September 12-15, 2012
Humans have always been fascinated with the cyclical nature of things. We can’t help it; we’re born into a world filled with rhythms and sequences, of life and death and rebirth. The sun comes up, then it slides behind the horizon, but it comes back again. Around us, plants and animals and friends come and go, and love may bloom, wither and fade just the same. The pain of loss and the potential for rebirth is evident in nature and it is what fills the churches every Sunday. It’s that dichotomy that allows poets, artists and musicians to create works that touch each of us in unique ways. And so it was during the Americana Music Festival. Time after time, performers reached out to us with the fragility of age and the passage of decades, touching both the audience and the younger performers. Those newer artists are the ones who will carry on, when the ravages of this world have partially faded the memories and words of folks like Woody Guthrie or Guy Clark.
|Tift Merritt at Americanarama - Grimey's|
Because the mission of the Americana Music Association is to grow and promote the Americana brand and increase awareness of the genre with the public, by necessity that means blending the newer artists with the legends. And the combination of the old and the new, that cycle of loss and renewal, gave birth to several poignant moments. During the awards show at the Ryman Auditorium, Americana legend Guy Clark (whose tribute album This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark, won album of the year honors), sang My Favorite Picture of You, which was written about his wife Susanna, who passed away in June of this year. Accompanied by Shawn Camp (co-producer of the tribute record) and Verlon Thompson, Guy imbued the song with the love of his wife and, at that moment in time, his reflection and memories of their forty year marriage, so his momentary lyrical lapse during the song can be not only forgiven, but understood. The awards show, once again impeccably timed and chock full of special musical events, had no shortage of “best of” moments, from the opening Green Onions with Booker T. (Booker was given a Lifetime Achievement Award for Instrumentalist by Drive-By Truckers frontman Patterson Hood) who also sat in with the evening’s New Emerging Artist award winners, the Alabama Shakes. It was only a year ago that less than a hundred of us were huddled around a fire barrel with the Shakes on a cold night in Alabama and now, this young band lit a fire on the hallowed Ryman stage and the crowd responded with thunderous cheering.
|Delta Rae outside the Ryman Auditorium.|
Showcases of new and established artists crossed each other all weekend – an all-star tribute to Levon Helm (featuring the Trigger Hippy rhythm section, Paul Thorn, Patterson Hood, Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, and Hayes Carll) against newcomers Delta Rae (who caught the attention of everyone outside the Ryman during a TV interview with a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain) and Shovels and Rope; guitar legend Richard Thompson at the Station Inn up against the Punch Brothers; John Hiatt, Darrell Scott and Steep Canyon Rangers all taking the stage at the same time, and Rodney Crowell opposite Buddy Miller & Lee Ann Womack – it’s just all a series of choices, none of them bad.
|Sam Bush at Musician's Corner.|
But if there was a defining moment, among all that I saw and all that I missed, it would be this: A Thursday afternoon showcase on Broadway, featuring legendary songwriter Chip Taylor (Angel of the Morning, Wild Thing), Will Kimbrough, Brigitte DeMeyer, and Norwegian singer Paal Flaata. Flaata had recorded a tribute record to Taylor, covering his many hit songs, titled But before the two could play a festival in Norway, the tragic shootings at Utöya happened, and the cancelled festival became a benefit for the victims. A new song by Chip, This Darkest Day, came from that horrible incident and with the help of Flaata (who has an amazing range and is truly an incredible singer), Kimbrough, Paul Griffith and Dave Jacques (the rhythm section from Daddy), and guitarist John Platania (who played on Van Morrison’s classic Moondance), delivered up a hymn to the living and a tribute to the departed. I’m fairly sure the room was silent, save for the sounds from the stage.
|Dave Jacques on bass, Chip Taylor, Paal Flaata.|
So, in 2012, we’ve lost Levon Helm, Susanna Clark, 69 people in a senseless attack in Norway, and many more for many reasons, none of them good. But we know, as sure as we know the sun will rise tomorrow, that humans will continue to make art. And it may not be easy, and often it will be painful, but it will be real.
And in the words of Jim Lauderdale, THAT’S Americana.
|Vintage Memphis 45s spinning at Grimey's.|
|Good advice from the High Watt.|