An Insider's Guide to AmericanaFest 2016

Jim Lauderdale, AMA Awards Host and 2016 Wagonmaster Lifetime Achievement Award Honoree by Amos Perrine

Last year I did an article on five artists not to miss at the Americana Music Association Festival. Try as I might, this year with over 200 artists performing over six days at fourteen venues I find it impossible to narrow it down to a mere five. This year is truly an embarrassment of riches. This is not a be-all, end-all list, it'll be more of a guide about the gems hiding in plain sight. You'll note that I do not mention the bigger names, you know  them already. If you want to see them, go ahead, but work in some discoveries as well. That's what exciting about AmericanaFest, your fav new artist could be just in the next venue, or the next set where you already are.

THE GUIDE  First, download the AmericanaFest app. Not only does it show you the showcases, it lists the venues, provides a map, the conferences and other AMA events, it also contains information on events associated with AmericanaFest that are provided by record labels, PR and other music folks. This is your bible. Use it daily as it is updated continuously. And click on the "About" link. It gives you a lot of additional information. Second, the evening showcases. Yes, there are conflicts, there will always be conflicts. Some of the venues are within walking distance of each other, with the Cannery complex having three in the same building. Yes, there are free shuttles (but run frequently, but fill up quickly), and taxis with more waiting. You can also rent a car. But, my suggestion is look over the showcases and see which venue on a given night offers you the most of what you want to see, and stay there. You do not miss sets simply by getting to another one. Second, you are in. Often, venues fill up and no new folks are let in until others leave. If you do get in, then you begin at the back of a very packed bus. Sometimes, you will not be able to get in at all. Think about staying put. Third, and I think this is the most significant, check out as many of the daytime "Special Events" (as the AMA labels them on its app) as you can. They are informal affairs, often with complimentary food and drink, usually with five to eight artists doing short sets within a four hour (or so) time slot. As they are sponsored by organizations promoting music, their aim is to present the best they have in a friendly atmosphere. The folks from Australia are great at this and offer numerous get-togethers. They are also without a doubt the most hospitable bunch you'll ever want to hang out with. I make a point to hit as many of these as I can. Here, a car comes in handy, so I rent one for the week. I find it just as cheap as taxis, and let's me get around quickly, on a moment's notice if necessary. Parking can, however, be an issue. Downtown parking can be had at the library garage. Elsewhere, on the streets. Just park where you should. A buddy's car was towed last year in a spot where he had parked before without incident. Last, and certainly not least, is the conference itself. Lots of panels, lots of speakers and knowledgable people in their fields. So, check it daily and see what interests you. These are open to conference registrants only. A few outside events are also not available to wrist band holders, so make sure you have the correct credentials. The app also tells you which events are open only to registrants.  The app also lets you make a schedule. Make one, but don't be tied to it. Other things come up, folks you run into will invariable tell you what they're going to check out, and a lot of times it sounds better than what I have initially picked. Be flexible if that happens. The only shortcoming I can find is that it does not let you share your entire schedule with others. As I come with friends and we want to keep in touch, what we do is text, text, text. Make sure you charge that phone when you get back to the hotel each night. So, here now is my guide to artists and events I suggest ND readers check out.  TOP PICK NOT TO MISS Number one on my list is Motel Mirrors. Initially a duo comprised of Amy LaVere and John Paul Keith, their 2013 self-titled release was one of my best ten of the year. Since then, LaVere and guitarist Will Sexton have become musical and life partners, so the Mirrors are now a trio, bass and twin lead guitars. I have seen them perform before, but not together as this trio. They've recorded a new album set for release early next year, and as I have heard a couple of tracks from it I cannot wait to see them live at the City Winery Friday night at 9 PM. They'll be doing some old, some new, and maybe a few other things just for the fun of it. They like to improvise. They'll stick around for another day when they'll also be part of the first Americana Picnic sponsored by Music Export Memphis on Saturday. (See below.)
TUESDAY The AmericanaFest Kick-Off Bash begins at the Basement at 5 PM. So, pick up your credentials early and stick around for music till midnight, topped with Town Mountain. They are not just the best young bluegrass band around, they are one of the best period.  If you are already in town, or want to get a head start, the Green Room Music Source East Nashville Party is the place to be. Beginning at 4 PM at Fond Object Records, legendary Kevin Gordon, along with Amy Speace, Tim Easton, Ann McCue and others will be there. To complicate things even more, Guitartown & Sin City combine their talents this year at the Basement East beginning at 8 PM, featuring "Lee Ann Womack’s All Star Band," with Buddy Miller, Patty Griffin, Chuck Mead and more. City Winery is also offering a star-studded line-up of Tim O'Brien, Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle and Sam Bush. But the hidden gem is at the 5 Spot at 9 PM where Los Orbisons with two dozen friends or so will perform the Black & White Night, Friends include Kathy Mattea, Rayland Baxter, Caitlin Rose, Derek Hoke, Cory Branan, Leigh Nash and way too many more to rattle off. Wow. Whatever you chose on this laid back Tuesday night, you cannot go wrong.  WEDNESDAY I usually begin my Wednesdays with a visit to Hillbilly Central, also known as the home of Compass Records for its Hillbillies and Hotdogs open house. Not only are they the most inviting folks around, they feature intimate in studio performances by some of their artists, great hot dogs, AmericanaFest beer in quart bottles(!) and, last year, artesian Nashville chocolate bars. This year, the Infamous Stringdusters, Mountain Heart and Shannon McNally will perform. It begins at 11:00 AM, but wait, there's more. This year it's co-hosted by No Depression whish celebrate the publication of our Fall print issue. You can pick up your copy there, meet some of the folks behind the magazine, most notably the editor Kim Ruehl, and chat. The Country Music Hall of Fame and NPR Muisc will feature Margo Price and Friends giving a special performance beginning at 11:30 AM. Unless you have been living under a rock, Price is one of the hottest "new" talents of the year. Moderated ny Ann Powers, the friends will include Aaron Lee Tasjan, Kenny Vaughn, Erin Ray and Lilly Hiatt. Her album, Midwest Farmer's Daughter is one of the two or three best of 2016. She's also been nominated by the AMA for best new artist. I hope she wins. 

At 2:00 PM the 2013 AMA Artist of the Year Dwight Yoakam will be interviewed.

If you cannot make the Awards Show at the Ryman, you are in luck this year as The Family Wash will offer up the Official Viewing Party beginning at 6:30 PM. WMOT Roots Radio 89.5 will host. It will also be streamed on NPR Muisc, on AXS TV and on satelite radio. As the Cannery complex will be packed with some big names, consider Yola Carter at the the Basement at 10:00 PM. Her powerful voice will enlighten you to some of what's happening on the UK Americana scene. She'll also be part of the AMA UK High Tea at Alley Taps on Thursday and the AMA UK Bootleg BBQ at the Groove on Saturday. At midnight catch either Front Country at the Station Inn or Penny & Sparrow at the City Winery. Embraced by the bluegrass community San Francisco's Front Country, as The Herald in Scotland says, explores the "hinterland that extends much further than bluegrass, however, reaching into a beyond that at times makes them the missing link between Punch Brothers and the Penguin Café Orchestra and even extends to the prog rock of Family and King Crimson." Penny & Sparrow are Americana's Simon & Garfunkel, but actually like each other. This duo from Austin is delicious.   THURSDAY Begin Thursday at the MerleFest Hot Chicken Lunch Party at InDo Nashville at 12:15 PM. Presented in partnership with the IBMA, Hearth Music, Free Dirt Records and Quicksilver Productions, you get to see, among others, Dori Freeman and banjo master and Compass Records founder Alison Brown.  Not on the app is the Lost Buffalo Artists get-together at 1107 Petway Ave. in Nashville. Many of the labales artists will be perfoming, including Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys, Uncle Earl's Kristen Andreassan, Missy Raines and more. Bloody Marys will be served at beginning at 1:00 PM. Complete your pre-showcase day with the HWY 61 Radio Launch Party at the Filming Station for another chance to see Margo Price, as well as Steve Forbert and others. Begins at 5:15 PM. Thursday night looks to be the hardest to choose among the outstanding showcases, but here goes. This is also the prime night to get to a venue, hold your space and stay there. I have also seen Teddy Thompson several times, initially, and separately, with his parents, Richard and Linda Thompson as well as solo. He did a couple of nice albums before he hit it out of the park with Upfront and Down Low, an album of country covers, plus one killer original. How a young English kid could pull off the best country album I had heard in decades was beyond me. This past Spring he released, with fellow AMAer Kelly Jones, what has to be the best and most overlooked album of the year, Little Windows. They bring their countrypolitan sound mixed with a touch of Buddy Holly and Everly Brothers to the Station at 7 PM, and again at the British Underground's Bootleg BBQ at the Groove on Saturday afternoon. Speaking of the Everlys, the Cactus Blossoms are Phil and Don's harmonies reincarnated. More of country focus, though. But they are not mere imitators, they bring their young, fresh sound to the Mercy at 9 PM. The Honeycutters, my band of the year for 2015 , is making a repeat appearance at the Basement at 10 PM. If you want to hear country music as it ought to be played, then they are for you. They'll also be doing a live TV taping earlier in the day at Noon at the Listening Room. A meet & greet follows.  As you may recall I recommended My Bubba last year when they were part of Grimey's Americanarama on Saturday afternoon. Well, this year this European duo has a showcase. That should not be surprising as they've released an outstanding album, Big Bad Good, done an NPR Tiny Desk Concert, appeared on Mountain Stage, and played a lot of dates in the US, including festivals. At the Nelsonville Fest they met the legendary Michael Hurley and toured with him. They've also hung out a lot in Nashville this year. They bring their quiet effervescence to Third Man Records at 10 PM.
Lydia Loveless' new album, Real, is the breakout she's been working so hard for. She takes the stage at Communion Presents at The Anchor at 10:30 PM. She'll also be at the Bloodshot Records party at the Groove Friday. Immediately following My Bubba at Third Man at 11 PM will be The Handsome Family. Yes, to those who follow them they have been around for quite some time, but as I fear they fly under the radar of many Americana folks. While I think they have been mislabeled as Gothic by some admirers, they have always been grounded in roots music. Nowhere is that more evident than the new album, Unseen, which will released during AMA week. A few years back I saw them with Charlie Louvin who welcomed them with open arms. You can't get more authentic than that.  FRIDAY Take the morning off, sleep in as you've had three full days already, and you have at least two more to go. Late Friday afternoon features two not to miss events. Beginning at 5 PM at 12th & Porter is the Americana Happy Hour. Most notable among the artists slated to appear there is Julie Christensen. If you read your liner notes, you know who she is, and if you don't you know the voice -- she was Leonard Cohen's longtime vocalist. Not anymore though as she gone somewhat back to her LA punk roots with her band, Stone Cupid. She'll be acoustic, doing songs from the new album, The Cardinal, and a couple of new ones, with her guitarist Chris Tench.  Just 15 minutes later is the Bloodshot Records Party in the Groove's backyard in East Nashville. I have been a longtime fan of the label's insurgent country brand of music. You'll get the opportunity to see Lydia Loveless, Robbie Fulks, the Bottle Rockets and Cory Branan. I plan to take my Bloodshot work shirt for some autographs.
Motel Mirrors at the City Winery at 9 PM is, as stated above, my top pick not to miss. I cannot wait. I have seen Syd Straw numerous times, solo, with the Golden Palominos, Dave Alvin and her annual Valentine's Day performance, the Heart Wreck Show. I even ran into her at the now defunkt Living Room on New York's lower east side (before it became gentrified) on a cold winter night to see Michael Hurley. We had a nice chat. But I have not heard much from her since she moved to Vermont some years back, and I hear she may no longer be there. In any event, we'll find out at the Station Inn at 10 PM.  I do not see how anyone would want to miss Stax legend William Bell.  Not as well known as labelmates Otis Redding and Sam and Dave, he was not only instrumental in defining the Stax sound but also signifying the Memphis label as a force to be reckoned with when he wrote and recorded "You Don't Miss Your Water" in 1961. With Booker T, he wrote "Born Under a Bad Sign" for Albert King that has become a blues staple for all time. He also has a new album out, This Is Where I Live produced by Americana stalwart John Leventhal.  Bell performs at 3rd & Lindsley at 11 PM. (The day after I wrote this the AMA just announced that Bell will be receiving a lifetime achievement award. That just uncloaked this "hidden gem" but I still want to feature him as I love that Stax sound.) Also at 11 PM is Willie Sugarcapps at the Family Wash. They were my personal highlight of AmericanaFest a couple years back. I do not intend on missing them this time around either. Closing out this fabulous night of music are the Stray Birds at midnight at 12th & Porter. This trio have definitely sharpened their senses and honed their already keen understanding of their sound which is mountain music fused with an unrelenting swing. They are a delight. This at least their third appearance at AmericanaFest, if you missed them before, catch them now.
SATURDAY The Australians have been at the forefront of offering special events during AmericanaFest. So, if you have not caught any of their get-togethers this year, check out the Sounds Australia Presents: The Aussie BBQ. There is always a strong line-up, this year features Kasey Chambers, Shane Nicholson and many more. Tell Dobe I sent you. It begins at 11:30 AM at the Five Spot in East Nashville. Beginning at Noon is Music Export Memphis Presents: The Americana Picnic at the Filming Station. The Picnic is the official launching event for Music Export Memphis that will focus on exposing the thriving Americana scene in Memphis to a wider audience. It'll feature music and food straight outta Memphis featuring Motel Mirrors, the Bo-Keys, Rev. John and His Three Daughters, and the Memphis Ukulele Band. I expect this to be a real treat as it was put together by influencial veteran of the Memphis music scene, Elizabeth Cawein, and beyond. Exclusive: Shovels & Rope will be making the rounds during the week, but here's the surprise, they'll be part of the Luck Reunion at the Nashville Palace beginning at 7 PM. By invitation only, or if you have ordered their new album via Pledge Music you can get a code that will get you in.  One of my "Five Not to Miss" artists last year was Whitney Rose, and I am recomending her again this year. She's only gotten better. She opens the Station Inn at 8 PM. Charlie Faye & the Fayettes bring their smart soul-pop that merges the swinging, swaying sound and style of ’60s girl groups to the Basement at 10 PM. They blend Phil Spector's "wall of sound" with the Rosettes and the Shirelles in a way that's both lyrical and addresses "modern themes — female sexuality and gentrification among them — in a manner that doesn’t wallop the listener over the head," as Mike Seely so aptly noted in his fine April 10 story for ND.
If you are still standing, complete your night at the Five Spot with Dex Romweber at midnight. Who knows how long this set will go on, or will show up. His label, Bloodshot, says this about his music, "It's a creepy doll collection of surf, proto-rockabilly, garage, dark and vengeful blues, and nobody, but nobody, plays it like Dex." I agree. SUNDAY If you're not headed home, get some more well-deserved rest by sleeping in. But not too late as at Noon you will either want to catch 2003 Miles: LA/Nashville Music Collective at Bobby's Idle Hour and/or Sunday Morning Coming Down at Fond Object Records. Each offers a unique look at Nashville and its many layers of music and culture. Past and present. As I finish this many more events have just been added, including a session with Jim Lauderdale, producer Jim Rooney, Lucinda Williams at Grimey's, Susanna Clark's song's and jouranls and Nashville Sunday Night with Holly Williams. So, if you have not gotten that app, do so now. And explore. Se ya in Nashville, everybody!

Any idea as to when AXS may broadcast the Awards show? I went out a week (to the 30th) and could find no mention on AXS's schedule...

Sounds like a great week Amos...thanks for the recap...