This is the week we have all been waiting for. Let's face it, we – the Americana Music Association headed by Jed Hilly and the rest of us – have changed Nashville, and significantly influenced other genres as well. No longer are we an afterthought, an also-ran having to justify our existence: We are Americana and it's our time to get together, celebrate, share experiences, revel in our music in Music City itself, and, of course, experience the best that Americana has to offer.
AmericanaFest has grown a little bit each year, but last year it grew substantially. And this year continues that trend: One friend has identified 38 distinct venues, and a total of 334 shows. So it can be overwhelming. While everyone has his/her own interests, instinct and priorities, here's my guide to folks and events that might otherwise get lost in the shuffle. But, be open and, above all, take Todd Snider's advice: "Enjoy yourself."
1. The Basics
Download the app. Download the app. Download the app – and check it frequently as folks and things are frequently added and often changed.
With so many new and additional venues, you'll want to print a list of the venues you'll visit and their addresses so you'll have them when you drive, taxi, or Uber to a venue. Preload the addresses into a GPS, scroll down 'til you find it, and go.
For the showcases, consider staying in one place for the night. Select a venue that has most of what you want, and stay there. With even more people flocking to the fest this year, it may be harder to get in as the night goes on. Plus, you won't miss as much as there's no travel time.
Use the daytime events as an opportunity to explore and see folks you are unaware of. Such an event will present six or more artists, and limited to 20-30 minute sets they'll show you the best they got.
First timer? The AmericanaFest folks are thinking about you as they've put together a guide. Here's the link.
Note on the recommendations that follow: I am not including ticketed events, free or pay. Just those events and showcases that badge holders and most wristband holders can attend, space dependent, of course.
Stay hydrated, and consider adding some energy gels, electrolytes, ear plugs, and aspirin to your stash. You never know.
2. The Honors and Awards Show
If you are unable to attend, there are other ways to experience those stars who have descended from the Americana heavens to perform on the Ryman stage. Radio station WMOT hosts the official viewing party at the Family Wash, beginning at 4 p.m. Wednesday. NPR Music will stream audio and video. SiriusXM’s Outlaw Country will provide a live simulcast, as will several Nashville area radio stations, WRLT and WMOT-FM and WSM-AM.
Artist of the Year is a showdown featuring a legend, two near-legends, and a legend in the making (John Prine, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and Margo Price) along with one of the finest songwriters in any genre, Lori McKenna. I'd love to see the voting tally on this one. By the way, this will likely be Price's only AMA appearance this year, and I expect it to be a special one. Especially as she's just announced a new album coming out next month.
3. Six New Showcase artists, and One Who's Returning
To show you how international Americana and this Fest have become, three of my not-to-be-missed artists are from overseas. I have seen We Banjo 3 (Thursday, 8 p.m., The 5 Spot) several times, and while it is a quartet from Ireland, at least three of them do play the banjo, often at the same time. They are high energy, soaked in Americana, and have been touring the US this summer, playing mostly Irish festivals, but they are far from your typical Irish band. Yes, you will end up dancing. Also from Ireland is I Draw Slow (Saturday, 11 p.m., The Station Inn), and they are even more Americana in their approach. I have also seen them several times and can unflinchingly vouch for their credibility.
Darling West (Saturday 9 p.m., City Winery) is a trio from Norway. Yes, Norway. Despite having only two albums under their belt, they've been on the US country charts and toured the world. They are a perfect example of how Americana has infected the rest of the world, and they play it with great affection.They also play two daytime events, so check the app.
Back to America now, and three young artists not to miss. Dori Freeman's (Friday, 9 p.m., City Winery) debut album last year was in my top ten, and her excellent follow-up (Letters Never Read) comes next month. Exquisite and insightful. Lillie Mae's (Thursday 10 p.m., Third Man Records) album is the year's best debut, showcasing her handling of both guitar and lead fiddle. Afterperforming for nearly 20 years, this youngster is the real deal. There must be something in the water of Eastern Kentucky, as Tyler Childers (Thursday, 11 p.m., The Basement, but check the app for more appearances) now makes it three. His new album (Purgatory), with full band, was produced by Sturgill Simpson. Expect to be thrilled.
Initially I was only going to include artists who had not been showcased before. But Whitney Rose (Saturday, 8 p.m., Mercy Lounge) has come so far in just two years since she made her Americana debut that I just have to include her. Earlier this year she released an outstanding EP and her new, as yet unreleased, album (Rule 62) is just too good to ignore. So, go out of your way and catch her. From Canada, by way of Austin and Nashville, she embodies the energy and talent that's going down in our genre of choice.
4. The Daytime Events
The daytime events are where I explore and experience new and upcoming artists in hassle-free, laidback settings where you can mill around and leisurely interact with other festivalgoers, always with good food and beverages. The folks that put these on are presenting the best artists they have to offer, and as most have only 20-30 minutes to grab you, they're going to give you their A material. These are my choices, and a couple are not on the app.
Tuesday, 7 p.m. - 1:25 a.m.: Green Room Music Source East Nashville Party. While Anne McCue, Chris Watts, Eric Stuart, and other East Nash folks will perform, the real treat here is Applewood Road, who take the stage at 8:20 for a 30-minute set. They were my unexpected hit from last year's AmericanaFest, and while two of their members (Amy Speace and Emily Barker) will be appearing elsewhere during the week, this is the only time the three of them get together. They alone are worth seeking this event out, and, more than likely, you'll like several others on the bill as well. (Radio Cafe, 4150 Gallatin Pike) (Not on the app.)
Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.: Compass Records' Hillbillies & Hot Dogs. Alison Brown and her gang are the most congenial hosts around as they open their studio and office doors to us. Best hot dogs in town, great beer in quarts(!), treats such as artisan chocolate bars one year, and other goodies. Plus, several of the label's artists will perform in the studio, including Shannon McNally, A.J. Croce, Colin Hay, Mike Barnett, and Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards. Full disclosure, beginning last year ND became a co-sponsor, but this has always been on my not-to-miss schedule. (916 19th Avenue South) (See the app to RSVP.)
Thursday, 1 p.m. - 6 p.m.: Lost Buffalo Artists' Bloody Mary AMA Showcase Party. Nice collection of under-the-radar artists with a lot to offer: Hass Kowert Tice (a trio comprised of 2/5 of the Dave Rawlings Machine!), Kristin Andreassen, Locust Honey, and others. Having been acquainted with all these folks, I can assure that this promises to be one sweet, intimate afternoon. (1107 Petway Ave.) (Not on the app.)
Thursday, 7 p.m. -11:30 p.m., Music City Roots at the YeeHaw Tent. OK, I know this is technically not during the day, but the lineup of Ray Wylie Hubbard, Angaleena Presley, John Paul White, Lee Ann Womack, The Cactus Blossoms and more is just too good not to mention. So, if you're not going to see Van the Man, this is the place to be. (Peabody St. and Sixth Ave.)
Friday, 5:15 p.m. - 7:45 p.m.: Bloodshot Records Backyard Bash at the Groove. With legendary Jon Langford, Cory Branan, Sarah Shook, and Ruby Boots, who just signed with Bloodshot and who was my big AMA discovery last year, this is a stellar lineup. (1103 Calvin Ave.)
Saturday, Noon to 6 p.m.: Memphis Americana Picnic. Saturday is the mother of all conflicts, especially as Musician's Corner at Centennial Park has returned to the schedule and offers weary festivalgoers a lazy afternoon picnic. You've also got the Aussies at the 5 Spot, the Bootleg BBQ at the Groove featuring Angaleena Presley (who criminally does does not have an individual showcase), and other appealing line-ups. But my pick is the Memphis Americana Picnic with Grace Askew, Loveland Duren, Crockett Hall, Juju Bushman and the Rusty Pieces. Far from household names, but they have a lot to offer. So do the folks from Memphis who not only bring you the brightest young talent from that town, but are the most hospitable as well. It was without a doubt my fave daytime event last year: great food, beer, photo booth, freebies, and attention to detail. Everyone, from the hosts to the artists themselves, who milled around before and after their sets, took selfies with fans and were so willing to chat – there were no strangers there. (The Filming Station, 801 Lea Ave.)
5. WMOT Roots Radio
A special shout-out to WMOT Roots Radio, which has long been involved with Americana music and AmericanaFest, but this year they have taken it to the limit, pushed it to 11. They have something planned every day during the fest. Besides what's noted above, here's a link to what they are offering. One could just attend the WMOT-sponsored events and be in heaven.
Now, scroll through photos of artists who'll be appearing at this year's AmericanaFest, including nearly all of this year's nominees and honorees, and all of the artists identified as not to be missed. Please note the We Banjo 3 on Tour 2017 photo was taken by Martin Ufford, and the Darling West photo is by Bjørg Fossli. Both used with permission.