Bill DeVille's 2016 Americana Fest roundup


Frankie Lee performs at The Anchor
Frankie Lee performs at The Anchor in Nashville. (Bill DeVille | MPR)

The Americana Music Association is based in Nashville. It started off as a music chart, and it's grown into this organization that is all about roots-oriented music. Americana, basically to me, is roots-oriented music that doesn't fit in the pegs. The annual Americana Fest is a fundraiser for the organization, and it's also a way to showcase upcoming artists and to recognize established and emerging artists.

Awards Night

The Americana Music Association Honors and Awards show is built into the festival, and that happens the first night of the festival at the legendary Ryman Auditorium. The performances that night were a who's-who of today and yesterday, with everyone from the Lumineers to Bonnie Raitt to George Strait, Jason Isbell, Billy Bragg, and folks like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Allison Krauss and Buddy Miller.

In the first part of the show, there was a salute to those we lost; there was a tribute to Ralph Stanley that Alison Krauss and Buddy Miller did, there was a salute to the late Alan Toussaint that Joe Henry did — Joe had produced a lot of Alan Toussaint records in the last few years before Toussaint passed away. Steve Earle did a tribute to his dear friend Guy Clark. And Bob Weir from the Grateul Dead was there, covering Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried" —l that song was a live staple of the Grateful Dead's set.

Award-winners that night included Shawn Colvin, who was given a Lifetime Achievement Award. Chris Stapleton winning Artist Of The Year was pretty cool. But the big one for me was Margo Price winning the Emerging Artist Of The Year Award. And Jason Isbell had another huge year, as expected, winning Song of the Year for "24 Frames" and Album of the Year for Something More Than Free. There's a full list of awards posted on the Americana Music Association's website. The whole night was just fantastic, and it was so cool to be there.

It's a long show. It starts at 6:30, goes on till 10. Remember the Ryman is a former church, and church pews are only meant to be sat in for an hour or two!

But I had to rush out of the Ryman so I could get to see Dwight Yoakam do his first-ever bluegrass set; that was right at 10 p.m. What was cool about that is he's playing with the best bluegrass band money can buy — just the best Nashville pickers were with him. In Dwight's set, he does a cover of "Purple Rain" that they recorded the day that Prince passed away. But because Dwight and his band haven't played together for too long, they only knew the songs from the album, so they came back to do an encore and even though they'd already played "Purple Rain," they played it again because they had nothing else ready to go. So we got to hear "Purple Rain" twice, as played by Dwight Yoakam.

I've always been a fan of Dwight. He started off in what we used to call "cowpunk" before it was called "alt country." He's always done things his way. For this album, he's going bluegrass, but I doubt he'll hang his hat there for long.

But it was a busy, music-filled evening — and that's just the first night!

Rest of the Fest

At 9:30 a.m. on Friday, I was on panel with Greg Vandy from KEXP Seattle and Dan Buckley from WRLT in Nashville in a session called " The Kids are All Right: Re-Youthing Americana Radio" — it was about bringing a new, younger demographic to Americana. There was a lot of Q&A, and I got to talk a bit about what we do at The Current.

After the panel and some lunch, it was time for more music. Now the Americana Fest isn't all twangy stuff; I got to see a show by a guy named Bobby Rush — he's 83 years old, and his music is a mixture of blues and funk. Even though Bobby is 83, the show is still kind of risqué in that kind of old-school way: people shaking their groove things and so forth. Everyone in the audience was grooving to Bobby Rush's tunes.

I saw The Cactus Blossoms play at the Mercy Lounge. That was pretty amazing, just to see them in Nashville and to see people reacting to their music. It was kind of a high point for me to see our local fellas done good, and people from out of town reacting to their music who had maybe never seen them before, so that was really a treat.

I saw the Pines, too, another local act. And I saw Frankie Lee down there, too. He played at a venue called the Anchor; it's in an active church, but they cleared out the pews to make it a music venue. It was really cool to see Frankie Lee perform. He was really good. It was funny, too, because I had just seen him the weekend before at Festival Palomino, but then he's there in Nashville and he's playing with a whole new bunch of guys — Nashville cats, hired session players — so he had to rehearse them during the week and then do a set. I'm not sure how much he had played with those guys before, but they sounded great.

Also at the Anchor, I got to see Brent Cobb, he's a rising star. He's the cousin of famed producer David Cobb, who produced a Sturgill Simpson album and the Jason Isbell album. Brent Cobb has this wonderful early '70s, almost Neil Young Harvest kind of sound. He writes great, simple songs, and I really enjoyed him a lot.

Beyond that, there was a day party of Canadian bands. I saw an artist named Whitney Rose who was really good, and that was on the roof of the George Jones Museum. I also went to an event at the Country Music Hall of Fame that was hosted by NPR's Bob Boilen, who interviewed John Paul White, formerly of the Civil Wars.

It's a real whirlwind of Americana music in all its forms. It's such a treat to be in Nashville and to see all of these performances; check out my photos below, and listen to future episodes of United States of Americana, where I'll continue to feature songs by these great established and emerging artists.


Americana Music Association

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8 Photos

  • Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires
    Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires performing at the 15th Annual Americana Honors and Awards Show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. (Bill DeVille | MPR)
  • Dwight Yoakam performing at the Mercy Lounge
    Dwight Yoakam performing at the Mercy Lounge in Nashville. (Bill DeVille | MPR)
  • Bobby Rush at the High Watt
    Bobby Rush performing at the High Watt in Nashville. (Bill DeVille | MPR)
  • The Cactus Blossoms at the Mercy Lounge
    The Cactus Blossoms perform at the Mercy Lounge in Nashville. (Bill DeVille | MPR)
  • A view of Nashville
    A rooftop view of Nashville (Bill DeVille | MPR)
  • Robert's Western World
    Robert's Western World is located on Lower Broadway in the famous historic district of downtown Nashville, Tenn., near the Ryman Auditorium. (Bill DeVille | MPR)
  • Bob Boilen and John Paul White
    NPR Music's Bob Boilen (in hat) with John Paul White at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. (Bill DeVille | MPR)
  • Brent Cobb performs at the Anchor
    Brent Cobb (right) performs at the Anchor in Nashville. (Bill DeVille | MPR)

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