Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nashville, Tennessee
October 12 – 15, 2011

If moments can be used to define events, then the sight of Buddy Miller in the middle of a sun splashed Saturday afternoon crowd in the tiny back parking lot of a used record store, would be it for the 2011 Americana Music Festival. Buddy, who two days before had just garnered Americana awards for Artist of the Year, Instrumentalist of the Year and as a member of Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, Album of the Year, was out enjoying himself. Because what’s happening here in Nashville isn’t American Idol histrionics or pop culture with a use-by date, this is, if I may borrow a line from my friend Ken Stahl, music that matters.

Four days, five clubs, over a hundred artists, and one goal – to promote, encourage and educate the public about that elusive genre, Americana. For me, it’s a chance to hear my favorite artists in a setting where they’re predisposed to excel. You just don’t give a bad performance in Nashville during the AMAs. Wildman Steve, Program Director at Wildman Steve Radio, a busy man during the conference, says “the AMAs are a fantastic experience for us. The access to ar
tists for interviews is unparalleled, the interaction with other radio, promotions, and industry folks of all types is educational, and the opportunity to see so many new and established acts in a four-day period is thrilling and enlightening.

And for an artist like Lisa Oliver-Gray, (shown above with Tommy Womack) whose record Dedicated To Love will be released in November, she says “the AMA conference promotes community among the musicians, singers, stylists, and writers and excites the hostess, Music City! A general feeling of love is my perception. The audiences are truly engaged by their favorite artists but are full of complimentary energy about their "new favorites!" Being a part of it feels like a visit to your favorite childhood camp seeing your visiting friends except with dynamic performances, insightful Q & A's and a beautiful appreciation of the multitude and variety of talent!” Lisa has contributed backup vocals to many of my favorite Nashville artists and I’m looking forward to hearing her new release.

Grant Peeples, a very buzz-worthy artist, when not harassing country music legends in parking lots, spent his time at the conference networking with members of the radio industry and taking in a few of the showcases. And speaking of showcases, my short list of favorites starts with the very first night’s set from Marshall Chapman (shown below) and Will Kimbrough at the Station Inn. Marshall sang, joked and read from her new book “They Came To Nashville.”

It was an intimate, warm performance that made you feel welcome. Next up was Jimmie Dale Gilmore and the Wronglers, featuring Warren Hellman of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival fame on banjo. Hayes Carll put on a scorching set at the Mercy Lounge; Athens was well represented with Packway Handle Band playing their unique brand of bluegrass for an appreciative crowd at the Station Inn and Ken Will Morton playing solo at the Listening Room. Kenny Vaughn and rockabilly trio Phil Hummer and the White Falcons played an eye-opening 9:30am set in the hotel lobby. Lisa Oliver-Gray sang with Tommy Womack and the Rush to Judgment at the Basement and with Will Kimbrough at the Rutledge, Eric Brace & Peter Cooper played a set together as well as a free afternoon show at Centennial Park highlighting their recent release, I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow, a re-recording of the classic record.

David Olney performed at the Southern Festival of Books, being held concurrently with the AMAs, giving a dramatic reading of Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess ” and also played Americanarama IV, outside Grimey’s New and Preloved Records, this time with guitarist Sergio Webb, who uses his ten fingers and six strings to spin his own tales. Ken Will Morton (shown below) brought his Athens, Georgia brand of infectious Americana to a set at The Listening Room. The free Americanarama festival also featured Glossary and Hymn For Her. Roots rockers The Bottle Rockets sat themselves down and played an acoustic show, and the Muscle Shoals tribute at the Cannery featured Wet Willie’s Jack Hall, Webb Wilder, David Hood, Spooner Oldham and Billy Burnette.

I can’t say enough about the people who keep this thing running, especially Joyce, whose generosity and compassion truly make her a star in this town. For fans, for artists, for industry professionals, this convergence of talent and opportunity during the festival and conference presents a unique setting where a Buddy Miller sighting isn’t something unusual, it’s just Americana.

Curtis Lynch
November 2011