The Americana Ramble – My Take on Americanafest 2017
Breathing the crispness of morning air in September is the perfect pregame ritual before hitting the highway to Nashville for the annual Americanafest. After missing the ultimate party thrown by the Americana Music Association last year for just the second time in ten years, there was intrigue to see the changes in the landscape of Music City along with excitement to reconnect with friendships fostered on previous journeys. Traveling into the last remains of Irma with my wing man Dale Elwell, a lunch stop for Martin’s Bar-B-Que in Louisville was the first of many surprises to come.
This trip would be different from the other Americana crawls as home base would be a cottage house located in Inglewood on the other side of the Cumberland River from our usual no-fills hotel off the bustling West End. Joining the fraternity house was Cleveland singer/songwriter Thor Platter, who was networking in advance of his upcoming record release Take Time produced by David Mayfielddue out in October. As the clock struck five o’clock, it was time for a Blackberry Farm Abbey Blonde at The Basement where we made the deadline of checking in for the conference. Little did we know, but what could truly be the best event of the week took place upstairs at Grimey’s New & Preloved Music. The in-store kickoff featured Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real performing selections off their brand new double Lp that blew us away. From there, dinner plans included Shepherd’s Pie at The Family Wash and to hear a set from Kevin Gordon. Recommended by my waiter, I enjoyed a delicious Turtle AnarchyPortly Stout. Although there were other events taking place, we rolled the dice on Los Colognes at The 5 Spot for $2 Tuesdays. An ensemble of the usual suspects from East Nashville including Derek Hoke, Allen Thompson, Lilly Hiatt, Caitlin Rose, Patrick Sweany, and special friends Kim Collins and husband Scott Collins were interpreting the Neil Young classic Tonight’s The Night. Joining the fun after performing at The Opry were Margo Price and Lukas Nelson. With Yazoo Gerst Amber and Dos Perros drafts on the cheap, it was a magical evening. A Nashville trip wouldn’t be complete without seeing Scott and Kim aka The Smoking Flowers and it was nice to rekindle our friendship afterwards. The power duo has enough material to record a follow-up to 2 Guns, so hopefully Music Row will show some love and support to one of Nashville’s most beloved couples. Last call was next door at Duke’s for a Jackalope Bearwalker Maple Brown with Jamin Orrall from Jeff The Brotherhood spinning the hits from the crow’s nest.
Day two began with a trip to the Kroger for breakfast fixings and much needed K-cups. Compass Records along with No Depression were sponsoring the “Hillbillies & Hot Dogs” luncheon with Yazoo Daddy-O Pilsner and authentic Vienna beef wieners cuddled into a S. Rosen poppy seed bun served up by Jay’s Chicagofood truck. Shannon McNally was performing within the intimate recording studio selections from Black Irish that was simply gorgeous. The fostering of new friendships began with the lovely Melanie Hankewich from Saskatchewan and member of the band Belle Plaine. Expect to hear more from them with a new full album release in 2018. A trip out to McKay’s no longer reaped the Lp gold of new Americana once found in the CD bins of this mega used media store. Running a bit on empty, the trio was in dire need of a java jolt at Fido with a sugar buzzed “Kitchen Sink” cookie. Legends on both sides of the Atlantic, a rendezvous with good friends Declan Culliton and Brendan Cooke at 3 Crows was long overdue. A very leisurely dinner was comprised of the Bleu Gouda Stout burger paired with a Czann Blonde and a Calf Killer Grass Roots Ale. Declan joined Dale and I for the Station Inn showcase featuring the sweet Caitlin Canty and one of Americana’s finest songwriters Hayes Carll. A couple of Dos Perros pitchers and a famous Station Inn pizza later, we headed for The Band of Heathens midnight performance at The Basement East. When you’re in Nashville for AMA week, there really isn’t a curfew.
It was a rise and shine Thursday with the breakfast of champions comprising of Rocky Mountain toast, fruit, and a few cups of coffee. Today’s late start began with parking in Music Row and walking to the Thompson Hotel in the swanky Gulch district for a spectacular rooftop party. I arrived in the nick of time to sample a Good People Brown Ale and catch the very talented Ryan Culwell. The once short haired West Texas gentleman has a longer mane these days, but his voice and music still resonates with this writer. With three daughters and one on the way, Culwell sang a song he sings to his girls every night titled “Tie My Pillow To A Tree”. I was very excited to hear that a follow-up to his brilliant 2015 release Flatlands may happen next year The indoor/outdoor bar and party space continued to swell with attendees as Justin Osborne of the band SUSTO and Andrew Combs each played sets. By this time I was ready for lunch, so I headed back and found The Slider House menu inviting with a delicious combo of a Nashville Hot Chicken and Bay of Pigs sliders with a house salad. Beer pairing was the long awaited Tailgate Peanut Butter Milk Stout. Dale and I had a window of time before the next event, so we drove over to Frugal MacDoogal to bring home some of Nashville’s finest ales. Bringing home beer not found in Ohio has literally been a bucket list item that time never allowed in the past. We attended a very nice reception for The Lumineers at the BMI building where the trio received awards along with a proclamation from the Mayor. We left as the magic hands of the clock were once again showing 5 o’clock, so off to Little Harpeth Brewery for the New West Records party. The huge warehouse was turned into a concert venue and I sampled pints of Nudie and Prost! Ales. After cleaning up, we were due for some barbecue and headed to Edley’s Bar-B-Que for brisket, green beans, mac & cheese, and corn bread.
There were several wish list artists playing showcases, but I was happy to have a chance to finally see Bonnie Bishop at 12th & Porter. Backed by Paul Thorn’s rhythm section and her guitarist Ford Thurston, Bishop’s set dripped with emotion highlighting songs from her beautiful Ain’t Who I Was album. Gabe Dixon sat in playing piano and lending his voice on the last two songs. Next showcase location was the mystique of The Cobra and a wonderful set from Cale Tyson. Although it doesn’t look like much from the outside, this place is all inclusive with a psychedelic music tavern, a pinball and Foosball section, a lounge lizard hideaway section, and a two story outdoor patio in back. Drinking a Yee-Haw Dunkel wasn’t enough to keep Samantha from pulling me onto the dance floor with beer in tow. We caught a little of Sara Shook & The Disarmers but decided to catch up with Thor at The American Legion Post 82 where he was having the time of his life. Not that you could up the ante from The Cobra, but Nikki Lane was throwing one heck of a party at the Legion that I felt the urge to drink a PBR. All the Nashville usual suspects were in attendance watching J.D. McPherson with a backdrop of the American flag made from shiny streamers. A pretty young lady was passing out wooden nickels for a glass of STOLEN Whiskey on the rocks that had a nice smooth finish. Ending the nights near Inglewood were ideal for the early morning drive home, although one had to be careful of the cherry tops from local cops who frequented along Gallatin Pike.
Friday morning was a shopping day and where else to begin but Grimey’s New & Preloved Music. My eyes lit up when I spotted the obscure ‘Til Things Are Brighter … A Tribute to Johnny Cash that even intrigued co-owner Doyle Davis. A post punk tribute to The Man In Black, the album cover is a painting by Jon Langford along with his former band the Mekons covering “Folsom Prison Blues”. The first big decision coin flip was to see either my friend Holly Gleason present her book Woman Walk The Line – How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives at the conference or attend Southern Blood: Celebrating Gregg Allman at The Country Music Hall of Fame. Dale, a huge Allman Brothers fan, helped sway me to journey back in time to memories of 1973 when I purchased Brothers and Sisters with lawn mower money. With the video introduction of “My Only True Friend”, Scott Goldman led a panel discussion with Joan Osborne, Allman’s manager Michael Lehman, Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson, Rodney Hall from FAME Recording Studios, and Scott Billingtonfrom Rounder Records. The sons of both Jim Dickinson and Rick Hall shared many stories about both Gregg and Duane Allman. Lehman discussed the genius behind the recording process and song selection that would be Allman’s final chapter which began with his first solo album Laid Back in 1973. Aaron Lee Tasjan came out from behind the curtain to back Osborne on two songs closing with “Sweet Melissa”. Since we kind of missed lunch, I had the best ever shrimp quesadilla at the local family restaurant Las Maracas paired with a happy hour sized Dos Equis Amber. This year’s off the grid event was heading to the newly revamped Radio Cafe to catch some music and rekindle friendships. Kim Richeygave me a heads-up on Bob Develante, but it was the pleasant surprise seeing Dave Coleman and The Coal Men open the evening. Dave is one of the hardest working musicians in town hosting songwriter nights, performing, and doing great charitable work with his wife at the Downtown Presbyterian Church. The sound he’s able to emulate from a three piece band blending rock hooks and harmonies blew away everyone sitting at my table. There was some big shows we could have chased, but the plan was to stay close by and attend showcases at The East Room. Besides my Blackstone St Charles Porter, another new find was a set by Elijah Ocean whose band captured the spirit of the Cosmic Cowboy himself. Otis Gibbs followed with a beautiful mix of storytelling, songs, and a message about change that hits my sweet spot. Unfortunately we had to leave during the set from Joey Kneiser and that tomorrow would be a new day.
Saturday’s marathon began with breakfast at the quaint Sky Blue Café with the delicious Southwest omelet loaded with chicken, sautéed peppers, onions, Colby Jack cheese, and their homemade chili. There’s a coffee urn outside and a few picnic tables, but expect possibly an hour wait unless you’re an early riser. We checked out a cool place called Vinyl Taps that is located inside the building that was the old Family Wash. There’s a bar serving beer and vinyl bins with cup holders, so what’s not to like? Next was to The Groove for the Backyard BBQ providing complimentary Lagunitas IPA and Mountain Valley Spring Water. I heard the faint sounds of Danni Nicholls while walking down Calvin Avenue and made a beeline to the tent setup behind the house turned record store. It was nice to catch a set by the lovely Erin Rae and seeing how far she’s come since the last visit to Nashville. There were several name dropping artists surrounding me, but it’s always cool to see Sam Palladio checking out Americanafest. He is working on some new recordings, so with a possible 2018 release maybe he’ll get asked to play a showcase next fall. We looked at the clock and it was time to skedaddle over to Grimey’s for the best party of the week, Americanarama X. It was my last opportunity to bring home some vinyl, so highlights were Something Real released in 2016 by Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real and Gregg Allman Live: Back To Macon from 2015. The Texas Gentlemen were celebrating with a rousing set from TX Jelly released the day before. Then the heat was turned up to full throttle as Aaron Lee Tasjan took the back parking lot stage with a scorching set. Wearing his black & white southwestern loafers, Tasjan’s set included a story about a dick shouting during a concert to set up “Bitch Can’t Sing” and a blazing “Ready To Die”. Headlining the party thrown by Doyle and partner Michael Grimes was Old Crow Medicine Show performing cuts from 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde. The first pop rock double Lp ever made in 1966 recorded at Columbia Studio B in Nashville, band walked through the crowd banging percussion onto the stage as an intro to “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”. Gill Landry sang and performed “Visions of Johanna” along with five other numbers with beautiful genuine emotion. Our last supper destination was M.L. Rose for a Moo Shroom burger made with a marinated portobello mushroom cap, smoked gouda, tomato, kale, basil mayo on a sweet potato bun paired with a Yazoo Fall Lager. It was already after 8:00pm by the time we finished up and still needed to refresh back at the ranch. We returned to the Cannery / Mercy / Hi-Watt complex for somewhat of an underwhelming ending with the lone highlight being Steelism. Following some pop-country from Flatland Cavalry, guitarist Jeremy Fetzer and pedal steel player Spencer Cullum Jr offered up an edgy set of instrumentals. Their rhythm section of Jon Estes (bass), Robbie Crowell(keyboard), and one of the unsung hardest working musicians Jon Radford(drums) closed out our Americanafest that included a take on the obscure “Flying” from The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour album.
Turing in early helped with our early Sunday morning departure back to Ohio. It was more of a low key, low stress Americana experience that was heavily influenced by our new geographic location. Everyone will come away with a different take as the festival has grown by leaps and bounds from ten years ago. It was a much needed getaway and definitely worthwhile for those whom have never attended this well run festival.