Thursday, September 20, 2012

Day 4 Roundup -- AMA Music Festival

The final night of the 2012 Americana Music Festival and Conference held to me the most magical performance of the week.  After all, it’s not every day you get to see the wizardry of master musician and master record producer Buddy Miller team up with Nashville’s newest mainstream free agent Lee Ann Womack in a club setting.  But that’s exactly what occurred on the stage of the Mercy Lounge this past Saturday, as Buddy and Lee Ann performed to a packed house to close out this year’s conference.  More details a little later on in this write up …
Opening the nights festivities at the Mercy/Cannery/High Watt complex was a young lady whom I had not seen before but heard great things about, Jill Andrews.  Jill put on a wonderful set at The High Watt that included music from her latest release "The Mirror."  Jill has recently completed a successful tour with Kasey Chambers and will continue to tour into the fall with dates in New York, NY, Alexandria, VA and Bristol, TN.

Next up in the evening saw great performances by honeyhoney (whose show really picked up when they went with their electric instruments), awesome rockabilly from Derrick Hoke, and the beautiful sounds of the always reliable Tift Merritt.  According to their web site, honeyhoney will be going in to the studio to cut a new album this winter.  Derrik Hoke has just recently released his latest album, "Waiting All Night."

11:00 pm rolled around and it was time for the magic to happen.  And happen it did.  Upon entering the Mercy/Cannery/High Watt complex, guests were invited to submit their requests to hear Buddy and Lee Ann perform duets from the 60’s.  This was intriguing, as anyone who has followed either artists career will be fully aware that both artists could perform the phone book and make it sound like a recorded classic.  Hearing both artists who have so much historical knowledge of the music that we all love was a tremendous experience.   The show was not necessarily without its bumps though, however, no one really paid much attention.  After all, the atmosphere in the Mercy would be akin to being in Buddy Miller’s living room watching he and the band perform with Lee Ann Womack.  If a requested duet was unknown to the artists on stage, a more than adequate substitute was brought forth.  Frankly, the substituted songs were superior to the original request, at least to my ear.  They were perfectly suited to Lee Ann’s voice, which in reality should have been the one thing that was considered when submitting a request.   Every classic country music duo was covered in this performance.  George Jones and Tammy Wynette with “Golden Ring”, Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn with “After The Fire Is Gone”, and the first of two Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton classics, “The Last Thing On My Mind.”  Their performance of The Flying Burrito Brothers Classic, “Dark End Of The Street” brought a hush to the audience, as the crowd savored the moment.
Selfishly, I will say that my favorite performance of the night happened when I heard the magical words introducing another classic tune. “We have another Porter and Dolly song.  ‘Just Someone I Used To Know’, requested by Jason from Toronto, Canada.”  To say this was the performance highlight of the week would be an understatement.  Sometimes it’s hard to be objective when, in reality, we’re all music fans.  That’s why we go to the shows, buy the records and attend the conferences. 
And with the conclusion of their set, the showcase portion of the 2012 Americana Music Festival and Conference was complete.  As the crowd slowly emptied from the Mercy Lounge to the darkened street, one had to wonder what could the AMA do next year to top this year's festivities.  It will take some doing that's for sure, but one thing is for certain.  The committee that plans this portion of the event is more than up for the challenge as evidenced by this year's output.   

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Day 3 Roundup -- AMA Music Festival

Friday was a busy day for attendees of the Americana Music Festival and Conference, as several functions for industry types (read: happy hour parties) to go along with the showcase performances of the night ... and one very special guest lunch performance presented by the newly launched CMT Edge website. 

Conference attendees were honored with a performance by The Queen of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson, during the lunch hour in the host hotel lobby bar.  The chance to see another musical legend such as this Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is almost too good to be true, but it happened and it was thrilling.  Ms. Jackson is now in to her 70's, but she has the energy, vibrancy and vocals of a woman half her age.  She and her band performed an awesome lunchtime set that included her biggest hit "Fujiyama Mama" and the Jack White-produced "Shakin' All Over" to a very appreciative crowd who could not help but smile while watching this dynamo work the room.

The evening portion kicked off at 9:00 for this guy, which saw the night bring me once again to the Cannery Ballroom.  One of my earliest pieces made mention of Amanda Shires, so it was my great pleasure to see this young lady perform on this night.  Ms. Shires has the unique ability to completely hush a room.  A beautiful young lady with a soft voice that can sing virtually anything, so talented on the fiddle that she has played with Bob Wills' former backing band The Texas Playboys, she kept the room in the palm of her hand.  But don't let the sweetness fool you where Amanda Shires is concerned.  While she may perform songs that are filled with romantic tension and lust, such as "Swimmer, Dreams Don't Keep" and "Shake The Walls", she will also perform a song or two about exacting slow revenge on a cheating lover.  But she makes it sound so sweet when exacting that revenge ... which is effective, because that's kind of scary.

Moving upstairs to the Mercy Lounge brought my attention to an act I hadn't heard before, and that would be Dylan LeblancDylan is a talented stylist from Shreveport, Louisiana who has recently released his second album "Cast the Same Old Shadow."  Dylan's sometimes mellow performance was very well received from the crowd, and has set himself up nicely for a return performance at the AMA Festival in the near future.

Coming back downstairs to the Cannery saw the week of legends continute with singer-songwriter John Hiatt taking the stage.  This was John's second appearance at the Americana Festival this week, as he performed with and presented the Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance to Bonnie Raitt at the AMA Awards Ceremony this past Wednesday.  John and his fiery band reached back in to his lengthy catalogue to play some of the best Americana and blues anyone could ask for during the week.  John once again paid homage to Bonnie Raitt with a scorching rendition of "The Thing Called Love."  It was this performance and many others that kept the crowd rocking as the night wore on, and gave those of us who had experienced a full day of conference sessions and networking parties the energy to finish off the night.

And Lord knows I needed some energy to close this night off.  But I would not deny myself the chance to witness Reckless Kelly in action for my first time.  I've long documented how much I dig the Texas/Red Dirt music scene, so this was a great chance to see a major group from that part of the country.  The boys did not disappoint.  This was the most fiery performance of the festival, an absolultely loud and rollicking performance that once again turned the Mercy Lounge in to a Texas honky-tonk.  Performing tracks from their lenghty catalogue including "Wicked, Twisted Road", they worked in some great rockin' covers and performed tracks from their newest release (the first on their own record label), "Good Luck and True Love."

The day was damn near exhausting but well worth the effort from all parties.  The Americana scene truly has an embarassment of riches with respect to the talent that is out there for the music fan to see and consume. 

And we still had Day 4 took look forward too ...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Day 2 Roundup -- AMA Music Festival

Day two of the AMA Music Festival left attendees with some difficult choices to make.  Certainly not life or death choices, but difficult choices nonetheless.  The decision on a venue was at least made somewhat easier, as the Mercy Lounge, Cannery Ballroom and The High Watt are all connected in the same building, so naturally that makes that venue the heartbeat of the festival.  And naturally, that's ultimately where the night started for many of us.

The Mercy Lounge became a true Texas honky-tonk on Thursday as the first two performaces featured an act that has been burning up the Red Dirt trail for the past 5 years.  This act was the perfect opener for the night, as they set the bar high for those to follow.  The Turnpike Troubadours put on a high-energy show with the crowd and the band feeding off eacth other.  The Troubadours have a very bright future ahead of them, as evidenced with the crowd singing along to favorites such as "Evangeline", "Leaving and Lonely", "Every Girl" and "Gin, Smoke, Lies."

What made the Troubadours performance so impressive was the fact they were appearing right before the performance of a true music legend in every sense of the word.  When one thinks of outlaw country music and the outlaw, Billy Joe Shaver must be the name uttered after Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.   Billy Joe has written an unbelievable amount of hits for both Jennings and Nelson, especially Jennings, as Waylon's "Honky-Tonk Heroes" album was comprised of all songs written by Shaver.  Having said that, there is a lengthy list of artists who have recorded Shaver's material.  It's an astounding amount, actually, and that's a testament to the strength of the material that Billy Joe Shaver creates.  The large crowd at the Mercy could not get enough of the artist who has meant so much to the industry as a whole.  Performances included the aforementioned "Honky-Tonk Heroes", "Live Forever", "Ride Me Down Easy" and "I'm Just An Old Chunk Of Coal", an early hit for John Anderson.

It would have been easy to stick it out at the Mercy/Cannery complex, as performances from Paul Thorn, the Punch Brothers, Steve Forbert, John Fullbright and Jason Boland and the Stragglers were still upcoming.  Factor in performances from Mary Gauthier and Richard Thompson and the Station Inn, and Jim Lauderdale and the North Mississippi Allstars at the Rutledge, and you begin to see the dilemma.  Having said all that, I travelled over to the Basement to pick up performances by the Deep Dark Woods and the Black Lillies.  It was at the Basement, where I came across my first surpise of the festival.

Sons of Fathers are an Austin, Texas based band who will completely blow your mind when you see them.  The fluency at which they play their respective instruments is astounding considering they all appear to be in their early twenties.  A brilliant mix of rockin' country and showmanship blew the small, but very appreciative crowd, out of the water and wanting more. 

The Deep Dark Woods made their second appearance in as many years at the festival with a fine performance that featured Kendel Carson of Canadian trio Belle Starr sitting in.  In speaking with a band member after the show, Carson has been known to sit in with the band if they happen to be in the same city in their travels.  The addition of Kendel's fiddle to the musical stylings of The Deep Dark Woods added a whole new dimension to their music.  The Deep Dark Woods continue to impress and will be around for a very long time.  Watch for a tour of western Canada in the fall.

The final act of the evening was a group that had been brought to my attention by Nelson Gullett, Music Director of WDVX radio in Knoxville, Tennessee.  The Black Lillies have been around for several years now and continue to gain recognition as a band with varying styles of sound, all with outstanding prowess.  Currently in the middle of a national tour that sees them play predominently in the eastern half of the United States, The Black Lillies made their return to the Americana Music Festival for the second year in a row and delivered a wonderful performance that closed out Day 2 beautifully. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Day 1 Reflections: AMA Conference and Festival

The first official full day of activities is in the books at the 2012 Americana Music Festival and Conference, and what a great day it was.  I won't bore you with the details of the Conference side of things.  If you've been to a conference before, I'm sure you'll appreciate that omission from this space.

Not wasting time with formalities, this year's organizers set the showpiece event, the Americana Music Association Awards, on the opening night of the festival.  Last year was my first time attending this tremendous event, so I was well aware of the calibre of talent I was going to see on this evening.  The best thing about these shows are the surprises that often appear.  These surprises take on special meaning, when you consider that in all likelihood you will not see such things again and they are taking place at such a revered place as the Ryman Auditorium.

Patty Griffin's performance of "I Love" from the Tom T. Hall tribute album "Songs From Fox Hollow" has received many accolades with nominations coming from the Grammy's and the AMA in their Song of the Year category.  Ms. Griffin was not able to attend the show last night, so in her place performing this classic was Lee Ann Womack who delivered an astounding version of this song.  The bigger surprise, and poignant moment of the performance, was the introduction of the writer him, Mr. Tom T. Hall, who strode across the Ryman stage and performed the last verse.  This moment is particularly special when one considers that Tom T. Hall no longer performs on a regular basis, so this was a rare and special moment indeed.

Speaking of poignant moments, the grandest moment of the night was the closing number which served as a tribute to one of the greatest icons in music, Levon Helm.  Mr. Helm passes away earlier this year leaving a gaping hole in the hearts of his fans, his family, and the Americana community as a whole.  Honoring one of the forefathers of Americana at the show, the finale was a performace of the Band standard "The Weight", with luminaries such as Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt and John Hiatt sharing the moment with Americana stalwarts Jim Lauderdale, Sam Bush and newcomers Alabama Shakes.  To say this was a moving performance and moment would be a clear understatement.

Other fantastic performances took place through the night including the aforementioned Alabama Shakes (whom, incidentally, tore the house down), The Deep Dark Woods, Justin Townes Earle, Sarah Jarosz, Hayes Carll and Cary Ann Hearst, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson.  Lifetime achievement winners Booker T. Jones, Richard Thompson and Bonnie Raitt all took their appropriate turns on stage to remind everyone why they are legends in their time.  Watching the Mavericks return to the Ryman stage was a personal thrill.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Guy Clark's heartfelt performance of "My Favorite Pictue of You", written and peformed in tribute to his wife Susanna Clark who passed away this past June.

On top of all this, there were some awards handed out.  The winners are as follows:

Album of the Year:  "This One's For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark" -- Various Artists

Song of the Year:  "Alabama Pines", Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Instrumentalist of the Year:  David Rawlings

Duo/Group of the Year:  The Civil Wars

New/Emerging Artist:  Alabama Shakes

Artist of the Year:  Gillian Welch

Closing off the day 1 festivities, at least for this guy, was to attend the performances of Brandi Carlisle and The Wheel's on Fire: A Tribute to Levon Helm.  This was my first time seeing Brandi Carlisle and really experiencing her music.  She is an angel.  The complete package of talent and persona that can take a room and place it in the palm of her hand.  Upstairs at the Mercy Lounge, The Wheel's on Fire was a great tribute to Levon with guest musicians trading off on fantastic Band classics.  My highlight was the performance again of "The Weight" with Hayes Carll, Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires and Patterson Hood taking turns performing the song. 

A great night of music came to a close at around 12:30, and holy cow, we're just getting started here in Music City.  Looking forward to day 2, see you tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Album Review: Steve Forbert, "Over With You"

Music veteran Steve Forbert returns to the spotlight this week with his newest release, Over With You, released September 11 on Blue Corn Music.  This release is the fourteenth album in Mr. Forbert's storied career and one that, by his own admission, clearly took a lifetime to create.

When listening to this album, Over With You takes on the shape of a venerable scrapbook on the post-life cycle of a relationship.  More specifically, it focuses on the aftermath of the end of that relationship and the emotions that are often felt when two people have decided (or had it decided for them) that the relationship is no longer working.  What Mr. Forbert has created here, is a document on the grief process that follows.  Indeed, it feels like the seven stages of grieving are captured lyrically, with an A-list of musicians supporting each story in the 10 song collection.

The lead track, "All I Asked of You" captures the shock and emotions that run wild through ones mind at the outset of a break up.  Elements of anger set in on "All I Need To Do", while
potential reconcilliation (read: goodbye sex) rears its head in "That'd Be Alright" and "Can't We Get Together?"  Acceptance is ultimately realized in the beautiful title track, "Over With You", as the storyteller conveys the sadness and longing for something that they wanted so desperately to work out but ultimately concedes that ending the relationship is for the best.  Sometimes doing the right thing isn't easy, and that fact is captured beautifully in "Over With You."

While using such musicians as Ben Sollee, Jason Yates and a special appearance by Ben Harper on "That'd Be Alright", the production on this album is quite understated.  This minimalist approach is very appropriate given the subject matter of the album.  In Over With You, Steve Forbert has created the perfect Americana album.  It tells a story of heartache, acceptance and moving forward.  While this album may have taken Mr. Forbert a lifetime to write, I would also submit that in order to fully appreciate this album one must have lived through this experience as well.  This is a brilliant album that should listen to several times in order to experience its full effect.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Settling in (temporarily), in Music City

How quickly time passes.  A little less than a year ago I made my first trip back to Nashville in nine years, that time with a different purpose.  Now, a little less than a year later, I'm back in town to attend my second Americana Music Festival and Conference with the hope of building on the relationships I made over the past year and share more of this great music with the world as best as I can. 

Over the past year, I have had the great fortune to meet (via e-mail at least) some really wonderful people in the music business.  It's an honour and pleasure for me to have them include me on their distribution list, as well as sharing this space with their artists and fan base.  These good folks are far more involved in the music business than I am (at least at this point in my venture), and I deeply appreciate the time they take from their busy schedule to consider writing, conversing and working with me on this space. 

I would like to make a quick note to say there is a wonderful international contingent here this week, as we have fellow Canadian artists Whitehorse, The Deep Dark Woods and Belle Starr all playing here at various times, as well as Aussie/Canadian Chris Altmann participating in several showcases featuring a whole stable of Australian artists.  Stay tuned as the week wears on for a daily update of the happenings in Nashville, as the 12th Americana Music Festival and Conference gets officially underway tomorrow.