By Brian Wise
AMERICANA MUSIC FESTIVAL
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – SEPTEMBER 21 – 25, 2016
It is difficult to go past the Americana Honors and Awards Ceremony at the Ryman on Wednesday evening as the highlight of a week in Nashville. After last year’s event dragged on and fell a little flat this year it was right back on track with a brilliant show that featured some of the biggest names in the Americana genre.[colored_box color=”eg. blue, green, grey, red, yellow”]Text here[/colored_box]The night at the Mother Church of music a dozen awards, with concise introductions and speeches, interspersed with great performances. The music was the focus here, rather than the television show (to be broadcast later) so the cameras were unobtrusive. At nearly three and a half hours the time flew by, the whole thing stitched together by long-time host Jim Lauderdale’s patter. He deservedly also got an award. Buddy Miller guided the music with the usual great house band whose only stutter came when their bass player arrived late for one song. But here it is just walk on, plug in and play!
The night at the Mother Church of music a dozen awards, with concise introductions and speeches, interspersed with great performances. The music was the focus here, rather than the television show (to be broadcast later) so the cameras were unobtrusive. At nearly three and a half hours the time flew by, the whole thing stitched together by long-time host Jim Lauderdale’s patter. He deservedly also got an award. Buddy Miller guided the music with the usual great house band whose only stutter came when their bass player arrived late for one song. But here it is just walk on, plug in and play!
Stax legend William Bell stole the whole show with a stunning performance of a song from his new album, produced by John Leventhal. Bell received a lifetime achievement award and if ‘Born Under A Bad Sign,’ ‘I Forgot To be Your Lover’ and ‘You Don’t Miss Your Water (Till Your Well Runs Dry)’ won’t get on then nothing would! He could have easily dragged out one of those classics but chose ‘The Three Of Me’ from his newly released This Is Where I Live’ and it stood shoulder to shoulder with the greats. At 77 Bell sounds as good as ever (Donald Trump would be wanting to check his birth certificate!) and his performance sent shivers up the spine.
Then there is a long line of other highlights. The a capella version of ‘Gloryland’ at the start, by a quartet that included Buddy Miller and Alison Krauss, to fallen musicians, followed by Joe Henry (Allen Toussaint’s ‘Freedom For The Stallin’), Steve Earle (Guy Clark’s ‘Desperadoes Waiting For A Train)’ and the Dead’s Bob Weir with Merle Haggard’s ‘Mama Tried.’ Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, who later received the Best Duo or Group award, performed ‘Bring It On Home From Memphis.’ Shawn Colvin received a lifetime achievement award for song writing and performed ‘Diamond In The Rough.’
Billy Bragg received the Freedom of Speech Award, inducted by Joe Henry, and appropriately chose Woody Guthrie’s ‘Ain’t Got No Home’ after giving only the second longest speech of the night. Steve Earle teamed up with Buddy Miller for the Delmore Brothers’ ‘Freight Train.’ Dwight Yoakam performed a song from his latest album. Lucinda Williams performed ‘Dust’ and won Album of the Year.
In a surprise appearance George Strait presented Jim Lauderdale with the Wagonmasters award then performed his song ‘The King of Broken Hearts.’ Lauderdale, in the evening’s longest speech (and why shouldn’t he have that honour too?) credited Strait’s support with kickstarting his career. Much of the success of the Awards ceremony must also go to Lauderdale’s easygoing nature, sense of humour and ability to ad lib when needed.
That’s not even go into depth about some of the performances from nominees such as John Moreland and Margo Price or The Lumineers (who were playing two nights at the Ascend Amphitheater).
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band then closed what had been a spectacular evening joined by the full cast of award winners and nominees with ‘Will The Circle be Unbroken.’ If you were only at Americana for this one show you would still go home happy!
Straight after the show we hotfooted it to The Cannery to see the Dirt Band offer a lovely 45-minute set with some of their best known songs. It was a great way to end a terrific night.
Could it possibly get any better than that? Well, those who got to see John Prine at The Station Inn on Thursday evening might say that it does. While the awards ceremony is a $100 separate ticketed event, those not going to the Americana conference can buy a wristband for US$60 that offers entry into any of a dozen venues around town. That’s right – $60! You had to get to the Prine show at 6.30pm to claim a seat but anyone there would say that it was the bargain of the year. Prine’s new album is out next week.
As I couldn’t get to the Prine show so early I went to the Cannery complex to see the Cactus Blossoms upstairs at The Mercy Lounge and Dori Freeman and Rodney Crowell downstairs in the Cannery. Not a bad consolation prize. Freeman is superb and headed for really big things. It is not often you get to see someone right at the start of their career and be struck by a sense of watching an enormous talent. I reckon her song, ‘Go On Lovin” will quickly become a country classic.
Earlier in the week I had been at what has become my favourite Nashville venue, the City Winery, to see Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle play a selection of songs from their new collaboration and some of their own songs as well. While the duo started a little bumpily, things soon smoothed for out and it was a delightful set.
From Wednesday, the Americana Conference got into full swing with sessions at the Sheraton Downtown. There was a great sessions on the 50th anniversary of Ardent Records with Big Star’s Jody Stephens and Steve Earle on the panel. Later, Billy Bragg was on a panel with Jimmy LaFave discussing the relevance of Woody Guthrie. T Bone Burnett’s keynote address on Thursday morning drew a packed house to hear him talk about musicians retaining their integrity in the new era.
On Friday we attended the Aussie lunch at the Filming Station, a venue near the Gulch. Sounds Australia had organised a BBQ with, as Glenn Ritchie says, the Aussie Taco (a sausage in a piece of bread).
More on the Americana gigs later today!