2018 AMERICANAFEST Recap
Erin Rae – Third Man Records – Thursday night
I’ve been following the musical career of Erin Rae for a few years now. I first saw her in a Margo Price music video called “Since You Put Me Down,” from Margo’s breakout album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, which was her first Third Man Records release. Erin was providing backup vocals for Margo on a shared mic. They were sitting so close that it seemed like they were a duo. It was easy to see there was more than meets the eye with Erin.
Flash forward four years, and Erin Rae is leading a band at Third Man Records for a packed house. She’s a respected mover and shaker in the Americana music scene. Not only that, but she’s released her own breakout album on Single Lock Records called Putting on Airs. With her backing band (which included Single Lock Records co-founder, Ben Tanner, on keys), Erin put on a seamless, record-quality show that the DittyTV staff was enamored by.
Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear – Cannery Ballroom – Thursday night
There’s an intensity in Madisen and Ruth Ward (of Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear) that I didn’t pick up on until seeing them live. I’ve listened to their music and watched their videos online for about three years now, but seeing them at the Cannery Ballroom, performing with a filled-out band (electric guitar and cello), exposed me to a fearlessness I hadn’t seen from them. Their songs are filled with a certain positive confidence, and they’re delivered in a uniquely personal style that’s reserved for family.
That confidence lives off-stage too. As their set was starting, Ruth shared that she’d been a fan of Rosanne Cash’s music for decades, and that she used to perform Rosanne’s songs in coffee shops in the 80’s. She knew Rosanne was at the festival this year, and when she finally spotted her, she went right up to her and shared her respect.
Storytelling in front of a crowd is not easy. Ruth had their complete attention. Her story pointed out two things to me: everyone has someone that they look up to, and there’s nothing wrong with letting your (s)heroes know how they have inspired you, even after you have success of your own (maybe even especially then).
Cedric Burnside – The Filming Station – Thursday afternoon
The throne of Mississippi Hill Country Blues has long been argued to belong to R.L. Burnside. Close to that powerful figure, very close in fact, was grandson Cedric Burnside, who you’d see performing on drums with R.L. doing his thing on guitar. Now, in 2018, it’s Cedric who’s doing his thing.
It became clear, watching Cedric perform at The Filming Station for the Music Export Memphis showcase, that a certain star quality belongs to him. He’s been performing for many years in different incarnations, but with the release of Benton County Relic, we’re seeing a distinct debut of an exceptional blues musician taking the lead.
To take a lyric from, “Ain’t Gonna Take No Mess,” a standout track from Benton County Relic, Burnside says, “My school was a juke joint/From a kid till I was grown/And blues is really/All I ever known.” That becomes very clear when watching him perform live. Whether on the drums or on guitar, Cedric’s gonna give it to you.
Paul Cauthen – Everywhere – All the time
This year, it seemed that a handful of artists were capable of being in two, or even three places at once: Aaron Lee Tasjan, Whiskey Wolves of the West, and Paul Cauthen, to name a few. For some, it’s not enough to just show up and play a set, they go all in and throw parties, night after night.
Paul Cauthen is one of those artists, and boy does he stand out. He’s assertive, warm-hearted, charming, and just a tireless force of optimism for the Americana genre. Each time he took the stage, which was a lot of times, there was a clear-eyed and intuitive mind at work, affecting audiences, engaging them and facilitating a more real exchange than you typically find at concerts in the age of compulsory “I have a cell-phone with a camera and I have to film this” audience behavior.
People seem to pay more attention and be more at ease when Paul’s on stage, as if there’s a common ground created by him simply being there and having fun.
AHI – Sputnik Sound Studio – Thursday afternoon
AHI is a Canadian songwriter-storyteller and musician with more than just a unique name (it’s pronounced “eye”). An easy way to remember the correct pronunciation is to think of his actual eyes, which sparkle (seriously). This fella may as well be walking around with a wizard wand in hand because the magical sense of hope and happiness that he radiates is just completely palpable.
He performed at Sputnik Sound in Berry Hill, TN for a private party, and the experience of seeing such an enthusiastic personality up-close was surreal and comfortable, much like the interior design of Sputnik, a low-lit, bordello-styled artifact wonderland where board tape from sessions with artists like Jack White and Wanda Jackson is strewn about.
AHI kicked off the set in the studios’ living room area with his hit single, “Breakin’ Ground,” a song that starts with the lyrics “I’ve been told I’m worthless/So much that it gave me purpose/And I took the creative license/To believe that it means I’m priceless/Now I’m so determined/To prove that I ain’t no burden/And I know I’m gonna make it out/Cause I’m already breakin’ ground.”
Loving, big-hearted, easy-going – AHI claims Bob Marley as his biggest influence and hero, and the similarities are evident.
Courtney Marie Andrews – The High Watt – Thursday night
Courtney Marie Andrews is an itinerant Americana warrior-woman, and her weapon is kindness. That sounds crazy, but it’s likely that her audience for the packed-out High Watt show Thursday night would agree. And really, anyone who has listened to her recordings or been to her shows would too.
At her AMERICANAFEST performance, as she moved with a slightly unhinged swagger around the stage, there erupted soul-stirring vocals of an unmatched caliber, like during the imperatively sung, “May Your Kindness Remain.”
Hearing that song, I was reminded of the sentiment that The Beatles “Let It Be” was chasing after – a direct command to hang in there. Even in your darkest hour, when your good looks and money are all gone, both McCartney and Andrews are saying, “stay good.”
The Milk Carton Kids – Ryman Auditorium – Wednesday night
Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale of The Milk Carton Kids wore a lot of hats at AMERICANAFEST this year, the most public being their role as hosts of the Americana Honors & Awards Show at the Ryman Auditorium.
Mixed reviews rolled in, in part because of recurring technical difficulties (the entire front of house sound went out during Irma Thomas’ performance), multiple errors in delivering names correctly (only one of these was directly on the MCK), and an overall loose and deprecating style of hosting. Some got their humor, others found it off-putting. That’s how it goes with humor. We loved it!
I think one thing we can agree they certainly got right was the original song that they performed during the show, a hilarious and curious tune they made up called “What Even Is Americana.” The audience repeatedly erupted with laughter, and it somehow made the Ryman come to life in a way that nothing else that night did. Take a listen:
Here are the lyrics, which should give us enough to think about until AMERICANAFEST 2019:
A country song that’s a little too political
A feminist anthem that’s a bit too literal
Your lyrics are Biblical
Your Twitter feed is liberal
You ain’t mainstream cause you look atypical
Forget the pop charts
You ain’t on ‘em
You need Americana
A folk song with no discernable chorus
Bluegrass waltzes and Civil War stories
Zydeco, Tejano, original, traditional
An old-time string band, clothing is conditional
An R&B cover with pedal steel on it
I guess that’s Americana
So what if your songs are a little too sad
And your publicist is your mom and dad
But you keep on rollin’ in the back of that van
Ain’t no clue when you’ll be home again
But when you’re up on stage every night it don’t seem so bad
What even is Americana
A trade group of Grammy category sub-genre
An annual award show with Emmylou on it
Don’t need to see the envelope Isbell won it
A home for all of us who don’t fit in
Who just want to write and play and sing
And hear real music whatever you call it
I say it’s called Americana
So what do you say
You paid $500 for a week-long conference
Let’s get on the same page and stop asking the question
The 19th annual AMERICANAFEST®: The Americana Music Festival & Conference took place September 11-16, 2018, gathering thousands of artists, fans, and industry professionals from all over the world in Nashville, TN. With planning already underway, 2018 promises to once again be the must-attend event for anyone who loves the melting pot of Americana’s influences including roots, folk, country, blues and soul-based music. Each year, AMERICANAFEST® brings together legendary artists, the next generation of rising stars, fans, and industry professionals for six days of music and education.
Our conference portion features numerous panels, seminars, exclusive day time performances, and much more, proudly providing Nashville’s most educational music industry forum. This special event covers the interests and needs of artists, managers, labels, radio stations, publishers, agents, promoters, retailers, legal and business affairs executives, merchandisers and new media professionals – all enthusiastically attended and presented by music industry leaders. And FYI, you do not have to be a member of the Americana Music Association® or in the music industry to purchase a conference registration and attend all the events. We encourage all music lovers to be apart of the conference experience.
If you choose not to be a part of the entire AMERICANAFEST® experience through a conference registration, then our festival wristband is the option for you. For six nights, AMERICANAFEST® will feature 500 live performances at almost 60 of Nashville’s most prominent venues and much, much, more! However, wristbands do not guarantee entry if venue is at capacity. In the event of a line, conference registrants have priority access. If there is a must see band on your list we suggest arriving to the venue early.