Another Amazing Year of Americana
AmericanaFest 2022 offers further example of its stunning success
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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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