The 2017 Americana Music Festival had its official kickoff party on Tuesday night, with shows being held across numerous venues. The biggest party of the night was held before a sellout crowd at City Winery. While many people think of banjos and folk songs when they hear Americana, Tuesday's City Winery showcases were all about highlighting the soul of Americana.
Kicking off the night was Colin Hay. The former Men at Work frontman took the stage alone, with only an acoustic guitar and his razor wit to accompany him. It was all he needed. After bringing down the house with an a cappella opening number, Hay showed off some surprisingly nimble guitar chops for this solo show. Pulling heavily from his newest album, Fierce Mercy, Hay's 45 minute set alternated between poignant, soulful, and downright hilarious. As one might expect from the man who brought us “Down Under”, one of the '80s quirkiest hits, Hay's sense of humor borders on absurdist, but always hits just close enough to reality to land. Before playing his sole Men at Work cut, “Overkill”, Hay joked that he only did it so people could say “oh, he's that guy...” After a story about people writing him that they chose to use it as a wedding song, Hay closed the show with the wistful “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin.”
Following Colin Hay was Joan Osborne. A veteran of the Americana Music Festival, having played the fest recently with her band Trigger Hippy, Osborne knew her audience and went for broke with her performance. Festival sets are often safe, with artists keeping to the more upbeat songs in their catalog and always being sure to play their hits. Not Osborne. Not only did she not play her sole Top 40 single, “One of Us”, she dedicated her entire set to her recently released album of Bob Dylan covers. While all of the songs landed well, there were two definite highlights. “Rainy Day Women 12 & 35” was reworked by Osborne's trio into a smoky lounge number that strutted along in a way never intended by Dylan but worked completely. “Masters of War” truly showed off Osborne's vocal powers, with a searing take that ramped up one of Dylan's angriest songs to its extreme.
Third up for the night was the most purely “soul” artist of the bill, and the youngest, Marc Broussard. Broussard and his band came charging out of the gate with electric guitars blazing, daring the audience to resist dancing along with hits pulled from across his eight studio albums. The son of Louisiana legend Ted Broussard, it's no surprise that Marc Broussard's brand of rocking soul comes with a heavy dose of bayou funk. Broussard expressed amazement to be sharing a bill with such a slate of seasoned veterans, but his tight set and soulful songs left no doubt that he belonged there.
Rounding out the night was a set from two of the Americana Lifetime Achievement Award honorees for 2017, Robert Cray and Hi Rhythm. While hailing from Washington, Cray's brand of electric blues pulls heavily from Memphis so the house band for Memphis' famed soul label Hi Records are the perfect backing band for him. During their hour-long set, neither Cray or his band let the audience up for breath for even a moment, firing guitar-heavy blues licks, ample horns, and soulful organ in rapid-fire succession. But Hi Rhythm weren't the only guests Cray had in store for the Americana audience. He also brought Tony Joe White to the stage to play guitar on Cray's cover of White's “Aspen.” Finally, he brought out The Masqueraders, best known recently for their appearances on America's Got Talent, to provide backing vocals for two tracks.
You can keep up with all the latest news, recaps, and on-site interviews from the 2017 Americana Music Festival all week long here on AXS by checking out our Americanafest page.