The 10 best shows we saw at the 2016 Americana Music Festival

Chris Griffy - AXS Contributor
By: AXS Contributor Sep 27, 2016
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With over 200 bands performing across six days and over a dozen venues, it would be physically impossible to see everything there was to offer at the Americana Music Festival, or even a fraction. But during our time onsite at Americanafest, AXS caught 34 full and mini-sets. Without fail, we were impressed by everything we saw. Americana music is defined above all by musical integrity so whether your tastes run toward the bluegrass, rock, country, soul or jazz facets of the genre, there was sure to be something that satisfied your taste. It made picking 10 favorites from those 34 tough, but as we look back at the week, these 10 artists rose to the top of the heap.  

  • Applewood Road
    We got to catch Applewood Road twice at Americanafest. The first time was at the Wild Ponies Happy Hour, where they played an abbreviated 15
    Chris Griffy

    We got to catch Applewood Road twice at Americanafest. The first time was at the Wild Ponies Happy Hour, where they played an abbreviated 15 minute set due to time restriction. The second, was a half hour at the AMA UK Bootleg BBQ. The trio, made up of successful solo artists Amy Speace, Emily Barker and Amber Rubarth have an airtight vocal harmony that would make you think they'd been together for decades.

  • Colin Hay
    Colin Hay, of Men at Work fame, played a short half-hour set at the Compass Records Hillbillies and Hotdogs party, but it was enough to make
    Chris Griffy

    Colin Hay, of Men at Work fame, played a short half-hour set at the Compass Records Hillbillies and Hotdogs party, but it was enough to make it one of the weekend's best. Hay's lyrics are always thoughtful, often clever and surprisingly deep. His between song banter is some of the funniest in the business.

  • Phil Madeira's Mercyland
    Surrounded by the funky Egyptian architecture of Nashville's Downtown Presbyterian Church, Phil Madeira held forth for 90 minutes with a rot
    Chris Griffy

    Surrounded by the funky Egyptian architecture of Nashville's Downtown Presbyterian Church, Phil Madeira held forth for 90 minutes with a rotating cast of guests that included fellow Red Dirt Boy Will Kimbrough, John Paul White, Sarah Potenza, The Wood Brothers and his touring boss, the legendary Emmylou Harris, who closed out the show with two songs. You don't have to be among the faithful to enjoy Mercyland, but watching Emmylou and John Paul White duet in a church is a religious experience for any music fan.

  • Lee Ann Womack and Friends
    It was billed as a two hour concert by Lee Ann Womack and some of her friends. In reality, it was something much more special. Womack played
    Chris Griffy

    It was billed as a two hour concert by Lee Ann Womack and some of her friends. In reality, it was something much more special. Womack played emcee for the evening and joined in for a duet here and there as the biggest names in Americana kicked things off at Basement East. Anytime you have Buddy Miller, Patty Griffin, Jim Lauderdale, Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires stopping in for a few songs, it's going to be a very good night.

  • Whitney Rose
    If anyone doubted the youth movement in Americana was alive and well, that doubt died on Saturday night at The Station Inn when Canadian sin
    Chris Griffy

    If anyone doubted the youth movement in Americana was alive and well, that doubt died on Saturday night at The Station Inn when Canadian singer Whitney Rose took to the stage.  With a voice that captures the twang of Patsy Cline, the innocence of Lesley Gore, and the sassy spunk of Wanda Jackson, Rose was pure energy from start to finish, with catchy tunes like "The Devil Borrowed My Boots" mixing seamlessly with her Latin surf guitar-infused cover of Gore's "You Don't Own Me."  

  • Sierra Hull
    Playing on the same night and the same venue as Rose, Sierra Hull was one more nail in the coffin of the notion that Americana is music for
    Chris Griffy

    Playing on the same night and the same venue as Rose, Sierra Hull was one more nail in the coffin of the notion that Americana is music for the old.  Days shy of 25, Sierra Hull is already a seasoned veteran performer, a graduate of the revered Berklee School of Music, and one of the most talented mandolin pickers in the world today.  Her set veered wildly from bluegrass to rock to classical and all points in between, with Hull bouncing around the stage the entire show like she was daring her band to just try and keep up.

  • Willie Sugarcapps
    Will Kimbrough, Grayson Capps, and Sugarcane Jane have all been a part of the Americana scene for years and a solo set from any of them migh
    Chris Griffy

    Will Kimbrough, Grayson Capps, and Sugarcane Jane have all been a part of the Americana scene for years and a solo set from any of them might very well have made this list.  But when you combine them into the supergroup Willie Sugarcapps, you get something that has to be seen to be believed.  The group was formed from the various members' love of the music of their South Alabama roots and the swampy country rock on offer Friday night at Family Wash was powerful enough that the Gulf Shores Chamber of Commerce should consider offering them a job.  They are as good an advertisement for the region as you'll ever get.

  • Yola Carter
    Like the majority of Americanafest attendees, we walked into Saturday's Bootleg BBQ with no idea who Yola Carter is.  The British singer has
    Chris Griffy

    Like the majority of Americanafest attendees, we walked into Saturday's Bootleg BBQ with no idea who Yola Carter is.  The British singer has yet to make a splash as a solo artist on American soil, although the crowd reactions from her set say that's about to change.  Carter's versatile pipes can do Mavis Staples or Dolly Parton, Aretha Franklin or Loretta Lynn and her influences are broad enough to make her want to try.  Yola Carter is an artist you will be hearing a lot more of in the coming years.

  • My Bubba
    If you're going to come to Nashville all the way from Sweden and Iceland, you must think you've got what it takes to make it in Americana. T
    Chris Griffy

    If you're going to come to Nashville all the way from Sweden and Iceland, you must think you've got what it takes to make it in Americana. The duo known as My Bubba sure do. Musically, they were unquestionably the quietest act on the bill, which could be a disaster in a "chat while you wait for the band you came to see" festival environment. But from the second the started their a cappella first song and those gorgeous layered vocals started to bounce around Third Man Records, you could hear a pin drop as the audience barely dared breathe and risk breaking the spell. With a gentle sense of humor to match their songs, My Bubba was the breakout act of Americanafest 2016.

  • Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
    They don't let you keep doing something for 50 years unless you're pretty good at it so it's no surprise that the weekend's top spot belongs
    Chris Griffy

    They don't let you keep doing something for 50 years unless you're pretty good at it so it's no surprise that the weekend's top spot belongs to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, who are celebrating their half-century as a band this year. Age certainly hasn't dimmed their fire as vocalist/guitarist Jeff Hanna and multi-instrumentalist John McEuen strutted and stalked around the stage striking poses like 20 year olds. Add to that hit after hit like "Fishin' in the Dark" and "Workin' Man (Nowhere to Go)" and the top spot was a no brainer.

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