The annual Americana Music Association Festival and Conference is in full swing with the first official night now complete. The festival kicked off with annual awards show at the Ryman which, as always, featured incredible and unique performances that one can only see at this awards show. It's the only place you'll find a finale that includes Jim Lauderdale, Joy Williams of the Civil Wars, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Roseanne Cash, Dr. John, Richard Thompson, Billy Bragg, Shovels and Rope, Tift Merritt, Dr. John and as wonderful a house band as you'll ever gather with Buddy Miller at the lead performing "Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight", an old hit on separate occasions for Emmylou and the Oak Ridge Boys. What was especially great about this particular performance was hearing Rodney Crowell and Roseanne Cash perform a few lines together, something that rarely happens these days. Steven Stills just tore it up with a performance of the iconic Buffalo Springfield tune "For What It's Worth." The Milk Carton Kids made an astounding case as to why they could easily have been presented with the Emerging Artist award, an honour that was bestowed upon Shovels and Rope. Two very different styles of music between the two duos, both excellent acts and all tremendous artists.
Speaking of duos, they were front and center during the awards show with the Association giving much love to Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, awarding them with the Duo/Group of the Year award and Album of the Year for "Old Yellow Moon." In addition to Emerging Artist, Shovels and Rope also picked up the award for Song of the Year for their performance of "Birmingham." The AMA Awards are truly the most unique award show presentations in the industry today. I always find it a treat to attend this show. For those who could not attend, Austin City Limits will be featuring a special broadcast of the music portions of the show at a later date (I suspect in November), and AXS TV in the United States has carried the show live for the past two years. Be on the lookout for a replay. Click here for a great rundown of the rest of the award proceedings.
It doesn't happen that often, but on occasion, a plan can go astray. My plan last night was to cover the Lone Bellow and JD McPherson's portion of the showcase. However, to their deserved credit, the Mercy Lounge was at capacity when I arrived at the venue so I was not able to get in. Fortunately, the Mercy Lounge, High Watt and Cannery Ballroom are all connected, so I ventured to the High Watt where I soon discovered how gifted and amazing Drew Holcomb and The Neighbours are. Performing a set largely comprised of material off their latest release "Good Light", Drew and the Neighbours delivered a powerful set that ranged from the autobiographical ("Tennessee") to the haunting ("A Place To Lay My Head"), from the romantic ("The Wine We Drink" -- which is a powerful, beautiful song) to the inspirational ("Good Light"), all delivered with complete heart and soul. This group has a real diverse sound to it. They can transition from a straight up, heartland rock and roll sound as heard on "Good Light" to a slightly Celtic delivery on "A Place to Lay My Head." A group of excellent musicians who are creating music that speaks to them, look for Drew and the Neighbours in your area as they hit the road soon. Judging by the reaction of the crowd at the High Watt, their music speaks to the people as well.
The final act I caught was based on a recommendation from my friend Nelson of WDVX radio in Knoxville, TN. St. Paul and the Broken Bones opened up for Jason Isbell in Knoxville earlier this year and apparently blew apart the stage they were so good. From Birmingham, AL, this group of young men have quite the future ahead of them. Reaching in to the soul, jazz and blues portion of Americana, St. Paul and the Broken Bones could have taken people to church last night, as there were moments you thought you were in a tent revival. The powerful, soulful and strong vocal delivery of St. Paul, paired with the outstanding musicianship of the Broken Bones created the most unique act I have seen in my 3 years attending this conference and festival. A real highlight of the show was a cover of the Aretha Franklin classic "Respect." Young, professional and talented, St. Paul and the Broken Bones are going places. They are ones to watch, indeed.
And to think this was only the first night ...