. Tyler came up next with a flaming set of his own, wailing on guitar and singing his heart out, the crowd eating up every lick. No set break was needed as Tyler brought Lane onstage, wasting no time throwing themselves into several hits off Lane’s most recent album, Highway Queen. Highway queen she is, dominating the stage with her unwavering solid voice and charm. The chemistry between Lane and Tyler can’t be beat – it’s true love and you can see it in their grins, and feel it in their music. Special guest Charlie Sexton sat-in on guitar. JD McPherson wrapped up the night with a solid set of ‘50s throwback rockabilly, holding nothing back with an energetic performance that had the crowd in a frenzy, and yes, he played his current popular tune “Lucky Penny.” What a night.
It would be impossible to write a review encompassing all the amazing talent I saw this past week. There are several acts however that stood out and are worth mentioning here. Below is a quick run-down of my “Best Of AmericanaFest”
The Oak Ridge Boys
This special panel session was held in the Historic Studio A. It was a listening session hosted by Peter Cooper for their yet untitled gospel album due out in 2018 produce by Dave Cobb. With a band that is rooted in gospel music this album will be different than what they have done in prior years. This upcoming album is influenced by the spiritual sound rooted in gospel music. The guys even did a soulful a capella performance to send us off.
It would be easy to call Jon Latham the heart of East Nashville. Undoubtedly a well-loved musician in the local scene, Latham appeared several times throughout AmericanaFest, with a set at Acme Feed & Seed on Broadway, another set at the Basement East alongside Brian Wright and Aaron Lee Tasjan, while also playing at various day parties. Latham’s words between songs hit you in the heart, he is a thoughtful man whose songwriting is even more solid than his conversation. His recently released album, Lifers continues this trend with a rootsy vibe laden with powerful lyrics. Easing into his sets with mindfulness and heart, his music is reminiscent of the Drive-By Truckers but with a less rugged feel. Keep an eye on Latham, he is blowing up.
The Brothers Comatose
The Brothers Comatose
The Brothers Comatose is an all-string band that hails from California. Make no mistake, this is no sleeper bluegrass band – BroCo brought their foot-stomping, hand-slapping, folk-rock-bluegrass to the High Watt on Wednesday night with an infectious energy. They played select recently recorded fresh tunes, while throwing in a few classics including crowd-favorite “Trippin’ on Down.” Opting out of a full album release for their latest concoctions, BroCo is paving a new path of sharing their music by releasing single tracks shortly after recording them throughout 2017 and 2018. Their jovial onstage presence and overall larger-than-life joy is addicting.
The Band Of Heathens
The Band Of Heathens packed the house as the headliner closing out the Basement East’s showcase for Wednesday night in the midst of their tour for their latest album, Duende. Hailing from Austin, Texas, their rootsy country rock reminds you of The Band with a modern sound. Veterans of the music scene, The Band Of Heathens have a finely honed sound that is genre-bending and full of creativity. Their live show was a testimony to their talent that has melded into a fully vibrant sound.
It’s hard to nail down what genre GospelbeacH encompasses because this jamming band hailing from California touches just about all of them short of hip-hop. Their sound is definitely California-esque with an almost psychedelic twist on surf alt-country, with a pop-rock edge and smoking jams sandwiched between rock-out sessions reminiscent of another era, yet refreshingly relevant. Their performance at the Hideout showcase blew me away with their unique, variable sound. Following with a daytime performance at Grimey’s on Friday that was equally impressive, this band is blazing trails with their latest album, Another Summer of Love, chock full of songs that remind you of yes, happy summertime days on the beach. Lead singer Brent Rademaker’s humor and good-will presence onstage bolsters this band’s talent and makes the live performance something you won’t want to miss if they come your way on tour. GospelbeacH will be one to watch, heads-up.
Tim Carroll’s Happy Hour at the 5 Spot is a weekly Friday evening gig that in recent years has been honored by becoming an official AmericanaFest event. When in Nashville on a Friday night, hitting the 5 Spot won’t ever let you down. Even though Carroll plays weekly, each set will be different as Tim pulls from his vast catalog of grungy rock ‘n’ roll originals with a punk flair – and though he plays regular favorites, you’ll never hear the songs the same way twice as Tim is always evolving and reinventing his arrangements with a new perspective. Carroll’s happy hour was a great way to start off the evening.
A well-known and critically acclaimed musical fixture in the East Nashville music scene, Brian Wright could be found playing on any given day during AmericanaFest with a no-holds-barred attitude. The gritty drive Wright put into each performance had everyone up on their feet clapping and shouting with joy. A witty “Jesus Please (Turn your Tractor Beam on Me)” brought a chuckle and erupted in a sing-along. His most memorable performance was Friday night at the Basement East, where he finished his set with an eight-minute rocking” Glory Hallelujah” that was tough to top for the evening. Wright’s record label, co-founded with his wife and musician Sally Jaye, Café Rooster Records, hosted a barn-burning day party at Little Harpeth Brewing Company on Saturday, welcoming the label’s talent-filled roster of artists and more, including Darrin Bradbury, Jon Latham and Aaron Lee Tasjan.
Aaron Lee Tasjan
Aaron Lee Tasjan
Nominated for Emerging Artist of the Year at the Americana Awards, East Nashville’s Aaron Lee Tasjan’s Silver Tears has garnered much well-deserved attention in the Americana scene, and was another artist who you could find playing on any given night during AmericanaFest. Tasjan’s fashion affinity for houndstooth suits, polka dots and shiny boots fit his musical personality perfectly – slightly eccentric, gloriously flamboyant sans overkill, and downright impressive. Not new to music, Tasjan is a local favorite whose talent is spreading like wildfire across the scene as he gains recognition for his rock ’n’ roll soaked in bourbon barrel-aged alt-country with flecks of punk and folk. Tasjan’s creative mind shines with every move he makes, and his live shows are studded with a flair and fervor that is unmatched. With other top-notch artists Brian Wright and Jon Latham taking the stage with him, there was no room for let-down at an Aaron Lee Tasjan set.
Darrin Bradbury can come off as a quiet guy sometimes, but listen closely as he is full of wit. After he played a few songs at the Café Records Rooster Party on Saturday, I was compelled to venture over to the old beautiful church the Anchor Fellowship to catch a longer set of his music. Bradbury’s work seems more like a collection of short stories wrapped in music, with satirical lyrics that are amusing but touch on solemn topics with a sometimes dark, yet endearing humor. “Bob” is a memorial of a good old regular guy whose Staples corporate coworkers miss his predictable demeanor. Bradbury’s “mumble-along” chorus on the song “Motel Room” will get stuck in your head for days, making you laugh and appreciate his work even more. Bradbury stood out in the sea of musicians for his wry, catching humorous storytelling.
The Secret Sisters
Promoting their recently released third album You Don’t Own Me Anymore, this power duo closed out Saturday night’s standing-room only showcase at the Anchor Fellowship. The minute they open their mouths their harmonic, sweet sound hits you in your core. The witty banter between the two sisters is hilarious and charming – you can’t help but like this duo that came out of Alabama with their gospel-inspired murder ballads and traditional-style music with a poppy twist. They were honored to have played the previous night with Graham Nash. They sang their title track from their latest album, “You Don’t Own Me Anymore,” chronicling their struggles and triumphs, preceding it with a statement that, if you’re looking for inspiration you need to look no further than yourself because it’s inside you. Well that’s not entirely true, because the Secret Sisters inspired me tremendously that night. It’s no longer a mystery to me why their performance was standing-room only – these girls are making waves with their jaunty “He’s Fine” on the radio waves.
Overall the AmericanaFest was another year filled with so much music I was left reeling at the end of the week, heart crammed with joy and brain filled with music to reflect upon and albums to check out, wondering what the hell happened, knowing I’ll never be the same. Success! Anyone who is on the fence should make plans to attend in 2018 – the Americana Music Association has already announced that next year’s fest shall commence September 11 – 16, get your early bird badge while they’re cheap, and I’ll see you out there somewhere, celebrating the beautiful language and art of music.