Friday at Americanafest didn't have a theme in particular, but if it did, it might have been a day dedicated to songwriters whose work is remarkably broad, including artists within Americana. Whether that was two country crossover sisters finally making an Americana record together, honoring a Southern rock pioneer, or just listening to great music from four songwriters who aren't afraid to go wherever their muse takes them, our Friday at Americana was all about exploration.
It started with a pair of events put on in conjunction with the Country Music Hall of Fame. In the past few years, Americanafest and the Country Music Hall of Fame have put on some of the most in-demand events at the festival and 2017 didn't break that tradition. Up first was an interview and short performance from Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer, moderated by NPR's Ann Powers. While the sisters have toured together and collaborated on each other's solo work, the recently released Not Dark Yet is their first together. They spoke with Powers about growing up in a musical household and how the small roots music community in their hometown gave them a jumping off point for their careers.
The second Country Music Hall of Fame honored the legendary late Allman Brothers vocalist Gregg Allman. This event was the hardest hit so far of the flu that seems to be bouncing around Americanafest and only Joan Osborne was present of the listed performers. Fortunately, there's no shortage of great musicians present during Americanafest so The North Mississippi Allstars and Aaron Lee Tasjan filled in. After talking about Allman's legacy and listening to some of his posthumous new album, Osborne and Tasjan played a couple of songs, and ended up having one of the more humorous moments of the day as the staff only gave Osborne part of the lyrics to the song so she and Tasjan had to improv while an audience member looked lyrics up on his phone.
Following the two Hall of Fame events were the nighttime Americana Showcase performances. The place to be was 3rd and Lindsley for a night of some of Americana's best songwriters.
The night kicked off with the youngest performer on the bill, Lindi Ortega. The 37 year old Canadian has a style and fashion all her own. Strutting onto the stage in her signature red boots, bright red lipstick, and black dress, Ortega served up a 45-minute set that bounced from classic-country inspired breakup songs to darker, more Southern noir fare. Whatever style she was dishing, her beautiful voice was more than capable of keeping up. In between songs, she also showed off a wide knowledge of truly groan-inducing dad jokes (an example: What do you call a fascist spud? A dictator.)
Following Lindi Ortega was Mr. Americana himself, Jim Lauderdale. Long the genre's biggest champion, watching Lauderdale on stage leads to the belief that he is so passionate about growing Americana because no other style would fit his musings. During his set, the most crowded of the night, Lauderdale bounced almost recklessly between country, bluegrass, folk, and liberal doses of his British Invasion-inspired new album. He even brought out young fiddle sensation Lillie Mae to perform a track from his forthcoming album. Jim Lauderdale is the consummate entertainer and he has earned his reputation as an artist not to miss at his yearly performances.
The next band on the bill released only their second album together on Friday. But don't take that to mean they're a new group. Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams have been both musical and marital partners for a quarter of a century. The pair has performed in the bands of everyone from Phil Lesh to Levon Helm, so it's no surprise that their set was almost as musically diverse as Lauderdale's. Campbell is one of Americana's best guitarists and Teresa Williams' voice is the perfect match for it. Their set debuted several songs from their day-old album Contraband Love.
Closing out the night was Bruce Robison. A multiple-time Americana Music Awards nominee with his with Kelly Willis, Robison was on his own this night, with only a single dobro player to accompany him. Robison is far from a household name, as was evidenced by audience members asking others who he was, but it's a fair bet all of them knew some of his most famous songs such as The Dixie Chicks' #1 hit “Travelin' Soldier.” By the end of the night, the crowd was converted, dancing and singing along to Robison's catchy choruses.