Each Fall in Nashville, dozens of artists whose music doesn’t quite fit patly into a specific genre head to Nashville to celebrate their individuality at the Americana Music Festival. Musicians of all kinds participate in five days of panels, showcases, and a full-scale awards show where the best of the best are honored. DISH decided to highlight this year’s festival by sharing a day in the life of this energetic music festival, and found ourselves enjoying more good music than one person could possibly imagine, yet alone enjoy.
The day we chose to feature was Thursday, the festival’s first full day. We headed over to The Nashville Convention Center pretty early, to check out some of the many informational panels offering helpful tips for artists, managers, label owners, radio programmers, and just about anyone else involved in breaking an Americana act. Artists Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart kicked things off by sharing their expertise in Do-It-Yourself touring, management, and more, while a later panel explored how to navigate those often tricky recording contracts. Attendees then enjoyed a rousing “Champions of R&B” show in the listening lounge, which featured 50’s and 60’s Champion Label stars Earl Gaines, Johnny Jones, Al Garner & James Nixon among others, before heading to a luncheon at the Second Fiddle club downtown, where Brooke Miller performed an entertaining set. Following lunch, several industry experts discussed the state of Americana radio, while another panel offered a crash course on the digital format. BMI offered up a laugh break from all of the facts and figures near the end of the afternoon with the Doyle and Debbie Show. Dubbed “Spinal Tap Meets the Grand Ole Opry,” the two parodied one of country music’s greatest traditions – the duo - through song and a wickedly funny script, with some hilarious results.
Thursday evening kicked off with the Americana Honors and Awards Ceremony at the historic Ryman Auditorium. Host Jim Lauderdale kept things moving, and plenty of artists had the opportunity to shine during the three-hour event. Sunny Sweeney, The Avett Brothers, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, and Todd Snider, plus many others graced the hallowed stage, performing or accepting awards during the ceremony. Lyle Lovett was honored for his overall career achievement with a tribute by renowned producer Tony Brown, and Patty Griffin took home Artist of the Year honors during the star-studded event.
Songwriter Darrell Scott, who had just won Song of the Year for his song “Hank Williams’ Ghost,” was performing a set over at the Station Inn after the show, so we headed out to check him out. On the way, we spontaneously changed directions and decided to stop by the after-show parties at the Cannery Ballroom and Mercy Lounge. As we walked in the door, New Age outlaw Hayes Carll was treating the crowd to a laid back set at the Lost Highway party, while across the hall Blue Rodeo, Oh Susanna, and several other artists were showcasing in the big room. We enjoyed some ethereal country rock from Blue Rodeo before hotfooting it over to the Station Inn just in time to catch Darrell’s final song. From the sound of it, we missed quite a good show, along with those on a very long line of people who couldn’t get into the tiny club.
Dish favorites The Avett Brothers were up next, and they produced a fun but scaled back set of their rowdy Appalachian punk tunes for the eager crowd. We later learned the three had been up for about 22 hours and were running on empty, which explained the lack of crawling and flailing about that usually marks an inspired Avett Bros. show. Still, the three put on a great concert, and were obviously the darlings of this year’s festival.
Though my assignment was to cover “a day in the life of the Americana Music Festival”, I was so excited by what I had seen the first night that I ventured out again on Saturday at about 11 down to 3rd and Lindsley to check out one last band I was curious about, Del Castillo. The six-man band from Austin fuses Latin, salsa, rock, and R&B into a sumptuous, steaming, spicy treat. From the moment they hit their first note, they had the crowd enthralled until the last song. The lead singer took the stage sporting a black fedora, a half-open white shirt with a tattoo on the front of his chest peeking out, and several chains, and exuded a Johnny Depp cool from the minute he stepped in front of the crowd. The two guitar players mesmerized the audience with their fast-as-lightning finger picking, and the Latin-soaked tunes transported you from a small, smoky joint in Nashville to a beautiful landscape in Spain. You can get completely lost in this band’s music, and by the time they launched into “Castles in the Sky,” I was completely sold.
In a town full of some of the best session players in the country, this band not only held their own but amazed – and they commanded a standing ovation upon finishing their high-energy, percussion-heavy set. Apparently local session player/songwriter Tim Gonzalez is already a convert…he joined the band onstage to play some smokin’ harmonica on one song and had the entire place jumping. If this band comes to your town – go see them. They were the perfect ending to this year’s festival experience and reminded DISH why good music doesn’t always fit neatly into a category or genre – it just stirs your soul.
Next year's Americana Music Festival will be September 17-20, 2008 in Nashville. Don't miss it! For more information, go to www.americanamusic.org