Another Amazing Year of Americana

AmericanaFest 2022 offers further example of its stunning success

Chris Isaak winner of Lifetime Achievement For Performance at The Americana Music Honors & Awards, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville TN September 14, 2022 (Image: Alisa B. Cherry)

Like the music it represents so well, AmericanaFest is a sprawling affair, an annual event that takes over Nashville each September with musical offerings that span hundreds of artists and dozens of venues courtesy through concerts, forums, panels and associated events.

This years’s gathering, which took place September 13 – 17, was no exception, and, as always, the activities and attractions offered opportunity to mingle, network and see the kind of performances that may be otherwise out of reach. 

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram performed at BMI rooftop Kick-Off Party, Nashville TN September 13, 2022 (Image: Alisa B. Cherry)

It is, in fact, a gathering that’s dazzling by definition. The Americana Music Association, under the able leadership of its president, Jed Hilly, can be credited with continuing to promote diversity, fairness and equality in both its music and make-up. Consequently, it doesn’t rely on any one brand, but rather encompasses roots, rock, blues, bluegrass, folk, gospel and various traditional forms of expression, all of which find a fit under a vast umbrella.

So too, the annual event is a wonderful way to reconnect with friends and fellow travelers, some of which one sees only once a year at this particular event. Yet the ties that bind this community remain intact year-round, and those that appreciate Americana music in all its forms share a tight-knit collective bond bound by common cause as well as the fellowship it entails.

So too, there are certain events that have become mandatory gatherings each year. The BMI and Concord Records welcoming parties are always well-attended, thanks to the lavish buffets, artist appearances and ample opportunity to mix and mingle.

Steve Poltz entertained at Compass Records’ Hillbillies and Hot Dogs Party, Nashville TN September 14, 2022 (Image: Alisa B. Cherry)

Likewise, Compass Records’ Hillbillies and Hot Dogs gathering at the record label’s offices provides a superb showcase for the label’s talent and an intimate concert experience in the Compass in-house recording studio. This year’s line-up, which included the always-entertaining Steve Poltz (“This is the best concert I’ve ever given,” he claimed) along with Nicki Bluhm, Chastity Brown and the dynamic duo of Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley, was no exception.

Nicki Bluhm at Compass Records’ Hillbillies and Hot Dogs Party, Nashville TN September 14, 2022 (Image: Alisa B. Cherry)

The day-long Under the Sun showcase on the rooftop of the Westin, the host hotel, presented by New West Records, Soundly Music and Transoceanic Records, featured its own stellar line-up, one that boasted a rare appearance by Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (formerly of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan), 49 Winchester, Joshua Ray Walker, Lilly Hiatt, Michael McArthur, Rissi Palmer, Strung Like a Horse, Tami Neilson, Taylor Rae, Will Hoge, Teddy & The Rough Riders and Kaitlin Butts.

Rissi Palmer wowed us at Under The Sun All Day Party on L27 Rooftop Bar at The Westin Hotel, Nashville September 17, 2022 (Image: Alisa B. Cherry)

There were also the usual annual festivities presented by envoys from other nations, including the Aussie BBQ, a showcase of English artists presented by the British Americana Association, and an afternoon of showcases from Canadian artists. They reflected the fact that Americana has spread far beyond America’s shores. 

Lilly Hiatt sang at Under The Sun All Day Party on L27 Rooftop Bar at The Westin Hotel, Nashville September 17, 2022 (Image: Alisa B. Cherry)

Meanwhile, the publicity machine was operating at full throttle. Nick-Loss Eaton Media offered a nice representation of the artists on its roster, including Austin Lucas, Christine Sweeney, Jackson Lynch, Janet Simpson, Nora Brown and Eaton’s artistic alter ego, Leland Sundries. State Fair Records held its annual T for Texas gathering, while Mule Kick and Devious Planet hosted a day-long Rock ’n’ Roll Brunch at the Groove, one of Nashville’s most popular shopping destinations and one that features an outside stage behind the store. Andrew Leahey & The Homestead, Bette Smith, Michelle Malone, Sara Petite, Side Pony, 40 Acre Mule, the HawtThornes and the legendary Freedy Johnston held court there throughout the day.

David Newbould performed at The California Country Show at ACME Feed & Seed, Nashville TN September 16, 2022 (Image: Alisa B. Cherry)

The California Country Show at Acme Feed & Seed also offered an alls-tar line-up, with Garrison Starr, David Newbould and Ladycouch sharing standout status. Likewise, 1888 Media had a stellar line-up at the famous Nashville eatery, Arnold’s Country Kitchen. Presented by Kevin Daniel, the line-up featured Amy Speace, Alton Wolfe, Alisa Amador, Brian Wright, Coral Moons, Marina Rocks, Maura Stripes, Sam Robbins, Tory Silver, South for the Winter, and of course, Daniel himself.

Brandi Carlile, winner of Song of the Year, Right On Time, at The Americana Music Honors & Awards, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville TN September 14, 2022 (Image: Alisa B. Cherry)

In addition, Lyle Lovett, Brandi Carlile and T-Bone Burnett held court at various intervals with featured appearances that shared music, mentoring and memories. Indeed, historical reference and reverence were plentiful, with special salutes to the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, the music of Levon Helm and a replay of songs from 1972 all providing a path from past to present. 

There were film premieres as well, including the Peter Case documentary, A Million Miles Away and a screening of a new Credence Clearwater Revival concert movie that captured the band’s legendary appearance at the Royal Albert Hall. 

Sierra Ferrell, winner of Emerging Act Of The Year at The Americana Music Honors & Awards, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville TN September 14, 2022 (Image: Alisa B. Cherry)

The crowning event, of course, is always The Americana Music Honors & Awards at the legendary Ryman Auditorium, the Mother Church of Country Music. This year’s honors, hosted once again by the Milk Carton Kids and featuring an all-star band helmed by Buddy Miller, were accorded to the following: Allison Russell’s Outside Child (Album of the Year), Billy Strings (Artist of the Year), The War and Treaty (Duo/Group of the Year), Sierra Ferrell (Emerging Act of the Year), Larissa Maestro (Instrumentalist of the Year), and Brandi Carlile’s “Right on Time” (Song of the Year).

The War and Treaty, winner of Duo/Group of the Year at The Americana Music Honors & Awards, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville TN September 14, 2022 (Image: Alisa B. Cherry)

Nevertheless, it was the special lifetime honors that created the evening’s most emotional moments. Stax Music mainstay Al Bell was recognized for Lifetime Executive Achievement, gospel group the Fairfield Four received the Legacy of Americana Award, Chris Isaak was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance, the late Don Williams was given the President’s Award, and the Indigo Girls received the Spirit of Americana/Free Speech in Music Award. 

Emotion ran high throughout.

One of the biggest surprises of the evening transpired when Robert Plant suddenly took the stage to give Buddy Miller an award of appreciation for his steady oversight of the music arrangements across the span of the ceremony’s past 20 years. Miller was clearly surprised and touched, and one can only hope that despite his pending retirement, his involvement will remain constant and consistent in the years to come.

Indigo Girls, Spirit of Americana/Free Speech in Music winner and Brandi Carlile at The Americana Music Honors & Awards, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville TN September 14, 2022 (Image: Alisa B. Cherry)

Then of course, there were the concerts themselves, most taking place at twelve major venues throughout the city and surrounding environs. Cannery Row, a complex consisting of three different stages, is currently closed, and while it was responsible for offering any number of shows in past years, there were still enough sites to ensure there were difficult choices when it came to deciding where to embark for the evening.

The options are never easy; the performances compete with each other, and inevitably, difficult choices must be made. Happily, the showcases, the tribute concerts and the awards show offered opportunity to see artists who were at least able to make cameo appearances, creating something akin to a visual and virtual live mixtape. 

Allison Russell, winner of Album of the Year, and Brandi Carlile, winner Song of the Year, at The Americana Music Honors & Awards, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville TN September 14, 2022 (Image: Alisa B. Cherry)

As is the case with any festival of this magnitude, it’s all but impossible to see even a fraction of the artists and performers on one’s wish list. Sadder still, some may have resided on said list for decades. It’s best then to celebrate those that you do see and take comfort in the fact that another year will bring another opportunity to catch some of those favorites in the future.

Given the culture, the creativity and the community, the rich reservoir of possibility remains consistent year after year.

 

VIDEO: Americana Honors & Awards 2022 livestream

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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