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HPPR Arts, Culture & History

AMERICANAFEST 2019: HPPR's Boots-on-the-Ground Coverage from Nashville


Unrelenting mid-September heat didn't stop crowds from enjoying the 20th Annual AMERICANAFEST® 2019 held city-wide in Nashville last week. Acts from around the globe descended on storied venues and new spaces alike, all of which hosted artists in celebration of Americana and folk music. 

Among the many talks and panels showcased, featuring artists like Brandi Carlile and T-Bone Burnett, the fest centerpiece was the Americana Music Honors & Awards (for which Brandi was also awarded “Artist of the Year!”). Legends such as John Prine (who won “Album of the Year” for Tree of Forgiveness) and Bonnie Raitt also made appearances early in the week, while there was also no shortage of buzz about emerging artists such as Yola, Orville Peck, and JS Ondara

I caught up with several acts during the festival, all of whom dazzled their audiences across Nashville. Wednesday evening, before the awards show, Texas songstress Jamie Lin Wilson's intimate set at Douglas Park made everyone in the room feel like old friends, sharing the stories behind her music as her voice enchanted the space. 

Nashville local Andrew Combs performed a full-band set of his signature psych-pop-folk/country at Grimey’s to celebrate the release of his new album, Ideal Man (out September 20th). His songs were effortlessly harmonic and carried through the space in an accessible and gentle way—and I’m looking forward to hearing the new album!

Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys, The Arcs) put his record label, Easy Eye Sound, on center stage with a roster packed with exciting artists. At Harpeth Brewing, during a muggy-but-jovial evening, Alabama’s Southern gentleman Dee White charged the stage with a high-energy set, teaming up with guitar goddess Molly Tuttle for an acoustic song. One of the big tickets of the week, British soul-folk artist Yola, barely needed any accompaniment with a powerful voice and impassioned songs blasting through the venue. 

On Thursday, I was lucky enough to join a number of onlookers for a talk and acoustic performance by the brilliant singer-songwriter—and long-haul trucker—Will Beeley at Grimey’s. (Honestly, what would Nashville do without this place?) Beeley is a masterful lyricist and writer who has collaborated with top artists from the Stax and Malaco Records circuit in the 1970s, and his 1979 full-length album Passing Dream is considered a masterwork. After peeling out of the music scene to become a full-time driver (which he still is today—and loves it), he re-emerged as reissues of his previous releases came out on Tompkins Square: Gallavantin’ and Passing Dream. After the chat, he picked up his guitar and performed a few songs, captivating listeners with his presence and storytelling.

For a helping of classic rock, I hit the American Legion for a day-long tribute to “Country Music’s most important West Coast club”: the famous LA venue, The Palomino. Rock matriarch Rosie Flores (“she’s little, but she’s loud”), slayed from the moment she took the stage, along with special guests like country crooner James Intveld and the legendary Jim Lauderdale.. 

I also enjoyed a sweltering evening at the Bloodshot Records Backyard Bash, filled with vintage vendors, auctions, and live music. Their showcase included the foot-stomping Banditos with their blend of Southern Rock mixed with a healthy dose of Janis Joplin-esque vocals. I recuperated at The Bowery Vault for a super-intimate set featuring singer-songwriters Taylor Alexander and Lindsay Ellyn, while “Nashville Outsider” Tom Schrek’s set evoked the deadpan humanity of Jonathan Richman; he even busted out a pennywhistle.

Later, I caught an acoustic performance by Orville Peck, a Canadian artist who somewhat defies classification. With a nod to country, cabaret, and theater, his voice was something unexpected – think Chris Isaak meets Lana Del Rey in a David Lynch short. His stage presence set the room at ease, with a great sense of humor and audience banter—which made his spaghetti-fringe mask a little less menacing.

I rounded out my festivities with local “Highway Queen” Nikki Lane’s event at the vintage boutique High Class Hillbilly. She graced the stage with a heartfelt performance, along with guests like Americana powerhouse Lilly Hiatt. Kids were running around, dogs observably watched the musicians, and beer-sippin’ music fans tried to catch as much shade as they could from the blistering sunshine. Regardless, everyone was beaming with wide smiles as the last 24 hours of this year’s AMERICANAFEST began winding down.  

Hundreds of other artists descended on the city over the next several days, most of which were impossible to cram into my own schedule. Thankfully, one of the benefits of living in “Music City USA” is that there’s a high probability these folks will be back. (I’d love to catch some missed acts like Erin Rae and Kelsey Waldon.) Overall, it was a thrill to cover this event for the listeners of High Plains Public Radio, so I hope you enjoyed the deep dive into one of the best showcases of new folk/Americana in the USA.