Monday, September 29, 2014

Americana Music Festival 2014 - Day 4 Roundup

Saturday September 20 marked the final full day of activities at the 2014 Americana Music Festival and Conference.  This year's edition went out in style with a night time lineup that included many great new artists, a solid veteran crew and one songwriting legend from the great state of Texas.

The evening kicked off at the High Watt where a future star in Americana made his festival debut.  Emerging from the amazing creative and developmental ground of East Nashville, Aaron Lee Tasjan played a solo set that was one of the most entertaining performances of the week.  The lead guitarist in Elizabeth Cook's band, Aaron is a cross between a young Neil Young for his guitar playing skills, and a young Bob Dylan for his songwriting.  Proudly flouting the rules of the Music Row establishment, Tasjan is right at home in Americana performing his style of music and writing songs that are true to his heart.  Songs like "Move to East Nashville and Write a Song About a Train" show the depth of this singer-songwriter's talent, as virtually every song is a story with meaning. This is a young man who's star is on the rise.

Next up over at the Mercy Lounge was a true living legend. Prior to his 9:00 set that evening, I had the good fortune to sit in on an interview with Billy Joe Shaver at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.  The writer of every song on Honky Tonk Heroes, one of the most successful albums in the 1970's by Waylon Jennings, Mr. Shaver remains a creative force to this day.  The interview at the Hall of Fame brought forth stories of a man who has lived a remarkable life that has been anything but simple. As listeners, we are all beneficiaries of his experience.  Mr. Shaver's performance contained the bulk of his standards, including "Georgia On A Fast Train", "Old Five and Dimers Like Me", the aforementioned "Honky Tonk Heroes", and perhaps the finest song he has ever written and recorded, "Live Forever."  Billy Joe Shaver has recently released a new album, Long In The Tooth, and you can find it in your local record store now or on his web site.  Look for an album review in the near future.

The final performance of the evening at the Mercy and the 2014 festival was from Chuck Mead and His Grassy Knoll Boys.  Chuck first gained national prominence in the early 1990's as one of the founders and lead singers for BR-549, a group that would be considered Americana before there was such a label for the genre.  While BR-549 plays the occasional gig, Chuck has long established himself as a strong solo act with an incredibly talented, solid backing band.  Performing an energetic set of straight-up rockabilly and country, Chuck Mead and His Grassy Knoll Boys were the perfect act to close off the festivities at the Mercy Lounge.  The band turned in a killer version of the old Del Reeves classic, "Girl On The Billboard" and performed tracks from his latest Plowboy Records release Free State Serenade, including "Neosho Valley Sue" and "The Devil By Their Side." If the mission for Chuck Mead and His Grassy Knoll Boys was to leave the crowd wanting more and looking forward to next year, it was clearly mission accomplished.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Americana Music Festival 2014 - Day 3 Roundup

The 2014 edition of the Americana Music Festival rolled in to day 3 with arguably the deepest talent pool performing on the same night in Festival history.  Where else could you find a great Americana artist like Allison Moorer, newcomers Sons of Bill and veteran performer Suzy Bogguss performing on the same night, at the same time in three separate venues?  Only in Nashville, and only at the Americana Music Festival.

So it was off to 3rd and Lindsley for an 8:00 set by Suzy Bogguss that kicked off day 3.  In February 2014, Suzy released Lucky (Loyal Duchess Records), an album in tribute to the great Merle Haggard.  Suzy's performance included many songs off this album, including such Haggard classics as "Silver Wings", "Let's Chase Each Other 'Round The Room Tonight", and the seminal "Today I Started Loving You Again."  A regular presence on country radio in the 1990's, Suzy worked in a couple of her own hits as well and to her credit, those hits were written by those who would be considered among the pillars of Americana.  "Someday Soon", written by Ian Tyson, has been a hit several times over, was most recently was a hit for Suzy back in 1991.  "Drive South", from her Voices in the Wind album was a top 5 hit for Suzy in 1992 and written by John Hiatt.  Suzy was a great presence back in those days, and still carries a voice like a songbird today.  While Suzy has been releasing great albums over the last number of years, Lucky could be considered her second official Americana release and is well worth your time.

Following Suzy, it was off to The Rutledge to catch Lauren Shera.  A relative newcomer to the Americana scene, Lauren is no stranger to the stage.  Fresh off a European tour supporting her latest release Gold and Rust (DigSin), Lauren delivered a beautiful set to The Rutledge crowd.  This young lady is an artist on the rise.  The haunting lyrics and tight musical arrangement of "Hell's Bells" grab the listener's attention and hold them in place until Lauren is ready to let you go.  A 45 minute set is not nearly enough to travel the depth of this young lady's journey, but it is enough to bring you back for more.  Of the new acts that were involved in this festival, Lauren Shera is at the top of the 2014 class.

Speaking of acts at the top of the class, the closing group at the Mercy Lounge this Friday night had tongue's wagging days before their set.  The Brothers Landreth are the latest group to emerge from the fertile musical landscape of Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada. Performing tracks from their upcoming 2015 release Let It Lie (Slate Creek Records), the Brothers Landreth delivered an impressive set to a crowd that consisted of many executives from the music industry along with the general public.  At the conclusion of the set, all emerged as huge fans and huge believers in the potential and future of this band. Listening to tracks like "Tapping on the Glass", and the crowd pleasing "Runaway Train", this listener and writer believes the sky is the limit for this group.  The musicianship is stellar, the lyrics are tight and the sound is engaging.  With their upcoming album release, a record label and team that believe in their music and potential, and an ever-growing fan base (which includes famed BBC broadcaster Bob Harris), The Brothers Landreth are the band to watch in late 2014 and 2015.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Americana Music Festival 2014 - Day 2 Roundup

We're in full swing now down in Nashville, as the first full conference day and evening showcases are in the books.  Deals are being signed, relationships are being developed, beer is being drank, awesome music is being played and we're having a blast.

For this guy, the evening kicked off at the High Watt for a 9:00pm set with Americana newcomer Angaleena Presley.  You'll recall in yesterday's recap that Angaleena presented Loretta Lynn with her lifetime achievement award, but on this night it was all about Angaleena.  Stepping out of the shadows of her Pistol Annie's persona, Angaleena showed the Nashville crowd that she's no slouch on stage and can easily run with her Annie's cohorts.  Performing a set that included 11 out of the 12 tracks from her upcoming debut album "American Middle Class," Angaleena and her fantastic backing band rocked the High Watt with an outstanding set.  The album itself is the story of Angaleena Presley so far. An artist of the highest order, this young lady does it all - singer, songwriter and musician.  I had the good fortune to chat with Angaleena in a pre-show meet and greet where I told her that I think she will be on this scene for a very long time. If last nights show and upcoming album are any indication, that's the safest bet I've ever made.

Following Angaleena on the High Watt stage were Knoxville's own The Black Lillies.  I caught this group a couple of years ago at the Basement and things have been going quite well for the Lillies since then.  As solid and hard working band as you will ever find, they are touring extensively throughout the northeast United States this fall.  Following the Black Lillies was an artist that I had not heard before, but will be checking him out in the future. Israel Nash is on tour supporting his new album "Rain Plains", which is receiving great reviews and I can see why.  He's got a great sound, solid writing and musicianship, and a top rate backing band.  These two acts and their sets complimented each other well, both have an outstanding sound and love for what they do onstage.

A change in venue led me over to 3rd and Lindsley for an artist who is no stranger to the Americana scene.  The Paul Thorn Band closed things out with a midnight set that just brought the house down.  Performing his unique blend of country, mixed with a little rock and Mississippi Delta Blues, the crowd was up dancing and singing along to whatever the band was offering.  A new song was introduced, its title inspired by an elderly lady attending the same church.  "Too Blessed To Be Stressed" is a catchy song with a fantastic message to just enjoy life and be thankful.  The sets final song was both audience participation and singalong, as Paul came offstage and joined the audience on the dance floor to sing "Take My Love With You Everywhere You Go."  It was a great set from a veteran artist that I had been hoping to catch for some time.  It was well worth the wait.

And, speaking of waiting, that's what will have to happen until tomorrow for the Day 3 Roundup.  Have a great day, enjoy everyone!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Americana Music Festival 2014 - Day 1 Roundup and Awards Recap

The 2014 edition of the Americana Music Festival kicked off in grand fashion last night deep in the heart of Music City.  The 13th Annual Americana Music Association Awards ceremony ushered in the first of four nights of artists from around the globe performing the best music on the planet.  

In what should really be no surprise, the award night belonged to Jason Isbell, who made it a clean sweep when he won all three award categories he was nominated in.  Recognizing the enormous year Isbell had, Jason walked away with honors for Song of the Year for "Cover Me Up", Album of the Year for the incomparable "Southeastern", and the top award for Artist of the Year.  Country music is in good hands, especially with Emerging Artist winner Sturgill Simpson at the helm.  The Milk Carton Kids were nominated in the Emerging Artist category last year, this year they walked away with the Duo or Group of the Year Award.  Buddy Miller was once again recognized as the Instrumentalist of the Year, and received his award from another great instrumentalist, Mr. Vince Gill.  

As is the norm at the Americana Music Association Awards, legends that have blazed the trail for other artists to follow were recognized with Lifetime Achievement Awards.  Latino instrumentalist Flaco Jiminez, blues legend Taj Mahal and singer-songwriter Jackson Browne received honors for their work and dedication to their craft.  It's always special attending these awards at the Ryman Auditorium, as it's not everyday you will get to see Taj Mahal and the house band jamming away on a blues standard, or Jackson Browne performing with another legendary songwriter J. D. Souther at the middle of the Ryman stage.  However, for this writer, the most special moment of the night occurred during the shows' opening minutes.  

If there was one artist in country music history that clearly holds the role of "trailblazer", it's Loretta Lynn.  Writing and recording her own music, driving thousands and thousands of miles to sing and deliver her songs to radio stations, all of this while female country music singers were seldom heard, if not outright discouraged from performing, Ms. Lynn is the epitomizes the role of legend.  This fact was not lost on two young newcomers, Kacey Musgraves and Angaleena Presley, as they struggled to keep their emotions in check when presenting Ms. Lynn with her Lifetime Achievement Award.  And the tears were more than welcome, as everyone in attendance recognized the significance of what we were witnessing.  Sitting at the Ryman Auditorium, watching the latest generation of female country music singers honoring one of their heroes, and then watching Ms. Lynn stand at the middle of the Ryman stage to sing "Coal Miner's Daughter" is one of those moments that money cannot buy.  You can't put a price tag on it.  It is one of those moments that reminds you of why we do what we do.  A moment I will not forget.  

Post-awards, it was off to the showcase performances at several venues around town.  I attended two sets on this evening, the first being Shinyribs at the High Watt.  This high energy show was the perfect kick off to the festival portion of the events this week. These guys were having a blast on stage, with singer Kevin Russell leading the way.  You don't often see a big man move like this guy does, but it's infectious.  "East Texas Rust" and "Poor People's Store" were killer performances and the crowd responded accordingly.

Playing an extended set in the Cannery were the Hard Working Americans, led by Todd Snider and joined on stage by special guest Elizabeth Cook. From the moment they stepped on stage, it's clear Todd Snider was born to entertain.  This performance was one of those rare shows that takes on a life of it's own.  The energy in the Cannery was nothing short of electric.  The band on stage was at the top of their game, and the audience was giving everything they had right back.  It's one of those clear nights where artist and audience were feeding off each other, and it took the show to a whole new level.  Playing a roughly two hour set, the Hard Working Americans set the bar very high right off the bat.  I can't wait to see who will step up and try to reach it ... it was only day 1, after all.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Meanwhile, Back in Nashville ...

I woke up this morning in the great city of Nashville, Tennessee with the realization that two months is wayyyy too long between writings.  There have been so many of you reading the old stuff, which is absolutely wonderful.  Thanks for keeping it going!

The 15th edition of the Americana Music and Festival and Conference kicks off today, and what a week it is shaping up to be.  There are many indicators as to the new heights that the Americana genre is reaching, not the least of which is the significant increase in attendance at this year's Conference and the expansion of the Festival to include City Winery as a performance venue.  The addition of a special concert this Saturday at Riverfront Park featuring the Avett Brothers with guests Shakey Graves, Angaleena Presley and The Lone Bellow is a huge addition to the festivities.

Kicking things off tonight is the 13th annual Americana Music Association Honors and Awards show which will see the best in Americana get their just recognition, and will witness all time greats such as Jackson Browne and Loretta Lynn receive Lifetime Achievement honors for their contribution to the growth of American music. 

And of course, once we get through all of the conference panel sessions through the day, we get to the reason why we're all here and that's the music.  The nightly showcase performances will satisfy any musical hunger you could possibly have.  From artists that have had mainstream country radio success like Marty Stuart, Suzy Bogguss and the great Lee Ann Womack, to rising stars Sturgill Simpson, Lindi Ortega and Robert Ellis, to festival newcomers such as Matt Andersen and the Caleb Klauder Country Band, a broad range of musical styles and tastes can and will be explored.  This is Music City USA, after all.

Some artists I'll be checking out this week are Greensky Bluegrass, the aforementioned Angaleena Presley, Del Barber and Robbie Fulks to name a few.  What's great about this festival is that you will find that one artist or that one group where you're not familiar with their music and they will blow your mind.  It's the one thing that is guaranteed to happen. Last year for me, that artist was Drew Holcomb and the Neighbours.  I can't wait to see who it will be this year.

Starting tomorrow check back for the daily wrap up of the previous night's activities and by all means, if you're not here start making your plans now to join us in Nashville next year. Get on board this train, there is room for everyone.