AmericanaFest Celebrates A Genre of “Truth Tellers” in Nashville

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For the 35,000 music lovers drawn to Nashville at the close of a hot and humid September, it was a welcome relief to find something cool: the music. AmericanaFest, which took place across 30 venues and offered over 300 official showcases, served as a lighthouse for those seeking something different, paying homage to a genre with few distinct outlines and a wide variety of talent.

“I think part of [defining Americana] is [that it’s] the anti-perfect, sort of wearing your heart on your sleeve in a way that’s real,” the Lumineers shared from the “red” carpet – in true AmericanaFest spirit, the carpet itself was Persian – of the Americana Honors and Awards. “A lot of these recordings that fall into this genre, that’s the whole mantra is that it’s embracing those flaws.”

“This genre is just about truth tellers and it’s no bullshit,” Jack Ingram said. “When I feel bad or when I need music – not as a songwriter but as a man – when I need music these are the artists I turn to.”

AmericanaFest is the hipper sister to CMA Fest; its attendees don’t fill downtown Nashville’s streets, but rather buzz demurely outside venues like The Basement and Cannery Row. The showcases start late and run later – some acts dont’ take the stage until midnight – and the panels provide industry insights as well as Q&As and songwriter events throughout the day. T. Bone Burnett delivered a much-discussed keynote about the intersections of art and technology (spoiler: he values one over the other), and the festival had no shortage of lifetime moments: George Strait presenting songwriter Jim Lauderdale with a Lifetime Achievement Award for WagonMaster and performing “King of Broken Hearts” together at the sold-out Honors & Awards on Wednesday.  The ceremony, which took place at the Ryman Auditorium, honored musical greats like Guy Clark and Merle Haggard and embraced new talents like Margo Price. Legends like Bob Weir and Bonnie Raitt shared stage time with newer artists like the Milk Carton Kids and Price, and much-buzzed acts like Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell were awarded for their music. The festival closed with the annual gospel brunch, hosted by the McCrary Sisters and serving heaven-sent soul music to a crowd enjoying chicken and waffles.

Across the genre board, AmericanaFest celebrated great music, with influences that scoped wide. “If I’m the DJ at the [Americana] radio station I’d be playing bluegrass, country – and not mainstream country ’cause they already have a great outlet and they’re doing wonderful – kind of more rootsy music: American roots music, blues, R&B, soul music, folk, singer-songwriter,” said Jim Lauderdale.

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