Americana 2014, The Sounds, Part 3

Every fall, The Americana Music Association gathers members, artists and music fans together in Nashville for its annual conference. Starting with the annual Americana Music Awards and continuing through four days of showcases and panel discussions, it is a tremendous celebration of Americana music.

Here are my highlights among the many live performances I saw over the 4 days I was there.  You can also check out Mayer’s favorites.


Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives.  I’ve written about how good Stuart is in a live show before.  But he’d kind of drifted off my radar the past few years.  Then I scored a ticket to a taping with Stuart and his band for Mojo Nixon’s SiriusXM radio show.  What an incredible hour of entertainment.  From trading jabs with Nixon, “stand up Mojo…if you still can”, to country rapping about the weekend, to playing along note for note with every song on Outlaw Country while waiting for the show to start, Marty entertained us at every point.  Oh, then there was his actual set of music.  Drawn mostly from his new album, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, it covered everything from rock and roll to gospel a cappella.  Along the way we also were reminded just how fine a guitar player Stuart is.

Carlene Carter.  I also caught a taping Carlene Carter did for SiriusXM.  With a career that stretches from her early teens in the 60’s to present day, she has a rich heritage of just her own musical path.  Then throw in the Carter family experiences and it’s a microcosm of country/Americana music.  The highlight was when Jeff Hanna, of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and half a dozen other musicians who had gathered in the XM studios reprised 1972’s seminal Will the Circle Be Unbroken.


Trigger Hippy.  Joan Osborne and Jackie Greene.  You don’t really have to say anything more to know it’s going to be a good show.  And yet that generates expectations with many that would be hard to meet.  Yet they and the other band members put together a potent combination of virtually every style of music you can imagine and blasted right through those expectations.  The worst thing for me is realizing this might be a one-time-only project.

Cory Chisel’s Soul Obscura.  I was leaving a venue with a vague plan for the evening when I ran into a couple of friends just coming in.  When I told them I was leaving because I hadn’t heard about Cory Chisel, they gave me that are-you-really-that-stupid look.  So I turned around and went back in and got the surprise of the week from Cory Chisel’s Soul Obscura.  In case you’re like me and not familiar with this project, Cory and his band do covers of obscure 60’s soul songs.  And dare I say improve on them all.

Bradford Lee Folk.  Another fortuitous decision on my part.  Without a particular next destination in mind I stuck around for a set from Folk and his Bluegrass Playboys.  With a brain full of heavy lyrics and indie sounds from earlier in the day, the old school bluegrass from these guys was a breathe of fresh air.  Flawlessly executed and with a focused sound, I have no doubt they replicate that experience regardless of your frame of mind.


Joe Fletcher.  Without his band on his latest album and tour, Fletcher underscores his songwriting ability.  His gravelly voice and almost laconic stage presence somehow work in combination to pump excitement into the room.  His was the last set I saw of the weekend, and put a proper exclamation point on all the great music I heard the previous 4 days.

Americana 2014: Say What?!

Elvis

One of my favorite things about attending music conferences and festivals are the crazy comments that you hear along the way. Here are a few choice selections.

FROM THE AWARDS SHOW



If it wasn’t for that guy we’d be doing this at a burnt out Kmart. Jason Isbell acknowledging that the awards show was being held on Hank Williams birthday.



I can’t tell you how foolish I feel accepting an award from Vincent Gill [while standing] on a stage with Ry Cooder. Buddy Miller accepting the award for best instrumentalist



He was world music before there was such a thing. Keb Mo presenting Taj Mahal a lifetime achievement award



They are only easy to play badly. Keb Mo on playing the blues



The music of my people became the music of all people. Keb Mo



We’re scheduling a post-production hair off. Robert Plant is invited but he’s already got a lifetime achievement award. The Milk Carton Kids, filling time while they waited for the teleprompter to be fixed



I’m a little disappointed. We got used to be nominated for things. We never win and you need to manage people’s expectations. The Milk Carton Kids, accepting their award for Duo/Group of the Year



He’s taken the outlaw country sound and started singing about turtles and stuff. Elizabeth Cook introducing Sturgill Simpson



We were supposed to be short. You weren’t so I’m not gonna be either. JD Souther to co-presenter Ken Paulson during their presentation to Jackson Browne



It’s part of the American character to say what you believe. Jackson Browne, accepting the Spirit of Americana / Free Speech in Music Award



This ain’t nothing you’re gonna see on TV. Browne stopping his performance to tune his guitar



As time went on it turned out to be a quite more generous song than she deserved. Jackson Browne introducing a song that he wrote about an ex-girlfriend


FROM THE SHOWCASES



Life is a mess and there’s no reason that our music shouldn’t be. Joe Henry



May he who lives without sin have better luck this evening. Todd Snider



Where the fornication nation meets the salvation train. Mojo Nixon describing Marty Stuart’s new album Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.



How much did you pay to get in here? You’re getting your money’s worth. Marty Stuart to the crowd after flubbing a guitar solo at a free show



Why don’t you love me any more? Guy in crowd
Is that a request or a question? Eileen Rose, responding to his request



Sorry about that. Young people ordering beers. A bartender apologizing for the delay that resulted from having to deal with an indecisive group



He’s got great hair. Mojo Nixon describing Marty Stuart



Here’s a song I wrote about someday being famous and paying my bills playing country music. J.P. Harris
Right. Guy in crowd



“A long, long time ago…” Robbie Fulks, kicking off his final song when the sound guy told him he had time for one more short one. I’m sure you can guess the song.



I’ve knocked over 2 of my 3 drinks. I’ve baptized this stage in wine & vodka. Cory Chisel



Here’s a new song. It’s about drugs. We did it for the first time this morning at a gospel brunch. Elizabeth Cook



Most people, even musicians, don’t know what producers do. Joe Henry



You listen really hard until it gets good. Joe Henry quoting a T Bone Burnett comment about producing



That’s what is great about music, it can be your friend when no one else can understand you. Mike Farris.



Sometimes the end of a lease doesn’t line up with the end of a relationship. Anthony D’Amato introducing “If It Don’t Work Out,” a break-up song



If you aren’t having a good time, it’s your own fucking fault, because this band is fucking awesome. Cory Chisel, referring to his pick-up band



You’re like a yard full of coon dogs that ate some bad possum. J.P. Harris to a quiet but attentive crowd



How’s everybody feeling,’cause I feel like shit. It’s too much fun down here. Lee Briante of the Far West after a long week of music and festivities



We just moved to the south and felt we needed to write a song to make us fit in. So this is a song a out biscuits. The Grahams



If you don’t know this, there’s something wrong with ya. Mike Farris introducing “This Little Light of Mine”



If I fuck up the lyrics you won’t know any better. Anthony D’Amato introducing a new song


Click here for more Americana Music Conference coverage.

Americana 2014: The Sounds, Part 2

Every fall, The Americana Music Association gathers members, artists and music fans together in Nashville for its annual conference. Starting with the annual Americana Music Awards and continuing through four days of showcases and panel discussions, it is a tremendous celebration of Americana music.


Matthew Ryan

MATTHEW RYAN

This was, hands-down, the highlight of the week for me. Ryan’s live performances in recent years have been solo acoustic, so I was thrilled that he put together a band for his Friday evening showcase.

To say that he didn’t disappoint would be an understatement. This was a rock show of the finest order, scruffy and authentic. The set featured a few songs from Boxers, his forthcoming electric guitar-fueled album, plus a number of classics from throughout his career.

Rumor has it that he will be doing additional band shows to support the new album. Do yourself a favor, don’t miss him when he comes to your town.


Kevin Gordon

KEVIN GORDON

One of the nice things about visiting Nashville is the chance to see some local artists in their natural habitat. Local-boy Gordon took time out from recording his next album to play an outdoor afternoon show. He has a knack for telling vivid and entertaining tales of Southern life that are set to music that mixes healthy doses of boogie and blues. It’s a recipe for music goodness. I, for one, am eagerly and impatiently awaiting his next release!


THE GREYHOUNDS

I missed the Greyhounds at SXSW earlier this year and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. The trio played the famed Blue Room at Third Man Records where they served up their distinctive style of classic R&B. I’m still not sure why there was someone in an astronaut outfit dancing on the side of the stage, but I’ll save that question for another day. They closed their set with a killer cover of Nilsson’s “Jump In the Fire.” (See ‘em play the song in this video from SXSW.)


Mike Farris

MIKE FARRIS

Farris doesn’t tour much so I made sure to catch him for a Saturday afternoon set. He and his band, including a horn section and an animated keyboard player, got the joint jumpin’ with their distinctive blend of gospel and soul.


The Silks

THE SILKS

Sure, I’ve seen these guys any number of times around Boston. It was great to see the local boys making their Americana Conference debut. They clearly brought their “A” game – they always do – as they blasted through a raucous set of bluesy rock. They even threw in a ferocious country jam mid-set for good measure.


DAVID RAMIREZ

Armed with just an acoustic guitar and a beautiful collection of songs, the Austin-based singer-songwriter engrossed a Saturday evening crowd. His music is often filled with melancholy and is always emotionally charged.


Click here for more Americana Music Conference coverage.

2014 Americana Music Awards

On September 17th, the glitterati of the Americana Music Scene gathered at the historic Ryman Theater for their annual Awards show and presentation.  Mayer and I were lucky enough to procure a seat to the festivities.  You can get a full list of the award nominees and winners here, but these are the highlights from our perspective.


Jason Isbell walked away with a sweep of the big 3 for Southeastern; Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, and Song of the Year.  His performance of Cover Me Up with wife Amanda Shires was excellent, and afterwards he noted that he’d written the song for her.  He recounted how scary it was to sing it to her the first time, and in accepting the Song of the Year award he encouraged the audience to “do what scares you”.


The House Band for the show was led, as always, by Buddy Miller.  This year it also included Don Was on bass, Ry Cooder on guitar, and Ry’s son Rocky Cooder on drums. They were joined by renowned session musicians Tim Lauer (keyboards), Brady Blade (percussion) and the McCrary Sisters (vocals).  A lot of people would argue Miller is the premier guitarist in Americana music today, but after the awards show I think you’d have to say it’s a two-man race with Ry.  Cooder really turned it loose from the opening number, a sizzling version of Willie Dixon’s You Can’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover.  His duet with Flaco Jimenez on a Norteno number was also a highlight, as was his and Miller’s playing on Valerie June‘s “You Can’t Be Told.”

(Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Americana Music)

(Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Americana Music)

The Ryman has been called by many the Mother Church of country music.  The church theme covered several excellent performances, not the least was Loretta Lynn singing Coal Miner’s Daughter on the very same stage she debuted at the Opry 54 years ago to the day from the awards night.  Also taking advantage of the spiritualness of the place was Parker Millsap doing Truck Stop Gospel and St. Paul & the Broken Bones creating their near-religious-experience aura with The Grass Is Greener.

 

 

 

(Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Americana Music)

(Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Americana Music)

Finally, you have to make some kind of effort to pick a favorite in a night with over two dozen performers.  No disrespect to the youngsters, but the edge goes to a couple of veterans.  Marty Stuart And His Fabulous Superlatives nailed a cover of No Hard Time Blues, a Jimmie Rodgers number performed in honor of the Rodgers Museum.  Stuart also brought a train lantern originally owned by Rodgers which gave his introduction and performance an extra air of authenticity. After a heartfelt intro from Keb Mo, who noted the man was doing world music before there was such a category, Taj Mahal did a version of Statesboro Blues that trumped any other version I’ve ever heard, and there are a lot of them.


The evening finished with an ensemble performance of Johnny Cash’s Get Rhythm, that featured Cash family members Carlene Carter and Roseanne Cash.  With that, the audience went into the night and the beginning of 4 nights of showcases that Mayer and I will cover in future posts.

 


Click here for more Americana Music Conference coverage.

Americana 2013: Say What?!

One of my favorite things about attending music conferences and festivals are the crazy comments that you hear along the way. Here are a few choice selections.

Elvis


Lets cut the small talk, I got a new record out. It’s already a million seller. I got a million of ‘em in the cellar.

Scott Miller


You’re fucking quiet. We could all just chat and stuff.

Scott Kempner of the Del-Lords


On this version lets change the music and the words. Keep it fresh.

Brian Henneman of the Bottle Rockets, preparing to do a second take of the one song that they played during a CMT Edge taping


This is called “No One Knows Nothing Anymore.” I’d like to dedicate this to the major labels.

Billy Bragg


In this digital world where songwriter credits have disappeared along with royalties….

Robert Hunter, accepting his Lifetime Achievement Award for songwriting


Thanks. You oughta hear that one in tune.

Scott Miller


I’m a little out of tune but I’m going to play a blues song so it’s OK.

Parker Millsap


You guys are like the two old men from the Muppet show up there.

Matt Mays, to the sound guys perched on a balcony in the back of the High Watt club


I borrowed the title from the Ray Bradbury novel, only to be informed that it is actually from Shakespeare.

Lucinda Williams, introducing her song titled “Something Wicked This Way Comes”


I got these short pants on. No peeking. Keep your eyes up here.

Mojo Nixon, referring to his shorts as he sat down on a high stool


One of the reasons that I started working with Plowboy [Records] was I was told that I could subvert country music from within.

Legendary punk songwriter and guitarist Cheetah Chrome


I’m the office boy.

Cheetah Chrome, on his role at Plowboy Records


I’ve known this guy since we wore dog collars together back in the 1977.

Cheetah Chrome, introducing Alejandro Escovedo


Escovedo: So you remember?

Drummer: I know the name.

Escovedo: That’s good. My band doesn’t remember the name.

Alejandro Escovedo, teaching the house band one of his songs


Parker Millsap: Did you just call him ‘Cracker’?

CMT crew member: That’s his name.

Exchange while Millsap was setting up for a performance at the CMT Studios


We did a tour together in June and I’m lucky to be alive.

Joe Fletcher, on touring with JP Harris


I sarcastically said that this song was my version of Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Getting Back Together.” The journalist misinterpreted it and wrote that I was inspired by it.

Samantha Crain, introducing her song “I’m Never Going Back”


Nashville has a problem with body parts.

Lucinda Williams, quoting Robbie Fulks on the Nashville establishment’s hesitation to promote certain songs


The one advantage of being in a band that looks like roadies is that you actually are roadies.

Brian Henneman of the Bottle Rockets


There ain’t nothing better than a real honest to God encore. A lot of bands do the bullshit encore.

Brian Henneman of the Bottle Rockets.


I’d like to play one from his back catalog, meaning pre-Mermaid Avenue.

Billy Bragg, introducing his cover of Woody Guthrie’s “I Ain’t Got No Home. “


That’s like bucket list stuff for a record store.

Grimey, of Grimey’s Record Store, after Billy Bragg played his entire first album in the parking lot behind the store


Miller Lite, the beer of kings.

Patrick Sweany


My dad is hunting or he would be here tonight.

Holly Williams, accepting Hank Williams’ lifetime achievement award at the Americana Music Awards


I don’t know why you’re clapping, the man just died.

John Fullbright, responding to the applause after he played his song “Fat Man”


We’re 31 years old and they think we are emerging.

The Milk Carton Kids


[We played] rockabilly before they had a name for it. We just thought it was hopped up country music.

Duane Eddy


We’re the organization that used to Sue people.

Cary Sherman, CEO of the RIAA, introducing himself


Click here for more Americana Music Conference coverage.

Photo credits:  Mayer Danzig.