The word Americana might imply to some that the genre is limited to the United States. But nothing could be further from the truth. The Americana Music Festival has always had a strong international presence and 2017 was no different. While international groups and acts showcased throughout the week, Saturday was truly the day that Americana showed off its global scale, with several of the international groups throwing daytime parties, including Australia and Canada.
But for our Saturday, we landed in England by way of East Nashville as the AMA UK chapter hosted its annual Bootleg BBQ. In response to recent controversies in the mainstream country music world about female singers, AMA UK booked an all-female main stage lineup of both British and American acts. Artists like Danni Nicholls, Erin Rae, Lindi Ortega, and Courtney Marie Andrews showed that in Americana at least, women are more than up to the task of carrying the banner.
But there were three true standouts of the 2017 Bootleg BBQ. The AMA UK's 2017 Emerging Artists of the Year, Wildwood Kin, showed the American audiences exactly why they earned that award. The trio melds close harmonies with a heavy percussive beat, courtesy of the vocalist's out front kick and snare drum kit. With guitar, keys, and bouzouki also present, Wildwood Kin sounds just exotic enough to garner attention, but familiar enough to leave no doubt that they truly are Americana.
The second act to shine at the Bootleg BBQ should surprise no one. Yola Carter was one of our surprise favorites in 2016 and has only upped her game in the year since that appearance. With a voice that sounds like someone mixed Dolly Parton with Sharon Jones and a keen eye for a good lyrical hook, Yola Carter's star keeps rising.
The final standout from the Bootleg BBQ was headliner Angaleena Presley. Presley has long been an outspoken critic of the country establishment's treatment of women, to the detriment of her mainstream career. But she has been embraced by Americana, with many already crowning her new album Wrangled, one of the year's best. Her 45-minute set was a mix of old and new songs, dished up with heaping doses of Presley's wry sense of humor.
From the Bootleg BBQ, it was off to the Station Inn the last night of Americana Showcases. The Station Inn lineup was also an international one, featuring acts from America, Ireland, and Australia.
The evening started with a set from Lydia Luce. Luce is a young songwriter and a recent transplant to Nashville from Los Angeles. With a crystal clear voice and a developing lyrical voice, she may be an act to watch in the future.
One of the night's biggest surprises came from All Our Exes Live in Texas. Despite the George Strait inspired name, the band is not from Texas, but Australia. They entered the weekend with quite a bit of buzz and they quickly set out to prove that all of it was warranted. While using traditional folk instruments, their music is anything but traditional Americana. Using layered harmonies, All Our Exes Live in Texas craft almost ethereal dream pop that pushes the boundaries of Americana. Their closest analog in the community is SHEL, the Nashville-based sister act who have been challenging Americana conventions since their debut. Simply put, All Our Exes Live in Texas put on one of the best shows of the 2017 Americana Music Festival, and they're an act that will likely be playing a much bigger venue at their next appearance.
It's a hard thing to follow up such a genre-bending set, but Austin's Wood & Wire got to do just that. Fortunately, they're exactly the kind of band The Station Inn was built for; hard driving, fast picking, no-frills bluegrass music. On the same stage that Bill Monroe used to frequent, Wood & Wire put on a show that did the master's spirit justice.
Next up was Irish group I Draw Slow. Consisting of a songwriting core of brother and sister Dave and Louise Holden, I Draw Slow's debut for Compass Records, Turn Your Face to the Sun, has been getting universally positive critical press, including making AXS' list of the best Americana albums of the first half of 2017. But a live album does not a good concert make. But the Holden siblings, with a full band in tow, brought plenty of ammunition to recreate songs from their new album as well as their old ones in a way that more than does them justice. The Holdens have a close harmony that only siblings can have and an easy stage banter that makes them fun to watch.
Closing out the night was Nashville's own The Howlin' Brothers. Music City club scene regulars, The Howlin' Brothers take traditional string band music and give it just enough of a punk edge to amp up the energy. They've built a reputation in town as a party act and their Midnight set did nothing to dispel that reputation.