With over 200 artists scheduled to perform, veteran attendees and newcomers alike will have a hard time trying to pick out who to see during the six days of the 2017 Americana Music Festival and Conference. One strategy taken by some attendees is to see as many legendary performers as possible during the week. Here are five Americana legends who should be near the top of any watch list:
Americanafest often books some of its Lifetime Achievement Award honorees to perform Showcases during the festival. With Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm, you're getting two of the 2017 Honorees in one show. Robert Cray, the 2017 Honoree for Performance, is an influential blues guitarist who has played alongside the likes of John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton, and Buddy Guy. But while playing the blues, he has never felt bound by it, bringing in elements of soul, rock, jazz, and country as well. Backing him up is Hi Rhythm, the Honorees for Instrumentalist and the house band for Hi Records and backing up acts like Otis Clay, Al Green, and Ann Peebles.
You won't find many artists as beloved in Americana circles as Rodney Crowell, and it shows in his numerous Americana Music Awards nominations. Crowell is nominated once again in 2017 for his album Close Ties. A top country hitmaker in the late '80s and early '90s, Crowell has spent more and more time exploring his Americana roots in recent years, working with Emmylou Harris on a critically acclaimed album and tour in recent years. Crowell's Americanafest sets are always packed, so expect to arrive early if you want to get a spot.
One key to becoming a legend is longevity and in that, Blind Boys of Alabama have even the most seasoned Americanafest performers beat by a few decades. First formed in 1939, the group has featured a rotating cast through the years but remains led by original member Jimmy Carter. The group are considered trailblazers in popularizing African American gospel vocal music. In that time, the group has won five Grammy Awards and collaborated with everyone from Bon Iver to Jamey Johnson to Preservation Hall Jazz Band, proving their popularity knows no genre bounds.
Like many seasoned performers, Colin Hay didn't begin his career in Americana. Instead, he will be best known to many as the frontman for Grammy winning rockers Men at Work, whose hits like “Down Under” and “Who Can It Be Now” flooded MTV in the mid-'80s. With more than a decade under his belt as a solo artist, Hay has brought the goofy sense of humor and the keen songwriter's eye that made Men at Work popular to his own material. His newest release, Fierce Mercy, has been getting rave reviews from critics and Hay's hilarious onstage banter is sure to keep the audience in stitches.
Bettye LaVette is exactly the kind of legend who packs venues at Americanafest. The 71-year-old soul singer recorded her first hit, “My Man- He's a Loving Man” in 1962 and toured alongside the likes of Otis Redding and Ben E. King. LaVette remained an intermittent hitmaker until she revitalized her career in 2005 and has since gone on to work with artists from across multiple genres to bring her own unique version of soul to the stage.