Americana #4 – Saturday September 19 – AmericanaFest
The highlight of the day was the AmericanaFest concert put on by the Americana Music Association at the new and impressive Ascend Amphitheater downtown. How could it not be with a line-up that included Loretta Lynn, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings and Steve Earle & The Dukes.
Of course, many of the artists this evening might not have been pleased with the timing as it clashed with at least 36 of the shows in nine different venues, leaving punters to catch maybe one or two club shows at the end of the night. It’s a tough call but would you really want to miss Loretta Lynn?
At least I got to spend some time in the afternoon at the Aussie BBQ out at the Five Spot in East Nashville and it seemed to me that this was the best line-up so far at all of the BBQ’s I have attended. This was some consolation for the BBQ and one aim in future might also be to improve the quality of the sausages to match that of the music! (I can’t even begin to speculate in what the vegetarian sausages were like). I’d love to be able to tell you that I have had a chance to sample the breadth of cuisine available in Nashville but I have been far too busy, apart from a quick visit to the Peg Leg Porker, a restaurant that would make a vegetarian faint.
I arrived in time to see Liam Gerner, who has had plenty of experience in America and has a fine back catalogue with plenty of witty repartee to match. His album of last year, Land of No Roads, was truly excellent.
Then Oh Pep! took the stage and if I had to choose one Aussie group that would get an award for Most Likely To Succeed this year at Americana it would be Olivia ‘Liv’ Halley and Pepita ‘Pep’ Emmerichs. They started as a folksy string and by their own admission they are now writing pop songs. They might be pop but the songs are striking, angular, inventive and delivered with great charm and excellent musicianship. Their music certainly stands out from every other Aussie act and, though they are only in their early twenties, it sounds like they have been honing their craft for years. Their youthful looks belie the serious intent behind the music. If I had not already purchased a ticket to the big Amphitheater show I would have been at their showcase at The Basement East tonight. Afterwards, i heard that the crowd there went absolutely wild for the girls.
So it was on to the Ascend Amphitheater in a downtown area that has the most construction I think I have ever seen in a city anywhere. It would be interesting to compare the back cover shot on Dylan’s Nashville Skyline with a current photo. I think the differences would be staggering. Apparently, Nashville is the fastest growing city in America and if the building works are any indication it is only going to bigger and more crowded – and the traffic is already bad in peak times. The Ascend is an impressive addition to the city, holding as it does around 7000 with a large seated section (with padded chairs!) and a lawn at the back. There was a small stage placed at the back so that performances could be alternated.
Steve Earle seems to be at the top of his game right now and his current band (which I wrote about earlier in the year when I saw them at Gruene Hall) seems just about perfect and allows him to play anything from his vast repertoire. Earle reckons it is the best band he has ever had and it is hard to argue with that. With Eleanor Whitmore on fiddle and vocals it also allows him the luxury of doing duets, which he did tonight on ‘My Baby’s As Mean As Me.’ In just one hour Earle ripped through 14 songs, with five coming from the latest album Terraplane. He threw in ‘Guitar Town’ and ‘Copperhead Road’ (for those who might not have realised he has moved on, and these got a positive response.
Earle also performed his new song, ‘Mississippi, It’s Time,’ about the need to change the flag in that state. I wondered what sort of response this would get here in the South but most people seemed enthusiastic about its sentiments. Earle closed with ‘King Of The Blues’ and a powerful version of ‘Hey Joe.’
As someone remarked to me afterwards, it was almost the perfect Steve Earle set. This week I have come to like the 45 minute to one hour sets of the showcases. It means that the artists have to include almost all their best songs and there is no chance for the audience to get bored. A one-hour Steve Earle set is an hour of power!
Valerie June on the second stage was absolutely charming as she told the story of how her father told her he had heard a ‘white boy’ who sang just like her. Turns out it was Jack White! She spoke of the attraction of banjos and of Rosalie Hill and other female singers from the Hill Country and then played ‘Rolllin’ and Tumblin’’ based on Hill’s version. Twenty five minutes was just not long enough but everyone who saw June was immensely impressed and she would have won some more fans.
After her band and her daughter whammed up the audience the 83-year old Loretta Lynn arrived on stage. That’s right 83! (I had to check because I thought she was only 79!). It’s the same age that John Lee Hooker reached and he was still performing. Why not? Tony Bennett is way older.
Lynn wore a glittering, red, sequined dress that she said felt like it weighed 300 pounds but it didn’t weigh down her performance. In her allotted hour Lynn crammed in 19 songs and almost all the hits. She spoke about Patsy Kline’s version of ‘Crazy’ and how it had been a Number One hit for both of them but she opted for a different song.
Of course, at 83 Lynn’s voice is not what it once was and being at an outdoor venue didn’t help. But it was in good shape enough to handle all the songs with the help of an excellent band. (She even found time to let her son, a band member, tell terrible off colour joke). It was a neat summation of Lynn’s career with songs such as ‘Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)’, ‘Blue Kentucky Girl,’ ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough To Take My Man,’ ‘She’s Got You,’ ‘Honky Tonk Girl,’ ‘Feelings’ and ‘House At The End Of The Road.’ Lynn told the story of why she recorded ‘Dear Uncle Sam’ and gave us a lovely rendition. Not only is that song timely again but it seems that many of her other songs about the trials that many women endure are still relevant. Of course, she played ‘Fist City’ and closed the show with ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter.’ You don’t often get a chance to see a genuine legend so Lynn’s show was warmly greeted by a grateful audience.
Hot on the heels of the release of the brand new David Rawlings Machine new album Nashville Obsolete, the duo elected not to play a single song from it but chose ‘Sweet Tooth’ from the last album! That’s the sort of thing Dylan does! Fair enough, after all this was a Gillian Welch and David Rawlings show and a brilliant one at that.
Inspired by Loretta Lynn’s get up, Gillian explained that five songs into Lynn’s set they decided that they were totally underdressed and so they drove home and put on their white Nudie suits. Rawlings noted that he was surprised that they were able to find them! They looked superb and it befitted their status, having won a Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting at the Americana Honors and Awards on Wednesday night. Welch joked that Rawlings was now considering taking up shuffleboard while she might take up pottery.
The set began with ‘Wayside/Back In Time,’ which pretty much sums up their approach to music. Then they mainly roamed across Welch’s last four albums: ‘Hard Times,’ ‘The Way It Will Be’ and ‘Six Wild Horses’ (with Welch playing ‘hambone’) from The Harrow & The Harvest; ‘Make Me Down A Pallet On Your Floor’ and ‘Look At Miss Ohio’ from Soul Journey: ‘Elvis Presley Blues,’ ‘I Want To Sing That Rock ’n’ Roll,’ ’Red Clay Halo’ and a brilliant version of ‘Revelator’ from Time (The Revelator); and ‘Caleb Meyer’ from Hell Among The Yearlings.
It was a stunning collection of songs that demanded an encore and that is when the pleasant surprise arrived when Rawlings mentioned that they had played the Newport Folk Festival on the 50th anniversary of Dylan going electric there and they launched into ‘Mr Tambourine Man,.’ The finale came with the singalong of ‘I’ll Fly Away’ and we realised that the time had flown away and that we had been given a fabulous 90 minute set.
Welch and Rawlings go out on tour soon with a band to promote Nashville Obsolete those shows should be something to savour too!