The Americana Music Festival and Conference, which just finished up its 15th year on Sunday, Sept. 21, has always been the lesser known cousin to Middle Tennessee's two festival behemoths, CMA Festival and Bonnaroo, but that hasn't stopped it from quietly growing into the premiere roots music festival in the country. With over 180 bands playing all over Nashville during Americanafest's five days, it would be impossible to see everything. Fortunately, there's enough talent to go around so that anywhere you land for the night, you're bound to see a couple of unforgettable shows. These ten performances stood out from the crowd.
Loretta Lynn Reminds Everyone Why She's the “Queen of Country”
If all we'd gotten from Loretta Lynn's appearance at the Americana Music Awards was a star struck introduction from Kacy Musgraves and Angeleena Presley and a heartfelt Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance from Lynn herself, it still would have been one of the weekend's most memorable moments. But when Lynn, 50 years to the day from her first Grand Ole Opry appearance, took to The Ryman stage to belt out her classic “Coal Miner's Daughter”, it was something that was talked about in reverent tones all weekend long.
Todd Snider Brings Controversy and Jams to The Cannery
The question on everyone's lips all weekend long was “was he or wasn't he?” Todd Snider's bizarre f-bombed mic drop 30 seconds before the end of Hard Working Americans' AMA Awards performance led many to wonder if Snider was chemically altered. Later that night at a packed Cannery Ballroom, Snider eschewed his normal acoustic folk songs for a full on jam rock show, backed by the likes of Dave Schools of Widespread Panic and Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon. The result was the most polarizing show of Americanafest weekend, and one of the most interesting.
Webb Wilder Proves Mississippi Rocks
While Nashville long ago adopted Webb Wilder as one of our own, he is originally from Mississippi, so he was the perfect emcee for a night of Mississippi-based artists at 3rd & Lindsley. But it was when Wilder took the stage with his band The Beatnecks that things really got rocking. Wilder's electric guitar wails and his booming baritone, almost stentorian, voice showed the rock and roll roots of Americana music as well as anyone all weekend.
Leo “Bud” Welch Gives Us All Something to Hope For
Anyone thinking of giving up on his dreams should look to bluesman Leo “Bud” Welch for inspiration. After a lifetime of playing small clubs and parties around Sabougla, MS while making his living as a logger, Welch is living his professional music dream, releasing his debut album at the age of 81. Welch's performance at 3rd & Lindsley's Mississippi Music Showcase was as energetic and inspiring as Welch himself.
Howlin' Brothers Bring the Party
When The Howlin' Brothers take the stage, you might be forgiven to think “oh great, here comes another bunch of bearded guys with banjos trying to be Mumford & Sons.” You'd also know how wrong you were from the first notes of their performance. Sounding like what would happen if a bunch of Appalachian punk rockers formed a jug band, The Howlin' Brothers play with a ferocious energy that drags you in and finds you boogieing along in spite of yourself.
Jim Lauderdale Proves That He's the Definition of Americana
Jim Lauderdale is the face of Americanafest. He's the side splittingly funny host of the AMA Awards known for his catch phrase “Now THAT'S Americana!” On Thursday night, he took the stage to a jam packed 3rd & Lindsley and showed everyone that his motto applies to him most of all. Careening across genres from rock to bluegrass to Bakersfield-style country, Lauderdale was a whirlwind.
The Australians Invade Americana
For the past several years, one of the most entertaining events at Americanafest has been the annual Sounds Australia Aussie Luncheon. Led by the always funny Dobe Newton, this year's edition brought some of Australia's brightest country stars including The Mae Trio, The Audreys, and Immigrant Union up for short sets to show that Americana knows no national borders.
Jeff Austin Goes Solo at an Endangered Nashville Institution
While not an official Americanafest Showcase, former Yonder Mountain String Band mandolinist Jeff Austin entertained a small group of fans while recording three songs at one of Music City's most historic, and most endangered, institutions, RCA Studio A. The combination of Austin's clever lyrics, superb guitar work, and what might be one of the last performances in Studio A's hallowed halls made for a very special evening.
Humming People Own Americanafest
While the vast majority of Americanafest attendees spent Saturday night at the massive Avett Brothers showcase in Riverfront Park or watching outlaw legend Billy Joe Shaver at Mercy Lounge, a smaller but still sizable group of fans in the know made their way to the Listening Room Cafe where Norway's Humming People put on what might have been the performance of the weekend. Joined on stage for part of their set by producer and mentor Phil Madeira, Humming People put on the kind of high energy set that was just what many needed to reinvigorate them on their fourth straight day of music.
Sunday Mornin' Coming Down with a Gospel Brunch
Americanafest may be the only place in the world where you can get your church on at a place called City Winery. But the new location for Americanafest's annual Thirty Tigers' Gospel Brunch was well suited as fans packed in to nosh on chicken and waffles, drink a glass of wine, and hear some of Americana's best religious sounds from host Elizabeth Cook, vocal legends The Fairfield Four, and powerhouse singers The McCrary Sisters.
It was a fittingly surreal end to the 2015 edition of what has quickly become one of America's most eclectic and exciting music festivals. If this year is any indicator, we can't wait to see what 2015 has in store. You can keep up with all of Nashville's concert events here on AXS.