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.