AMA Music Festival, Nashville - September 11th -16th 2018
The annual festival and conference to put all others into the shade.
Americanafest, now in its 17thyear, is spread across 50 venues over 6 days. Add a lot of music industry discussion groups and panels, afternoon showcases, label parties, BBQ’s and shindigs – followed by the evening fare of artist and band listings; typically, 4 to 5 acts at each venue that run into the midnight hours. Exhausting and exhilarating!
There is an award show that brings together the great and the good of Americana music at the famous Ryman auditorium, but the real essence of the festival is the sense of community, camaraderie and fellowship that can be embraced all over the city in many forms, as many music fans get to meet old friends and form new connections.
The choice of music is like being a kid in a sweetshop, with the similar frustration of not being able to sample everything. Choices must be made and inevitably bands missed along the way. However, there were so many moments to inspire;
MAKING A NAME
Two acts that are gingerly stepping their way through the minefield that is a sustainable career in this music game are My Politic and Arkansas Dave.
My Politic is a 5-piece band, now living in Nashville, who play expressive roots music around the creative hub of Kaston Guffey and Nick Pankey. Fiddle, dobro, acoustic guitars and harmonica merge into an organic sound, topped off by the high energy performance of band leader Guffey.
Arkansas Dave is entirely different and delivers a performance of soulful blues that is hard hitting and quite compelling. His band deliver passionate playing across driving workouts in an impressive set.
STAYING THE COURSE
Diversity in music is everything that makes it great and the attraction of the celebratory, soulful sound of Birds of Chicago sits in contrast with the mellow, reflective style of Erin Rae. Both deliver stellar sets as they continue to hone their craft and build upon careers that are flourishing and moving forward at a pace.
Birds of Chicago have great songs and the key element of interplay between joint-lead performers, JT Nero and Allison Russell. Erin Rae has a calm and restrained stage presence as she gently coaxes her band to higher performance levels in what can be described as dreamy soundscapes on top of which her soothing voice glides.
The impact of breaking stars can never be underestimated as pressure is brought to bear on the existing status quo and order of things. Rightly so, as all things must be subject to change.
Courtney Marie Andrews is a performer who has developed into quite a star with her strong work ethic and some killer songs. Her band is really tight and they play in support of a vocal performance that is highly impressive. Her career is going in one direction only and her powerful talents bear witness to this.
The Lone Bellow are another act that continue to find accelerated momentum around their increasing media buzz.
They perform here as a 3-piece with a single stand-up microphone, an acoustic guitar and a mandolin. Their vocal gymnastics and harmonies are an absolute treat to witness as they play a compelling set of songs from their 3 releases to date.
THE OLD ROAD WELL-TRAVELLED
Artists such as Emmylou Harris, Mary Gauthier, Eliza Gilkyson, Richard Thompson, John Hiatt and Kim Richey have seen it all before and show their durability and experience while appearing at a number of venues over the festival.
Far from burning out and fading away, they display an energy that far belies the advances of old father time. Playing songs from new releases, plus dipping into extensive back catalogues, they excite all who witness their powerful presence. They also show no fall in their vocal prowess as performers and continue to display an easy stage presence that has been earned over time and travel.
HAPPY TO MEET
Whether unknown or just unheard, there are so many acts who win over new admirers and indeed, make up the major part of this festival. Always a pleasant surprise to discover new talent that delights.
Sons of Bill are such a band. They have been around since 2006 releasing albums and are led by the 3 Wilson Brothers. They have a vibrant roots rock sound that is exciting and very engaging.
Samantha Fish plays blues guitar in an incendiary style that fires her song arrangements into orbit and her band create a big sound with warm organ swells, horns and rhythm section to fill out the performance.
Jaimee Harris played a fine set at the Campfire propaganda day party and Ana Egge also captured the room at the Proper Music Party, along with Ben Glover who closed the event.
Other acts worthy of mention were Neighbor Lady, Mike Farris, Walter Salas-Humara, Tom Freund, Ordinary Elephant and Ladies Gun Club.
SORRY TO PART
All goods things must come to an end and the gathering of friends for Sunday Morning Coming Down provided a gathering of gumbo and good times. The wonderful JP Harris was hosting this event and his generous spirit was evident throughout as he highlighted other artists as well as playing a superb set with his own band. We were treated to the perfectly aligned vocal performance of the Watson Twins and an exciting set from the ever- impressive Elizabeth Cook.
There were so many of course, but perhaps the one that sticks out and epitomises the festival spirit more than anything else was the Lone Bellow playing on the sidewalk to the line of fans who were unable to gain entry to their sold-out gig at The Station Inn. They delayed their show in order to ease the disappointment of the crowd outside and turned in a 3-song performance that was quite something.
Hearing about a late-night gig at the 5-Spot that led to my finally seeing an old favourite of mine perform live – Webb Wilder. He played a set that was packed with superb craftmanship and electric moments as his crack band turned out performances that made for one of those special nights; a crowded bar, plenty of high & hot energy and smiles all around. Also, meeting Tim Easton and seeing him play again after many years. A seasoned songwriter who continues to produce music of the highest quality. Equally as important was my reunion with Walter Salas-Humara and his unique talents. Founder member of the legendary Silos, he has lost none of his sparkle and the songs are as sharp as ever.
This was my first trip to the AMA festival but it will not be my last … It is addictive in all that is offered and delivered, in a setting that is just perfect. Music City USA lives up to the name and there is also much else to see and do, outside of the music. Definitely a Bucket List recommendation.
Review and photography by Paul McGee